You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers (and if we don’t, we’ll find the person who does).
We get lots of questions sent to the Paper Darts inbox and we’ll be answering the most frequent or interesting questions in this “Ask Paper Darts” column. Do you have questions about the publishing industry, creating a magazine, making it as freelance creatives, or what it’s like to eat CAP’N CRUNCH for every meal? Shoot ‘em our way: firstname.lastname@example.org.
So to start us off, here’s a recent question:
I’m never sure how long to wait before following up about a submission (or if I should even do that). I feel pesky emailing editors to ask about the status of my submission, but after waiting and waiting…I just want to know! Any guidance?
Waiting for Godot
There isn’t a blanket answer for this—each publication handles the editorial process uniquely and has varied levels of staff/resources dedicated to reading and editing. Submitting to a literary magazine or publishing house is NOT like applying for a job. Your instinct about not wanting to be “pesky” is dead on. Bugging an editor is not going to make you stand out and seem like a “go-getter” the way it does with job applications.
First, let’s clarify what “waiting” means. Unless the publication directly states how long it will take for them to get back to you, don’t get your panties in a bunch for anything under six months.
- How professional does the publication look? (Remember, good websites can be deceiving.) If they are publishing regularly and seem to have their act together, it’s quite possible that your submission just got misplaced or is gathering dust in the “undecided/maybe” pile. And a follow up might be a good idea—be sweet and nonjudgmental. Most likely these editors are swamped and wish they were able to reply more promptly. Be prepared to wait another three months before hearing a definitive yes or no.
- How accessible is the publication? If the journal or publishing house seems to have a “closed” personality (i.e. a static website, no social media, no blogs, no staff contact emails listed, etc.), chances are they don’t want to talk with you and it’s best if you leave them alone. Sure, try sending them a follow-up email—doubt you’ll hear back though.
- How bad or good was your accompanying cover letter? Wait what, this lack in response might actually have something to do with you?! Despite the effort it took for you to copy and paste your stock cover letter and bio into the submission form, it still might not have been enough bling to bedazzle the editors. Yes, that’s right, editors (or their helpful interns) might actually like reading a cover letter that shows authentic interest and knowledge about the publication (for more tips about cover letters check out these tips from our managing editor, Courtney). While a stunning cover letter won't make up for a bad submission, it might at least prompt the editors to give you a toughtful (and time sensitive) response. Make a reference to a past piece you enjoyed, or show curiosity about an upcoming publication—demonstrate you did your research and thus know you would be a good fit. Or, better yet, flat out say why you think your work would be a good fit. Which brings me to my next point:
- Have you actually read anything this place published? Don’t bother following up—or even submitting for that matter—if you aren’t familiar with the work the organization publishes. Read the online content, buy the journal, order the books, “know” the staff, etc. If you’re gonna do it, do it right.
Good luck with your journey towards publication, and keep fightin’ the good fight.
Yours in patience and fortitude,
Managing Director, Paper Darts
P.S. To those of you waiting to hear back on your submission with Paper Darts—we’re sorry! And we hope to get back to you soon :)! We’re a small shop with limited resources and we try to get back in a timely manner. We’re not perfect, but we’re getting better. Always feel free to send us a follow up.
Send your burning questions our way! Ask Paper Darts
What do YOU think? Do you follow up with publications about a submission? How long do you wait? Leave a comment and let us know your protocol.