A reply to an unsolicited article or essay submission can take a number of forms: maddening silence, an unsigned boilerplate response, a standard-issue rejection that nevertheless has a name attached, or a personal reply (with its own range, from no to qualified yes to revision suggestions to acceptance).
But know this: A response from an actual human being is—especially for beginning writers and freelancers—an opportunity. It is an entry point.
If you receive a rejection, particularly an encouraging one, from a real live person with decision-making power, send something else to her, preferably as soon as possible before she forgets your name.
This is how relationships with editors begin. From relationships can come assignments, work, and—however you may define it—success.
When submitting to a publication, avoid phrases like “I have the perfect article for you.” You may. But editors have a better idea of the perfect article for their readers—even if they don’t know it’s yours till it’s in their hands. In other words, you may have written that story, but don’t sound like you know a publication’s audience or editorial plans better than the editor does.
If you’ve written the article—an essay, for instance, which it’s better to submit complete, because with a piece like that it’s all in the execution—send it with a brief description. Mention previous publications, sure, but don’t send links to clips; the essay will speak for itself.
If it’s a pitch for a reported story, keep the query to a few paragraphs describing what you want to write, whom you’ll talk to, what you know so far, and an idea of length, along with—in this case, yes—clips. End with something like “I hope you’ll agree...” Then let the editor get back to you with how he or she envisions the article—maybe shorter, maybe longer, maybe focusing on just one angle.
Or maybe, in fact, precisely as you described it.
Today in class when we were talking about sending work out—something I always do in the last workshop—a student asked where I stood on following up on a submission to a magazine or journal.
I was a little stunned, because while my regular spiel includes a reminder to keep track of where and when you send essays (Submittable makes this super-easy now) and to follow up, I’d never been asked—before I’d even gotten it—about the advisability of doing so. The way she worded the question implied there might be times when it wasn’t a good idea to check on the status of writing you’ve shed blood for and taken the leap of faith to see into a world of strangers.
So yes, if you haven’t gotten a reply after the publication’s stated response time (assuming such exists), you should without question or apology follow up. Things get lost in transit all the time. They get buried in in-boxes, physical and electronic. Editorial processes are slow and complicated in ways outsiders can’t imagine.
But here’s what surprised me: I then heard coming out of my mouth words I’d never heard myself speak before. I said, “Just like your kids or your partner, you should have your writing’s back.
It deserves it.