The Truth About “In-Progress” in Submittable: Everything the Impatient Writer Needs to Know

Writers can be an antsy and impatient bunch, especially when they are waiting to hear back regarding a submission. Since most of us are submitting our work through Submittable now, things are both better and worse than they used to be. They’re better because we can see the status of our submission. They’re worse because we can see the status of our submission. Yes, you read that right. I said the same thing for both better and worse. As they say, it’s both a blessing and a curse.

The Good and the Bad of Status Updates

Knowing the status of your submission seems pretty cool. So why is it worse? First, let me profess my undying love for Submittable. I wish every publisher used it. It made my life so much better as an editor. And it makes my life as a writer a lot easier too. Think of the alternatives: email, snail mail, that old submission manager that required a different account on every single website you submitted to. Yeah, Submittable has made it much better to be a writer.

submittable status updates

So I definitely don’t want this post to be mistaken for taking a dig at Submittable. No, if this post digs at anyone, it’s the obsessive writer who keeps logging into Submittable to see the status of their submission. Who cares? You’ll know when you know.

Okay, so why is knowing the status of your submission worse? A couple reasons jump to mind:

  • It makes some people obsessively check the status of their submission.
  • Other than “accepted” or “declined”, submission status doesn’t really mean that much.

In particular, I’m talking about “In-Progress.” This is a status that drives some writers insane. Unfortunately, there’s a ton of misinformation out there regarding what “In-Progress” means in Submittable (imagine that–bad information on the internet!). So let’s get straight to the punch.

What “In-Progress” Really Means

In-Progress means that some type of action has been taken with your submission. As Submittable puts it, it means your submission has been “handled in some way.”

Okay, but that isn’t really clear in itself. What the heck does it mean to be “handled”? What is an action?

An action or “handled” means that someone on the publication’s side of Submittable physically did something with your submission beyond just opening it. In other words, they performed some type of computer or interface action. In even simpler terms: they clicked on something, and that something had an effect. More on that in a second.

The Biggest Lie About “In-Progress”

First, let’s debunk the biggest lie about “In-Progress” in Submittable: “In-Progress” does not mean your submission has been opened or read. It is very possible for an editor to open a submission, read the whole thing, and then close it without taking any action. The status of the submission will still be “Received.” Don’t believe me? Go ahead and send a test submission here. I’ll open it and scroll through it. Your submission will still be marked as “Received.” It won’t change to “In-Progress” unless an editor does something else. I opened and read this test submission five times and it’s still just marked as “Received”:

submittable received status

So what can an editor do to trigger the “In-Progress” status? A bunch of stuff that you can’t see. An editor can:

  • Vote/rate your submission
  • Add a note
  • Assign it to another editor
  • Add a label

These are actions. And like I just said, you cannot see any of these things. You can’t see my vote or my note or my assignment or my label. There are some exceptions here. If the editor sends you an email or makes a note visible to you, then you can see it. In these rare cases, you will know what your particular “In-Progress” means. But most of the time, “In-Progress” won’t mean anything to you as the writer.

submittable in progress

“In-Progress” Doesn’t Mean Anyone Has Read Your Submission!

Notice what isn’t on the list? It’s anything having to do with your story being read. Your story can be “In-Progress” even if no one has looked at a damn word in the submission. And as we already said, an editor can read your whole submission without the status moving from “Received” to “In-Progress” as long as they don’t take any of these actions. In my experience as an editor, it’s pretty common to read some or all of a submission without taking an action. I’d say I did it at least 15% of the time.

So there’s a chance your submission has been read even if the status hasn’t changed. And there’s a good chance your story hasn’t been read even if the status has changed.

Note: On the editor’s end, “Received” doesn’t exist. We see the submission as “New” until we do something with it (beyond just read it). Once we do something with it, we also see it as “In-Progress,” just like you.

submittable new status

Here’s what makes things even more painful for writers: Your story can stay “In-Progress” indefinitely (unless you withdraw it). I’ve had stories in the “In-Progress” stage for well over a year. I highly doubt any publication spent that much time reading and considering my work before rejecting it.

The Final Word On “In-Progress”

So what does “In-Progress” mean? It means a lot of things. It also means nothing at all. It really just depends.

If you want to take away one thing from this post, here’s what it should be: stop worrying about the status of your submission. You’ll know when it’s accepted or declined. Until then, you should just be writing. Every time you log into Submittable to look at the status of your submission, a story idea dies.

How do you feel about Submittable’s “In-Progress” status? Are you an obsessive status checker? Share your thoughts in the comments.


4 thoughts on “The Truth About “In-Progress” in Submittable: Everything the Impatient Writer Needs to Know

  1. Thanks for this ! I have browses submittable but haven’t submitted anything yet . One thing I wonder is whether or not publications can tell if you’ve simultaneously submitted the piece to a bunch of other publications too

  2. Ambiguous statuses are not cool. If it doesn’t mean anything, it has no business being there. They need to either mercy-kill it or pull aside the veil a bit. If an editor performs an action on the submission (so dirty), then it should simply say “Assigned to Another Editor” or something. Nothing too fancy. I’m leaning towards just putting a pillow over it’s face until long after it has stopped struggling.

    That being said, I’m an obsessive for about three months. After that, meh. Knowing that “In Progress” has no basis in reality will be helpful when I’m ready to submit.

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