Lessons from the Other Side of the Editor’s Desk: Response time

I thought I knew a lot about magazines. When I agreed to substitute as editor at a local regional magazine a while back, I figured my years of newspaper work and freelance writing made me an expert on how magazines were planned, put together and published. Wrong!

Writers who think editors are monsters who mangle their manuscripts and laugh at their frustrations have not yet learned the lessons I learned working as one of them. In the next few posts, I will share what I found out. You may be surprised.

1. Why is it taking so long?

You send out the query or manuscript, wait a month, and start to get antsy. Geez, they should have responded by now; what’s holding this up? Maybe they like my idea. No, maybe they hate it. No, maybe . . .

The truth? Maybe nobody has even looked at it yet. It could have gone to an editor who no longer works there and now it’s sitting in a pile of letters nobody knows what to do with. The editor might have opened it, read it, and set it aside to deal with after deadline or until the story meeting, at which the editor, publisher and various staff members discuss content for upcoming issues.

If your submission arrives in the wrong part of the cycle, it could be two months before anyone gives it any serious thought. Or, maybe the editor likes it, but someone else on the staff has to approve it and that someone is too busy to look at it. Or, they like it, but your article on the new sea otter farm doesn’t fit into the special issue they’re preparing on June weddings, so they want to “keep it on file” indefinitely.

Lesson: Be patient. It seems like a long time, and it is, but you can’t change the system by nagging the editor. You can only annoy her until she rejects you just to get you off her back. Wait under the response time stated in their guidelines has passed, then send an e-mail or make a polite phone call to see what’s happening. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer and you have a better place to sell your work, tell the editor and then do it. Meanwhile, take your mind off the delay by working on other writing projects.

Next week: Why would an editor ask me to write something completely different from what I proposed in my query letter?

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One Comment on “Lessons from the Other Side of the Editor’s Desk: Response time”

  1. […] the editor’s desk have been helpful. Be sure to look back at previous posts for information on Response Time, What Editors Want, and Surviving […]


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