I think most authors would acknowledge that rejection is a significant part of being a writer and that it’s not fun at all. Pouring your heart and soul into something only for an agent or a journal editor to say “No, ta” is demoralising, and when it happens again and again and again it can be downright depressing. The only thing that makes it worth it is the thrill of having your work accepted.
But the waiting, when rejection and acceptance exist simultaneously in a writer’s mind like Schrödinger’s cat, is sometimes the hardest part of it. If you’re waiting to hear back from a potential publisher or agent, it can be a frustrating and confusing time. You might worry that they haven’t even received your manuscript, or that they hate it, or that they’ve gone travelling for a year and left your short story on their desk.
To quieten the brain bunnies (and perhaps shorten your waiting time) here are three questions to ask yourself:
What am I waiting for?
Some magazines and journals allow “simultaneous submissions” – you’re allowed to submit your piece to other places while waiting for a response. This should be clearly stated in the submission guidelines, and if it isn’t you could try checking Duotrope (just google the name of the magazine + Duotrope so you don’t actually have to pay for Duotrope).
If simultaneous submissions are allowed, try to focus on sending your piece to other places rather than twiddling your thumbs and waiting for that one response. It might be your dream journal to be published in, but when it comes to finding a home for your writing, monogamy isn’t realistic.
If simultaneous submissions are not allowed, the journal ought to get back to you relatively quickly. Personally, I think it’s bad manners to keep a writer’s work for months and months while not allowing them to submit elsewhere, and I avoid submitting to journals that do this.
Have I been waiting longer than I’m supposed to?
Sometimes it can feel like you’ve been waiting for years but it has actually been three weeks. Long waits to hear back from journals or magazines can take a while to get used to, but a wait of several months is perfectly normal. Journals often receive huge numbers of submissions and have few staff to read through them.
Check the journal’s website to see how long the expected wait time is. This will usually be in the submission guidelines but might be in another section, such as FAQs. It’s also worth double checking that they’ve actually received your manuscript – you will usually receive an email notification if they have.
How can I gently give these people a kick up the arse?
If you’ve been waiting for a response for longer than the expected wait time, it’s sometimes acceptable to email the publisher and give them a nudge. I say “sometimes”, because some journals, agents, etc clearly state on their website that they cannot respond to every submission and that a lack of response indicates they are not interested in the manuscript. If this is the case, definitely don’t bother them.
If it’s not the case, then word your email politely and include all the necessary details for them to check on your submission: your name, the title of your piece, and the date you submitted it.
Wishing you all the luck (and patience) you need!