If you submit your stories long enough you will eventually run into the situation where a market has been sitting on your story for a long time. When it comes to the submission process an author’s best friend is patience. Most markets provide
you with either a direct mechanism for checking on the status of your work or specific instructions regarding when it is appropriate to query the market regarding your submission. Clarkesworld, Electric Velocipede, and now Asimov’s all use a simple tracking number system that let’s you see where your story is in the submission system. Most other markets will provide instructions on when and how to query. For the most part the acceptable query time runs from sixty to ninety days and I can’t think of any markets off the top of my head that ask for more than three months to get back to you, though I am certain that there are some out there. It is important that you keep up with when you submitted your work and the specific query rules for the market you sent it to.
The main reason for a query is simple: stories get lost. It is actually more common in my experience for stories to get misplaced after they leave the slush pile meaning that the story that you haven’t heard from in three months has made it past the first step in a publications review process. That makes the query all the more important. The slush wrangler’s job is reading and passing on acceptable fiction. The editors that make the final decisions as to what gets published have significantly more on their plates. They are usually saddled with managing scores of different operational tasks- fiction being just one of those. Because of this there are times when your story can fall through the cracks. It sucks. It happens.
For venues that I find myself sending queries to I typically write a simple, to the point email and send it wherever the submission page directs queries to. If the submission page makes no specific mention of queries I always wait three months after submission and two months after a notification of a second reading. Always put “query” and your story title in the subject line- they seem to like that.
To be fair- I have never queried for a story and had it make it into print. Still, having to query should not lead you to believe a story is hopeless. Most likely it just means that an overworked, under paid editor missed an attachment because their retina’s have permanent damage from years on the slush line.
A short PSA from the Science of Fiction
I recently had to make a query. Now I am waiting for a response to the query. How long should one wait to query one’s query? I have no idea. I’m thinking two weeks but I will let you know.
Andrew Clark Porter