A quick review of my tracker (hard copy, kept in a folder--I'm ol' school like that) shows a couple of submissions that have been out for well over a year. I'm writing them off as rejections.
But before you do that, make sure that you craft a short, specific and professional query and submit it to the editor of the magazine to inquire about the status of your story.
Most markets will get back to you within ninety days (that seems to be the industry standard). A couple of the more prestigious journals (Ploughshares, The Yale Review, Zoetrope) are famous for taking a year or more to drop a thin form rejection in the mail. Some get back to you so fast it makes your head spin.
Lone Star Stories, an excellent venue for quality speculative fiction and poetry, is in this camp. Editor Eric Marin has shot me a courteous "no" a few hours after I've sent in a piece.
Alas, I will find my way into those virtual pages in due time!
So the spectrum is wide and varied in terms of return times. When should you tap an editor and ask about a tale? I'd say thirty days after their posted response times.
Recipe for Submissions:
- Revise, polish, buff and shine that story until they can't say no;
- Compose a short, professional submission letter that can be easily adapted for both postal and digital submissions;
- Research the magazine and its staff--try to direct your piece to the appropriate editor. If it's a little ambiguous, To Whom It May Concern is always your best bet;
- Observe the guidelines on simultaneous submissions! I think this is an aspect of your goodwill and professionalism as a writer;
- Wait and hope, then wait and hope some more;
- Nudge the editor--politely, of course.
I've got a friend who edits a fairly prominent journal out in Oregon. He tells me he often receives queries that follow this general format:
hi did u read the storie i sent u thanx for checking
No author name, no story title. Now, if that's the competition in the slush pile, we should all feel bad when they say no, am I right?
At any rate, don't write a story off until you at least try a query. There are a few magazines that I've queried who haven't bothered to get back to me at all, but most editors are happy to drop you a short note on the status of your piece.
Those magazines whose response is, well, nothing at all?
Screw 'em. Life's too short to deal with folks who don't give a shit...