When to Pull the Plug on an Acceptance

Having a story accepted is a huge accomplishment for any writer. Unfortunately, having a story accepted sometimes doesn’t turn out as planned. What starts as a celebration sometimes ends in months of waiting and agony, ultimately culminating in us having a story that needs another home.

A few months ago, a friend and fellow writer received an acceptance. As writers typically do, he celebrated the accomplishment. Maybe he posted about it on social media, announced it to his friends, received plenty of congratulatory messages. When the target publication date rolled around, there was no story. The venue had gone suspiciously quiet. No website updates, nothing on social media. Worst of all, no publication.

It’s not unusual for a publication date to be delayed. It’s also not unusual for a publication to go belly-up without so much as a warning. But when it does happen, it puts writers in a very difficult position.

Do we wait around for the publication to rise from the ashes and publish our work? Or do we start sending that story out to other venues? Whichever option we choose leaves us with more waiting–and possibly more rejection.

Unfortunately, there’s no single approach that’s guaranteed to help that story find its way to publication. But here are some steps you may want to take when your acceptance looks like it’s going to turn up empty.

First, contact the publication. It’s best to start with whomever you’ve been in contact previously. Don’t be overly pushy or demanding. After all, many of these editors are volunteering their time, and they’re also writers themselves. The last thing they need to deal with is overzealous writers who can’t wait a few more weeks for their stories to see the light of day. So a gentle reminder and curious prod will do. You know, a “just checking in to see the status of the next issue.”

If you get a response, fantastic. You’ll know exactly what to do. The venue will probably either apologize for the delay or deliver some bad news. Either way, you’ll understand the fate of your story.

But what if they don’t respond? Believe it or not, this happens pretty frequently. And not just to my friend. I’ve had it happen before. I’ve had over a year go by without hearing squat from the supposed publisher. Obviously, by the time a year has passed, you know it’s okay to go elsewhere with your story. Of course, this opens up a completely new challenge. It’s hard enough to get a story accepted once. Getting accepted again–well, let’s just say the odds aren’t with you.

If you don’t get a response within a couple weeks, you should do a full detail of the venue’s website and social media platforms. If they’ve been posting stuff actively, then there’s still hope they’ll be publishing your work soon (and just haven’t had a chance to respond to your query). If they’ve been silent online, then things don’t bode well for you. It might be time to send one final email to that venue: Thanks for agreeing to publish my story. However, I’m going to have to withdraw it. Your unresponsiveness to my previous email leaves me thinking you no longer intend to publish my work. If you are still interested, please let me know. If I do not hear from you, then please accept this email as my official withdrawal.

Now, things can get a little hairier if there’s a contract. Of course, chances are they’ve already violated the contract by not publishing your story on time.

The big question we haven’t answered yet is, how long should you wait? Well, this depends on what’s at stake. If the publication comes with a payment, you might want to hold out a little longer. If it’s just exposure, you don’t need to wait quite as long. No sense in all that anxiety on the off-chance that a few people will read your story.

If the publication is more than two months overdue, they haven’t responded to your query for over two weeks, and they’ve been silent online for three months or more (silent as in no posts on social media and no updates on the website), then it’s definitely fair game to pull the piece. But that doesn’t mean you have to. Just don’t rush it too much. It was a lot of work to get that story accepted. You don’t want to blow it because you were impatient.  


9 thoughts on “When to Pull the Plug on an Acceptance

  1. Here’s one along the same line as this wonderful post, Nate. I had a story win a lit contest last November; it was run by a magazine with Indian/Bengali and American audiences both abroad and here. The win was accompanied by a $500 check. In late December, the editors informed me (and the other winners of poetry and essay rubrics) that the magazine will fold, but that they would honor publication and the monetary award. I am still waiting for both, but not holding my breath. The crappy thing was that, upon winning the contest, I had to withdraw the story from 17 paying places–most of which required a submission fee (usually $3, so not that bad). When I was told the ‘zine folded but that I’d still receive the check, I didn’t believe it and re-submitted, thus re-paying again the submission fees to those from which I had withdrawn it. At this writing, I’m still waiting for publication and the check…but I’m not counting on it. There hasn’t been any contact from the editors regarding both. Sucks.

  2. This has yet to happen to me, but it reminds me of one irksome (and ongoing) experience of my own. I had a story accepted and published in print, but never received my payment or contributor copies. The magazine is still active (website and social media are updated regularly), but its editors have yet to respond to any of my queries.

    At this point, I suppose it’s best to just let it go.

    1. Anthony, thank you for sharing your experience. I think that’s an even worse situation than what I’m talking about in this post. Not only did you not receive the promised compensation, but you also lost your first publication rights. It’s a lousy situation, but there may be some hope yet. I once had a venue issue a payment over a year after the promised date. I had given up hope after several “Yeah, we’re way behind but we’ll have the money to you soon” responses. When they finally sent me the payment, they were incredibly apologetic and even doubled the compensation. I hope you have a similar experience in the end!

      1. This journal did finally respond, and the issue of payment/contributor copies was resolved with class.

        As it turns out, queries (and, I can only assume, queries from other contributors) were ignored by an intern in charge of those kinds of communication.

        I share this only for those that face similar situations. There is hope! You never know what’s going on on the other end.

  3. I was approached some time ago for permission to publish one of my poems. In disbelief I ignored the letter, finding it very difficult to believe that anyone would want to publish it. I finally decided to contact the publishing company to see if they were still interested. I only emailed them today and I have no idea if anyone will ever get back to me. Given the time lapse, I’m not expecting a response but fingers crossed 🙂

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