I’ve been receiving so many wonderful submissions for the “Lasting Love” anthology I thought I’d post something about replies from editors. First, we all know there are no hard and fast rules and that every editor has his or her own style and opinion. But I can tell you from experience, the best always reply. And they do it fast, too.
When I first started submitting work to editors, everything was done through snail mail, so things were a little different than they are today. Along with the submission, I’d write up a brief cover letter with a three or four sentence plot description, and then I’d enclose a SASE so the editor could let me know the submission had arrived in tact. If I wanted confirmation, it was my job (and at my expense) to include the SASE. No problem; I never minded doing this. But the big problem then was that you never knew whether or not a story was actually accepted. It took months to hear a reply if the editor wanted it, and if they didn’t want it they rarely ever bothered to tell you. So I’d usually give each submitted story a six month time frame, and if I hadn’t heard anything by then I’d resubmit to someone else. Building good relationships over time with editors was extremely important to me. They usually responded one way or the other if they knew you…even with snail mail…because they wanted you to continue submitting to them in the future.
Then the world changed and we entered the electronic age. The transition didn’t happen overnight, but I think it’s safe to say that very few things nowadays are submitted through snail mail. (In 2001, I was actually told by an editor at a fairly large publishing house that either I started submitting electronically, or I’d be wasting my time.) It was a good thing, too. Editors and writers were now communicating with little effort. We didn’t become pen pals; the e-mails were short and to the point. But it was finally nice to hear, a few days after submitting something, that short note that said: “Got it. I’ll get back to you one way or the other.”
Now, since we started submitting and communicating electronically, I’ve found that different editors have different approaches. Some will reply that they’ve received the submission without being asked to do so, others ask you to mention that you’d like a confirmation, and some won’t reply one way or the other. (I have a habit of always stating, “If you could let me know that you’ve received this, I’d appreciate it.”) But once again, and I can say this from experience, the best editors will always reply. And for me this has never been about etiquette; for me it’s about business. When I write something and submit it to one editor, I do not submit to anyone else until I hear from that editor. But I also know that if the piece is not accepted for publication with the first editor, I’m going to re-submit it to someone else as quickly as I get the rejection. Writing is a business, and I’ve learned there’s little time to sit and worry about rejection. And in all the years I’ve been writing, I can say with confidence that when something has been rejected by one editor, I’ve always found another one who is ready to buy it.
But when you don’t hear from the editor, it ties up the submission and it can get confusing. Because if I don’t hear anything in six months (or whatever the deadline date was for submission), that piece is out to another editor before my computer can say “file’s done.” I can’t even list the amount of times I’ve submitted something to editor #one, and then after I’ve submitted it to editor #two and sold it, editor #one wants it. Sometimes it’s a matter of days (you hear nothing for six months, and in two days time everyone wants it), and all editor #one had to do was keep me updated and I’d never have re-submitted it to anyone else. I hate to turn them down, especially if they were the first choice. But life is about moving on and moving forward and I learned a long time ago that if you don’t think this way as a writer you’re usually sorry later.
Of course, even with e-mail now, I’ve also had the experience of never hearing anything at all from the editor. I’ll submit something and they never reply one way or the other. That’s fine, too, but I tend to remember this and shy away from working with this editor again in the future. I don’t think it’s that difficult nowadays to send a simple reply and keep the writer updated; I do this myself when I’m editing an anthology, because I know how it feels to be kept waiting. It takes one minute from my life to let the writer know that I’ve received the submission and that I’ll be in touch one way or the other. And this is something that I’ve learned from working with some really excellent editors over the years; the best. I’ve also learned that when I don’t get a reply from an editor, it’s usually because they are either amateurs or they just don’t care. But one thing is certain, the best ones always reply that they’ve received the submission and that they will let the writers know one way or the other.