I could have sworn I'd written about this recently, but I can't find it. Apologies if this is a repeat.
Roughly once a week, we at Strange Horizons receive a query from an author who sent us a story three or four or six months ago, and hasn't heard back from us, and has clearly gotten pretty impatient with our lack of response. Often, they're polite about it, saying things like (not an actual quote) "I know you're busy, so I'll understand if you're not ready to respond to my story yet." About as often, they're either not polite or barely polite about it, often in stiffly over-formal language: (also not an actual quote) "I must insist that you make a decision about my story as soon as possible and inform me as to its disposition."
But in most of those cases, regardless of politeness, the person querying makes two mistakes:
- They wait much too long to query. We essentially always respond to stories within 70 days. It's true that we take a little longer than that on about 0.3% of stories (that's three stories out of a thousand), but we never intend to, and we would prefer that authors query at the 70-day mark even if it turns out that the story is one of those rare exceptions.
- They assume that the problem is that we're taking a long time to consider the story. Whereas in almost every case, the problem is actually that the rejection we sent (usually several months earlier) got lost in email.
I think part of what goes on here is that people still tend to assume that email is completely reliable. But in fact, experimental evidence seems to suggest that roughly 1 rejection in 100 that we send never reaches its intended recipient.
Which is why we explicitly say in our autoresponse that submitters should query at the 70-day mark. But I think writers are used to response times being longer than claimed by editors, so they assume that the 70 days thing is just a guideline or a guess, when it really is (effectively) an absolute maximum. And because of the editor/writer power dynamic, most writers don't want to do anything that might annoy an editor, so they don't want to query, because that might be seen as pushing the editor to make a decision quickly, and it's widely (but mistakenly) believed that querying always causes the editor to reject the story.
Note: there are certainly writers who query without making the above mistakes, and we appreciate that. But a large majority of the queries about missing responses to stories fall into at least one of the above two categories.
As usual, it's probably silly for me to post this; I imagine most of you who read my journal already know it. But I always feel bad when we get this kind of query, because in addition to getting a rejection, they're hearing that they've been sitting there waiting to hear from us for months when they could've been sending the story elsewhere. So maybe some authors who are frustrated about waiting for months to hear from us will do a web search for something like [Strange Horizons response time], and maybe this entry will come up and they'll find out that they should stop waiting and send us a query.