When To Query: A Guide to Following Up Submissions

Written by Emily Harstone

Language can be confusing sometimes, particularly English. A query letter or a cover letter is usually the first thing you send a publisher, introducing yourself. I have written about query letters here. However if you haven’t heard back from a publisher after a particular length of time you are often encouraged to email them a follow up letter asking about the status of your submission. This is also, rather confusingly referred to as a query.

Whenever I use the term query in the rest of the article I am referring to the follow up email (or letter) that one sends to check on the status of the submission. Querying is important as it can prevent your submission from being lost in the shuffle. However, it can also be frustrating for the press if you query too soon and you can damage your relationship with them by doing so.

This article focuses on when you should query and when you should not. These are mostly not hard and fast rules. Think of them as guidelines that can help your chance of publication and that can make the submission process less emotionally taxing.

Part of why I wrote this article is because at Authors Publish we often receive emails asking questions along these lines, and while we have answered individuals questions for years now, we have never provided clear answers in an article format.

Do Not Query Within the First Two Weeks

While many presses send out automatic notifications indicating that they have received your work, not all do. If you do not receive one within the first hour, assume that press does not send out automatic notification and assume that they have received your submission.

Some authors receive an automatic notification indicating that they have received your work, and still query within the first two weeks. This is even worse. It is considered rude and  it just adds to the editor’s workload and is more likely to result in a fast rejection after the editor skim reads (if that) your piece.

Follow the Publisher’s Guidelines

Many publishers are upfront about their general response times, and some even mention as part of their submission guidelines when an appropriate time to query is.

Before you query, always check the submission guidelines, to see if this information is available. If it is, please follow the press’ guidelines. Ignoring them is rude.

This is particularly important if the press says they do not respond to queries or if they have a policy where they do not respond to submissions, unless they decide to accept them.  Presses that operate on this principle always give a deadline when you should assume rejection. When you submit to these presses it is important to note that in your submission file. It is never appropriate to query them about the status of the submission (even though this policy is understandably frustrating.)

Use Duotrope Before Querying (If You Have It)

Duotrope is a website we have written about extensively before. You have to pay a small fee to be a member, which is not worth it to everyone, although if you submit frequently it can be well worth it. One of the services they provide is that they indicate press and journals general response/turn around times based on other Duotrope users’ experience. This can be very helpful. This way you can know without even querying if a usually prompt press has slowed down their response turn around time. Journals are often run by one person so a death in the family, or other issues can cause them to slow down abruptly and without any formal notice.

The (submission) Grinder also provides information along these lines, but fewer people use it, so it is less likely to be up to date, but it is free.

Always Be Polite

This should go without saying, but always be polite when querying. The “relationship” between you and the editor is a professional one. Sending a rude letter in any context does not help your cause, even if it provides you with a sense of temporary relief.

Wait At Least Six Months

If there is no information about the press or journals response times on their website or elsewhere, wait at least six months before querying. It is important to note that this is not true if you are a non-fiction writer querying newspapers or weeklies about a timely topic. But outside of that most presses and journals have an average response time of around six months.

Do Query At The Appropriate time

Some writers overwhelmed by all this might decide it is the easiest not to query, but if done at the appropriate time, querying can make a big difference. It can keep your work from being lost in the shuffle.

In Conclusion

If the press or journal takes over a year and never contacts you, post query, assume rejection. Yes, the press should have responded directly, and some do take longer than that time, but usually the best assumption at the point is that they are not interested and it is time to move on.


Bio: Emily Harstone is the pen name of an author whose work has been published internationally by a number of respected journals. She is a professional submissions adviser. You can follow her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/emilyharstone/