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THE LONG GAME: PUBLISHER RESPONSE TIMES
Column by Aeryn Rudel
February 16, 2021
Every writer you know who submits work for publication is doing the same thing right now. They’re waiting to hear back on a submission (or ten). It’s part of the gig, but there’s useful information in how long a market takes to respond to your submission. Information that can make the waiting more tolerable or even facilitate important writerly decisions.
Wait times among short story markets range from a few hours to over a year. My current records, if you’re curious, range from a ten-minute no than you to a sixteen-month close-but-no-cigar. Most genre publishers, however, fall into three broad categories when it comes to response times.
The first and quickest are those that respond in under 30 days. Many professional genre markets fall into this category, and most of those will get back to you in under two weeks. The next group is largest, and these markets respond within 30 to 90 days, with the vast majority answering a submission in under 60 days. The last group are those markets that respond to submissions between 90 and 120 days. Yes, there are some that take much longer, but they’re not common.
I must point out the wait times described above are primarily for rejections. Acceptances almost always take longer. For example, a market that sends rejections in under a week might take 90 days to decide on an acceptance. Fortunately, most publishers will send a further consideration letter to let you know they’d like to hold your story while they make a decision.
Two other terms you should be familiar with when looking at wait times are a market’s stated response time and their actual response time. The stated response time is what the publishers puts in their submission guidelines.
We typically respond to submissions within 60 days.
Though this market says you should hear back within 60 days, their actual response time can be ascertained by consulting a submission database like Duotrope or The Submission Grinder. There you can look at the market’s recent history of rejections and acceptances and get an idea of when you’re likely to hear back on a submission. In my experience, most markets reject quicker than their stated response time and are closer to that number for acceptances.
But what does all this information mean? How can it be put to use?
The Great Theory
One reason writers over-analyze wait times is for something I like to call the great theory. The great theory states that the longer a market holds your story, especially if they hold it past the stated response time, the more likely they are to accept it. As such, there are no few writers who treat wait times like oracular pronouncements, but does it work?
Well, yes and no and also sometimes. I know; not a great answer, but the truth is it really depends on the market. I’ve had stories accepted in a week from publishers that normally hold stories for months, and I’ve had stories form-rejected in months from markets that usually say no in days. I know of a few markets that do state in their guidelines the longer they hold your story the more likely they are to be strongly considering it for publication. These markets are rare, though, and with most publishers it’s never that cut and dry.
Your best bet if you want to attempt response time prognostication is to check the actual response times on Duotrope and The Submission Grinder. If a market is sending out loads of rejections or acceptances at 60 days, and your story is at 58 days, then a response is likely soon forthcoming. Even that’s not foolproof, though. There are so many factors that go into how long it takes for a market to read your story that it’s pretty tough to predict when and how they’ll get back to you with any real degree of accuracy.
That doesn’t mean that stated and actual wait times aren’t useful. In fact, they can help you make some tough decisions.
When to Wait No More
Along with analyzing wait times to predict whether an acceptance is forthcoming, response times help you decide when it’s time to send a submission status query or even a withdrawal letter. I’ll cover these topics in more depth in future articles but monitoring stated and actual wait times is how I make the decision to ask after a submission.
Basically, if the guidelines do not forbid sending a submission status query (and some do), you can start thinking about one when your submission passes the stated response time. Then, you should check the market’s actual response times and see if one is truly warranted. For example, if I have a submission at 63 days at a market with a stated response time of 60 days, I might consider a query letter. If, however, I then go out to Duotrope and see the market is responding to submissions at around 75 days, I’ll probably wait until my submission passes that point to send a query letter.
It’s not an exact science, and sometimes you have to go with your gut, but keeping track of stated and actual response times can at least give you a framework to base your querying decisions around.
To submit is to wait, and the best course of action is to develop patience and take it in stride. Still, you should keep careful track of how long a story has been out for submission. It might give you clues as to you when and if an acceptance is coming or tell you it’s time to fire off a polite query letter.
Check back next month for more advice on how and where to submit your work or head over to my blog Rejectomancy for oodles of overly analytical articles about the various and sundry parts of writing, submitting, and every author’s favorite subject, rejection.