Thursday, June 20, 2013

Business Basics for Today’s Writer—Follow Up and Follow Through

An area where a lot of writers struggle is knowing when and how to follow up on a submission.

And I know just how you feel!

I’ve sent something out through email and then I wait…and wait…and wait…without a word. My mind begins dreaming up scenarios. I think about the horror stories I’ve heard about writers who’ve bugged editors about a submission and it’s been automatically rejected. I think about the number of times I’ve sent something through email and it never arrived. And I worry that my email has been relegated to spam or just buried in a too-full inbox.

Each of the situations I’ve mentioned could happen. The odds are that they won’t, but occasionally they do. So what do you do to head off trouble or follow up? Here are some guidelines to help you navigate the minefield of follow ups and follow throughs with submissions.

First, don’t panic. There are VERY few editors/agents who will reject your work just because you are conscientious enough to follow up on a submission. And if they do, trust me, you probably don’t want to work with them anyway.

What you can do:
Follow an email submission with a verification email. Just ask if the person received your submission. If an editor has been in this business (or on the planet) for very long they’ve had emails go astray. Following up is a good policy.

What you should avoid doing:
Sending your submission with a read receipt. This is an option with some email programs and I’ve met quite a few editors who don’t care for this.

How to follow up:
I recommend you follow up with email in almost one hundred percent of the cases.  Even if you sent a submission through the US Postal Service, I’d still follow up with an email.

How NOT to follow up:
NEVER, I repeat NEVER follow up a submission with a telephone call. This will almost immediately brand you difficult and uncomfortable to work with.

When to follow up:
I usually wait to send a confirmation email until the editor has had time to read and review my submission. This gives him time to respond without a nudge from me. So how long? If there is a specified length of time I should hear within, I wait until that has expired.

If there’s not, here are the time frames I use.
  • Articles and short pieces: usually three to five weeks.
  • Proposals: three to five months.
  • Book length submissions: four to six months.

These are just the time frames I’m comfortable with. If I send something out and they don’t accept simultaneous submissions or if I’ve tailored a piece specifically for a certain publisher or publication, I may inquire sooner. If I know the person is behind, I’ll wait a little longer. If I know they tend to be disorganized, I’ll ask a little sooner. Most of all, just use your head.

I hope this has given you some guidelines of how to follow through when you submit something for publication. If you have any other questions or are willing to share your own submission experiences, leave a comment below.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Edie. I haven't sent anything out on submission yet. I've read different time lines on various literary agency sites. Thanks for sharing your guidelines! Those are helpful.

  2. Thanks for the guidelines Edie. It surprised me a little, so it's good to know what an editor expects, or is at least comfortable with, generally speaking.

  3. Thanks Edie. As always, I gleam something from your advice. :)

  4. HI Edie. As a former editor who dealt with an overcrowded inbox way too much of the time, I always appreciated a follow up email. When I was editing Starsongs magazine, I once received a follow up email from a young lady about an article she had submitted. When I tracked it down, it was exactly what I needed for that issue! I thanked her for her follow up and sent her a contract immediately.

    Just remember to always be polite and considerate. Also, if the editor has given advice as to how the work can be improved upon, for goodness sake, take it!

  5. Talk about timing. Today I received a reply to an E-mail for a story interview I sent out the day I got back from the conference. One of the editors told me to send her the story. I had given the person(story subject) my card and E-mailed them and then nothing. I had just about given up hope. Your post and their E-mail made my day. Now all I have to do is the interview, write the story and wait some more, but at least now I know waiting pays off sometimes. My question, is there any trick to getting a return response when you want to do a story on something or someone? A couple times I have found a really good story and it seems like it is a sure thing. Then nothing happens.