2018, Archives, May 2018, The MFA Years

How Not to Follow Up

Hey, writers, let’s talk submissions again! It’s been a while.

I’ve previously written about what cover letters should look like, what stories you should probably not show litmags, other stories you should probably not show litmags, etc.

I’d like to add to this a list of behavior you should never ever indulge in when following up on a submission, from the no-bullshit perspective of someone who spends a lot of time reading slush.

  1. If I reject you, please don’t write me back with some snide remark about how I’d like your work if only I were smarter or nicer. Why would you do this? All you have accomplished is that now you are on my permanent blacklist, and if I’m having a really annoying day, I will forward your mean email to your MFA program director or whichever magazine most recently published your work. Stop. Accept that you didn’t get in this time. I don’t get into places all the time. It happens.
  2. Please do not wait TWO DAYS and then email me to ask if I received the submission. Yes, I received the submission. You know this because it shows up as sent in your own email folder, where you can also double check to be sure that you remembered the attachment. It’s all there. All I can really guarantee is that the work will be read at some point before the next issue comes out, which is why I have no specific timeline on the website.
  3. When a magazine does have a specific timeline on the website? Sometimes they’ll go over that. My experience has been that most of my work that gets accepted is accepted after the listed maximum number of days have passed. It’s fine. I think I’ve sent four-ish query emails in my life, each months after what was listed as the maximum on a magazine’s website, or like eight months over a magazine’s average if no maximum was listed. A good rule is to avoid at all costs pressuring overwhelmed people who are trying to help you.
  4. Do not Do Not DO NOT REALLY DON’T contact me or any other editor on our personal social media accounts because we didn’t respond to your query in the main inbox. We didn’t respond because we’re working on it. We use social media to talk to our friends. It’s the wrong virtual space, in the same sense that showing up at my apartment door instead of my office would be the wrong real-world space for this conversation. I have bothered someone on social media before, a long time ago, and I regret it immensely to this day. Don’t be me.
  5. Don’t contact an editor from some other genre or department of a literary magazine in order to query. A poetry editor who bailed on your work for six months is also going to ignore any reminders from his fiction editor, and in the process, you are stressing out the fiction editor. Being ignored sucks, but you know what else sucks? Peevish emails from people whose problems you have no control over at all.
  6. Please do not talk yourself into the belief that a form letter was personal, or an un-tiered rejection was tiered. This is silly, and when you send another piece referencing that un-tiered form rejection, you look silly. I know this sort of mistake is inevitable at first, and I’m sure I’ve done it myself, but we all need to try not to make it a pattern. (I know some magazines have ambiguous un-tiered form rejections that appear to be personal or tiered, or send half their submitters tiered rejections. They do this to encourage as many repeat submitters as possible. Check out Rejection Wiki and Duotrope to be sure.)
  7. Really don’t email me after two days.

As always, I hope this helps! Remember, there is no shame in making mistakes; I just admitted to a pretty hefty one above. The only shame is in failing to adjust our behavior as we learn more about the work of readers, editors, and publishers.

Happy submitting!