January 20, 2016 by Nathaniel Tower
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.