The Waiting Game

May 28, 2011 at 2:05 am (writing)

Sometimes I miss the days when getting published seemed unattainable and all that really mattered was the writing. I wasn’t waiting on anything – just letting the words flow. Now, the current work-in-progress sometimes loses focus to “the waiting crazies”. It seems like I’m waiting on so many things: waiting for my next editing session in order to allow the story time to “gel”, waiting to hear from an agent who asked for a full and who has been sitting on it forever, waiting on a plethora of submissions, many long past the date when I should have received a response. I never thought that there would come a day when I’d be grateful to get a form rejection letter, but I would in some instances – just so I can move on. Some of the stragglers have stories that my test readers consider examples of my better work. If those stories aren’t going anywhere with the publisher supposedly considering them, how long exactly should I be willing to wait before I withdraw my submission and resubmit elsewhere?

It’s a hard call, and I’m the type that has a difficult time taking a submission back before I get a proper “no”. I hang on to hope that they’ve hit some unexpected delay, and they’ll get to my submission eventually. Still, I have some manuscripts, novels and shorts, which have been in limbo since last September. When do I officially dismiss that fish, and reel the bait back in to recast elsewhere? It’s an easier call for the stories somewhere that quoted a specific deadline or wait period. I can at least use that as a reference point, and if the answer I should have had by now is several months late, maybe that’s a sign to consider starting over, somewhere else. But what about the anthology that wasn’t set in stone, the magazine that may be still reviewing the story for later issues or the contest with a submission end date, but no schedule for judging times. How do I handle those?

I’ve seen well-established professional author’s debating this topic. They’re respecting exclusive submission requirements, and every day a story sits in submission limbo, it could mean money out of their pocket through loss of potential sales elsewhere. It’s not unreasonable that if they are obliging a publisher/editor’s request to not submit to other venues at the same time, that this publisher/editor will be reasonably prompt with their review of and decision regarding said story. One of the writers involved in the debate said if they have not received word within five to six months, the will begin to resubmit the story to other places. This is an understandable approach, considering their position.

But I’m not there. My story sales are far from assured. I only started receiving acceptances last October, and I could never live off of the money I’m currently earning from my writing. I have no reason to rush things, other than simple impatience and the dreaded “waiting crazies”. Should I lower my expectations, force back the crazies and let things ride – allowing greater time for a response? Or should I give myself more chance for success and cut my losses. I’m giving myself until the end of June to decide and in the meantime maybe those who have been lagging in providing their responses may solve this dilemma for me.


  1. jschancellor said,

    A lot of those well-established authors you just mentioned, that are respecting those guidelines, are bound by contract to do just that. A next book clause is common and gives the publisher first glance at the author’s next novel-length work.

    In my not-so-humble opinion, unless you’re bound by contract, you are free to submit to whomever you darn well please. Life’s too short to abide by ridiculous, self-serving rules like that.

    • chantellyb said,

      Actually, in the particular debate I was referring to they were discussing short stories, not novel-length fiction, and standard submissions which had nothing to do with any pre-existing contracts.

      Everyone is welcome to their own approach to dealing with a publisher’s request for exclusive submissions. I prefer to respect those requests, but I also expect the publisher/editor to respond in a professional way as well. If they don’t, I’ll be pulling my story and submitting it elsewhere.

  2. jschancellor said,

    I’m not terribly familiar with the short-story market, aside from Suspense Magazine. We don’t require exclusive, but lots of other places do. I thought you were talking about novels because you said 6 months. Is that typical for shorts? Seems really, really unreasonable. Unbelievably so.

  3. chantellyb said,

    6 months is usually the longest you would wait. It’s dependent on a number of factors. I’ve seen wait times range from 3 days to 6 months – although typically, if there is no submission close date, you’re usually looking at 2-3 months.

  4. jschancellor said,

    Wow. You’d think with short stories that it would be a shortened wait. Bummer. Yeah, props to everyone who can respect those kinds of requests. I could never do it. Especially not if I wrote short stories on a regular basis. I’d give someone a month tops before I’d submit elsewhere. But, that’s just me. And I don’t write shorts … too tough for me. I can’t condense stuff very well.

  5. chantellyb said,

    I used to think shorts were too tough for the same reason, but my hubby encouraged me to work on them, and now they are much easier. I’ve got a couple of dozen written and eight published so far (with one recent new acceptance) and the majority of the others submitted and waiting. The reason the shorts take so long for turnaround is mostly because of volume. For example, Edge, a smaller press, recently had hundreds of submissions for this year’s Tesseracts anthology. They had to go through that full slush pile to choose 14 or 15 stories for the anthology. Understandably, they don’t want to go through all that trouble only to discover that 2 or 3 of the stories they’ve selected (or more) have been sold out from underneath them while they were working their way through the pile. That’s why they request exclusive submissions. Considering they pay $150 per story, it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request to me – but I know opinions differ. They made their wait times clear, however, so I knew when to expect an answer. The issue I have are with the publishers that give you a timeline and then don’t stick to it – leaving you in limbo.

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