The Losing Game: Writing Rejection 6, 7, + 8/100
Hello Friends and Rivals, It's your pal me again with 3 new rejections. Had I planned to blog about 5 rejections at a time? Absolutely, thanks for noticing. 5 seems good, right? It's a neat little bundle of rejections and that way, we're not slogging through the process behind every submission, because let's face it, the process behind a lot of my submissions is identical. So 5 at a time made sense to me! If I get 100 rejections in a year, I'm looking at 20 posts. Manageable! Nice round number! But here's the trouble: I haven't had 5 rejections this month. I haven't had any acceptances. Two of the measly three rejections I'm counting in this post are actually just things I'm assuming are rejections. So here's what we're going to address in this post: how soon after submitting to a lit journal do you follow up to check in? Do you check in at all? At what point do you assume you've been rejected because you haven't heard in so long?
All good questions. Most lit journals on their submissions page will have a rough guide to how long it will take them to respond. In Canada, that number is often around 6 months, but I've seen up to a year. Some journals in the States aim to respond within only a few weeks. Every publication is different, so I take that into account when considering follow ups. Some publications will state "please don't follow up with us until X months". Some will say "do not respond until you hear back from us." These are pretty clear guidelines. That said, if a lit journal says they'll take around 6 months to respond, I usually wait until it's been 7.5 - 8 months to follow up and gently ask if they've received my submission. People are busy and I like to provide a grace period. It can be tempting to reply the exact day of the 6 month mark, but I prefer to offer a buffer. To me, the peace of mind that no editor feels unreasonably rushed is worth the wait. It can be hard when writing a follow up to know if you're being tactful enough, and there's the ever present fear that you're going to piss off an editor and scorched off the list of writers they'll ever publish with a lit cigar. Some people will, subsequently, not send follow ups at all.
But I'm a firm believe that you should follow up on your work, especially if you submitted to an e-mail address rather than a submittable. Why? More than once I have followed up and had a journal tell me they never received my work. I can check my sent e-mail folder and see that I sent the submission, I can confirm that the e-mail address matches up to the one on the lit journal's page, but for whatever reason, the journal didn't receive it. It happens regularly enough that I'm reticent to submit to lit journals by e-mail at all. If I hadn't followed up, I would have been waiting indefinitely and growing increasingly dejected over a administrative or technological error. Follow ups are great because when you send that e-mail, you are advocating for yourself. It is so, so important to advocate for yourself, especially if you're in a field like writing where it's easy to be taken advantage of. (Who among us have not done freelance work and never been paid?) Advocating for yourself may not always yield the results you want, but not advocating for yourself is a guarantee that you don't get those results.
In case anyone is struggling with what to write in a follow up e-mail, here's a template for you: Hello ________, I hope this e-mail finds you well. I am writing to follow up regarding a submission of (type of submission) entitled ________ submitted on _________. I was wondering if the ______ team has had the chance to review the submission. No worries whatsoever if you haven't had time yet, just wanted to make sure I haven't missed a response. Thank you for your time and consideration, Kindest regards, _________ Largely, the lit journals that respond to follow up are willing to help. But even if you send the nicest follow up in the world, the truth is that sometimes you don't get replies. If you don't, not to worry, a rejection or acceptance may still come. Then again, sometimes you just never hear back. I've made it a point to not say a bad thing about editors and readers and lit journals at all throughout this blog. I'm breaking that rule today. I have all of the grace in the world for people who work behind the scenes at our artistic and creative institutions. Tons of my posts talk about how hard the work is, and how little the pay is, and how nonexistent the appreciation is. Seriously. Go read them. I'm all about our editors and readers and literary staffers. What I don't have grace for, none whatsoever, is simply never getting back to a writer. I once sent a submission to a lit journal who didn't get back to me for a year. I sent two follow ups over the course of the next year, they didn't respond to either. And I know I didn't miss a response, if that's what you're thinking. Because I submit to lit journals regularly, you'd better believe I check my junk folder every damn day in case my e-mail thinks it's spam (a practice I highly recommend cuz it happens.) When I finally withdrew the piece nearly 9 months after that because it was accepted elsewhere, they responded to within a week. The e-mail came to my main inbox and everything. This was not a full length manuscript I'd sent. It was a couple of poems. The whole process took 2 years and 9 months. There was no acknowledgment whatsoever that an extraordinary amount of time had passed. After that experience, the odds of me sending work to that particular publication again or buying the journal are pretty low. I know these things take time and I don't mind waiting. I even consider the waiting good for me. Builds character or whatever. But if it has been 18 + months on a standard submission and I've sent follow ups (plural) and I've heard nothing, if nobody has touched base, if there's nothing on their website or social media about delays, no communication whatsoever, I consider that a non-response and it's rude. I don't really care if someone on the team thinks it's a necessary practicality to not respond due to volume or whatever, it's rude, it's rude, it's rude. I'm sure there are instances where the stars misalign just so so that every one of my e-mails disappears into some poor editor's junk folder and deletes within half an hour of me sending it. I'm sure there are people who have just dropped a ball and are apologetic. These are not the instances I am talking about. I'm not going to go around badmouthing the non-responsive journals, but I won't go out of my way to support them in the future. I'll also probably remember who the editor is if this is something I know has happened to multiple writers who have submitted work to them. I keep that in mind when I'm booking events, which, like so many writers, I do regularly. A lot of artists are also organizers. The venn diagram overlaps like crazy. Common among all the circles: organizers remember if you were a joy or a nightmare to work with. So do artists. It's important that we treat each other with respect, because we're in this game together. It's a symbiosis. Without organizers, artists don't have a way to grow. Without artists, organizers have nothing to show. Two of my rejections today are simply me calling the game after too long a waiting period. I'll omit the names of the magazines. The other rejection was a timely, straightforward rejection. Thank you, editors who rejected me like a human! I thank you for your service.
[WRITING REJECTION 6/100] Dear Erin, Thank you for sending us "An Exit Strategy." While we enjoyed reading your work, we're sorry to say it isn't a good fit for us at this time. Our submissions queue continues to grow, and we often have to reject many excellent pieces. Thanks again for trusting us with your work. Best of luck with this and all of your writing. Sincerely, Split Lip Magazine
[WRITING REJECTION 7/100] Sent in a piece 18 months ago. No response to follow up.
[WRITING REJECTION 8/100] Sent in a small submission 2 years ago. No responses to any follow ups.
So there we have it: the first kind of miffed edition of The Losing Game. It had to happen eventually! Okay. Hopefully I'll be back with more thrilling rejections soon. Maybe even an acceptance? TBD! Until next time, - E.B. Kirsh