Short answer: Feel free to nudge an editor if the timeframe they gave for consideration has passed, but don’t be surprised if you don’t receive any response.
This is a “How long is a piece of string?” question.
There are all kinds of reasons why you might not have received a response to your submission yet. Submissions no longer get “lost in the mail” as often as they used to, largely because writers aren’t sending their work via snail mail anymore. But technical glitches can and do happen.
A lot of publications now send a digital receipt when you use their online system, so the first thing you should do if it feels like you’ve been waiting a while is check to see if your submission was ever confirmed. You can also do this on Submittable; if your submission has gone through, it will appear under the Active tab straightaway. If you’ve never seen your submission queued there at all, something went wrong and you can submit it again. If you saw it when you sent it and now it’s disappeared, check your Accepted and Declined folders to see if it’s already been acted on and you somehow missed the notification.
If you’re confident your submission was received, check the publication’s individual guidelines to see if they offer any standard response time; this information is frequently posted on their websites and gives you some idea how long you should expect to wait before hearing back. Journals affiliated with universities can take longer to act on submissions than independent journals as they run on academic cycles and usually involve students.
Speaking of academic cycles, if you send work outside a standard submission window, such as during summer break, you’re going to be waiting a while before anybody even sees it. It’s even possible your submission won’t be processed at all if you submit at the wrong time. If a publication reads from January to June and you submit in September, it’s safe to assume your work has been discarded unread.
As a general rule, the more prestigious the publication, the longer the wait for a response. This is especially true of places that regularly solicit work or publish writers who are already known eg. The New Yorker.
Sometimes, publications take a while to decide on a submission. This is often a positive sign as it means the work is under serious consideration. What you can’t see is that behind the scenes, a group of editors might be discussing your work and trying to figure out where to slot it into an upcoming issue. In this case, the more they talk about your piece, the better chance you have of them deciding to publish it.
In contrast, articles pitched to media outlets are usually decided upon very quickly. News and current affairs are very time-sensitive, and what looks hot today might be dead in the water by tomorrow. It’s common for media editors to only respond if interested, so if you haven’t heard back quickly, it’s safe to assume your piece wasn’t accepted for publication and can be submitted somewhere else ASAP.
The “only if we’re interested” response is becoming increasingly common these days. If you’ve checked Submittable, gone through your email, and checked your spam folder, and still can’t find any reply from an editor on a submission sent long ago, it’s perfectly acceptable to send a brief query. This is also permissible if you’re sure your submission has been in active consideration limbo for some time. With any luck, your gentle nudge will receive a quick response, but try not to take it to heart if you don’t receive any reply this time either. It’s nothing personal, just business, as they say.
— Nicole Melanson