Don’t Be Afraid to Follow Up on Submissions

I’m seeing a lot of questions online these days from writers who are worried about their submissions. Either they have gotten no response at all, or their piece was accepted, but now nothing seems to be happening. Would it be okay to send them an email? Would they seem too pushy?Will they annoy the editor? Will giving the editor a nudge endanger their submission?

My friends, editors are just people doing a job. If you sent a jacket to the cleaners and it was taking forever to get cleaned, you’d have every right to know what happened to your jacket. But we put editors on a pedestal and are so afraid that if we say the wrong word, they’ll reject us. Having worked on both sides of the editor’s desk, I can tell you that’s crazy. They’re only judging the writing. Either they like it and plan to use it, or they don’t. Once you present your prose or poetry to them, nothing you say or do will change that.

That said, editors fall behind, overwhelmed with submissions. Things do get lost. Or sometimes they’re holding a piece in the hope of finding a place for it in a future issue. But we writers at home have no idea what’s going on unless we ask. Most publications list a response time in their guidelines. It’s usually two or three months. If that time has passed, then you have every right to shoot them an email asking for a status update. They won’t hate you for it. They might be glad for the reminder. Sometimes it gets things moving. One of my queries got lost. After I asked about it, the editor asked me to send it again, and she published the resulting article.

One caution: Some editors (and agents) now state in their guidelines that they will only contact you if the answer is yes. I think that’s rude, but so be it. If their response time has passed, assume it’s a no and move on.

If they have already accepted it, it’s only good business to keep in contact about what’s happening. If there’s a delay, you are entitled to know. If you have a contract, does it state when the piece will be published or give an expiration date, after which you can send it elsewhere? Your writing is your inventory, and if an editor is going to sit on it forever, neither publishing nor paying you, you might want to sell it somewhere else.

Many publications these days use the Submittable program. When you send something in through Submittable, you get a username and password, which allows you to log in and check the status of your submission. It doesn’t give you details, but it will tell you whether the piece is declined, accepted or in progress. Check there first.

Otherwise, write what I call a “que pasa” note. Be upbeat and polite. No accusations or anger. Say something like, “I sent X to you on (date), and I haven’t heard anything. I’m anxious to know what’s happening with it. Can you give me an update? Thank you.”

Sometimes they never got it. Sometimes it got lost in the avalanche of submissions. Sometimes they were just about to contact you because they love it and it’s going into the next issue.

Don’t be afraid to ask. Even if the answer is no, at least then you know and can move on.

You can’t submit what you don’t write, so  . . .

Let’s go write.

The view from the editor’s side of Submittable

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Submittable, the service many literary magazines are using to accept submissions. At that point, I only knew the view from the writer’s side. You fill in the blanks, click on “submit” and wait. Eventually you get an email saying yea or nay.

I recently joined the staff of a new literary magazine that will publish its first issue this summer. As one of the poetry editors, I now have access to the editors’ side of Submittable. Each day, I get a list of submissions that need to be read, click into my Submittable account and call them up on the screen. On the left side are the poems, usually submitted in batches of five, all in one file. On the right is a list of staffers with access to this submission and any comments that have already been made, along with how the others voted. At the top of the screen are three boxes. One shows a thumbs up, one a question mark, and one a thumbs down. Yes, maybe, no. With one click, you are rejected.

I have so many poems to read that I read them quickly, and if I don’t like the beginning I don’t read the rest. Our policy, so far, is not to rewrite anyone’s poems, so if they don’t work, they don’t work. What I’m finding so far is that many start out well but wander off toward the end. I want to lop off the last few lines, to scream, “Stop! You’ve said it. Don’t say anymore.” Some are clichéd or try too hard to be “poetic.” Some just don’t make any sense at all. Others are very good and I’m delighted to click thumbs up. To be honest, I’m clicking more “maybe’s” than anything because there’s only so much space and I don’t know what else will come in before the March 31 deadline.

Some lessons I’d like to share from the editor’s side:

  • Proofread!
  • Take time to make your poem as good as it can be and make sure every line supports every other line.
  • Less is more.
  • Kill your clichés.
  • When the guidelines call for “blind” submissions, don’t put your name on the manuscript.
  • Give your submission a file name that sets it apart, such as the title of the first poem. Not “five poems” or your name.

Just as Submittable keeps a running list of your submissions and their status–declined, accepted or in progress–it keeps a running list for me of the submissions I’m assigned to read with thumbs up, thumbs down, or a question mark in the margin and blank spaces next to the ones I haven’t read yet.

It’s daunting having this kind of power over other poets. It also makes me reconsider all of my own poems, wondering whether they would get thumbs up, thumbs down or maybe.

The publication is the Timberline Review. We’re accepting poetry (no line limit), fiction and creative nonfiction (max 5,000 words) until March 31. Visit the website for details.

Now let’s go write.

Submittable simplifies submissions process

Have you heard of Submittable? No, I’m not referring a piece of writing that is ready to submit. That’s submittable with a lower-case “s.” Or, I suppose you could use the word to refer to the female lead in Fifty Shades of Grey. Okay, that’s a stretch.

No, I’m referring to Submittable, capital “s,” the service that many publications are using now to accept online submissions of all kinds of writing. We have traveled a long way from the tedious process of printing out perfect copies, writing a letter, addressing a stamped return envelope and putting it all in a big envelope to mail.

In recent years, editors started accepting submissions via email. Write a letter, paste in your work, hope the formatting doesn’t get too screwed up, hit send. No attachments, please. A few publications set up online forms, often quirky and hard to work, into which you entered your information and your work.

But now, ring them glory bells, we’ve got It’s a company that makes money by selling its services to publishers who use it to accept submissions and contest entries from writers. I love, love, love Submittable. Writers can follow the link from the publication’s website, sign up for a free account and start submitting by filling in the blanks: name and contact information, title and genre, a quick cover letter in the space provided. If you need a refresher on the guidelines, there’s a link to read them in detail. Finally, you click on the browsing button to attach your submission, which comes up exactly as you formatted it. If there’s a reading fee or contest entry fee, you will be directed to fill in with your credit card or Paypal information. Click, click, click, submit. You get a reassuring email letting you know your submission has been received AND you can check on the status of your submission at any time just by logging in again. Submittable keeps track of all of your submissions, listing whether they have been declined, accepted or are still being considered. No more “I wonder what’s going on; maybe I should write them a letter . . .” It’s right there for you to see.

There’s a Submittable blog with interesting information, interviews and lists of upcoming deadlines.

Not every publication uses Submittable. In fact, I just mailed a packet of poems the old-fashioned way to The Southern Review. You always have to read and follow the guidelines, but I think this is pretty great. It really speeds up the submission process. Oh, and if you make a mistake, it will prompt you to fix it before you submit. Works for me.

Have you had experience with Submittable? Tell me about it in the comments.

Of course you can’t submit what you haven’t written, so . . .

Let’s go write.