Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Time and technological progress sure do change things. Twenty years ago, I had to wait until I received a paper statement from my bank to balance my checkbook. Now I can just download transactions any old time I want. Back then, I had to wait until a television show that I missed showed in a rerun unless I had the foresight to record it on my VCR. These days, I might just be able to stream an episode of my favorite show any old time I want.
I also remember submitting short story manuscripts to magazines back in the late 80s and early 90s. Very few publications accepted electronic submissions at that time. And even if they did, you couldn’t email them. You had to copy them to a–gasp!–floppy disk and drop them at the post office [cue a toddler asking "Mommy? What’s a floppy disk?"]. Worst case, you typed or printed the manuscript and paid the postage to mail it along with a self-addressed stamped envelope to ensure its safe return when the publication rejected it. (Did I say when? I meant if.)
Once your manuscript was loaded onto the postal truck and en route to its destination, you could wait anywhere from six weeks to six months to a full year for a response–if you received a response at all.
The best you could do to mitigate such delays was to cull through the most recent edition of the Novel & Short Story Writers’ Market, hoping against hope that you’d find a market that accepted your genre, accepted your word length, accepted stories from your region, happened to be open to submissions at that particular time of year, and promised a reply in less than six weeks.
Thank heavens for progress! These days you can often submit a manuscript to a magazine in a few seconds (any old time you want), just by clicking your email client’s Send button, or by filling out a form and uploading the document through a Web browser. After much anticipation, you can expect to receive your response… in six weeks to six months to maybe even a year! If you receive a response at all.
I guess some things don’t change after all.
What’s more, that process of submission and acknowledgement probably won’t change much. The slushpiles on the desktops (real or virtual) of agents and editors might decrease a bit as a result of the new popularity of self publishing. Still, they’re called "slushpiles" for a reason. They’re massive. They’re hard to drive through. And they sit there forever, not melting away.
So, here’s one writer that you won’t typically find complaining about the length of time it takes to get a response on a manuscript submission, even if it’s a rejection (and most of them will be). Honestly, I’m happy if someone at a publication I submit to actually takes the time to pick up my submission and read through the whole thing.
Besides, our new culture of immediate gratification wears on me.
It’s kind of nice to wait for something for a change.