Why Don't Editors Reply?

Ghosting is not just for the dating world

Hi writers, Kelly Eden here.

I wrote a special one with you in mind this week.

(It’s published on Medium so if you want to read it there and give me 50 claps feel free!)

I wanted to address an issue we all face in writing—getting your email ghosted! I’m sure you’ve experienced it. I know I have!

You finally build up the courage to pitch your article to an editor: a mix of hope, excitement, and fear registering in your chest as you click that little send arrow...then you wait.

And wait.

You check your spam folder. Perhaps their glowing acceptance email was misplaced? Nothing.

Editors regularly ghost writers. It’s worse than the dating world. As a new writer, it’s tempting to hound them with follow-up emails, like a desperate lover begging for a reply.

You want a reason for their rejection — surely that’s not too much to ask? Was it the topic, because you have more ideas! If it’s your writing, you’re happy to fix it. Is it because you don’t know the right people? Just tell me!!

Still nothing.

Editors don’t reply for a number of reasons. Some are fair-enough, others are rude, and some are plain wrong. Here are 6 possible explanations for your ghosted email:

Too much of a good thing

Editors of popular publications and magazines receive hundreds of submissions weekly. As an editor of a small publication myself, it can be exciting but daunting to see a bursting inbox in the morning.

Editors are like the rest of us: they have bad weeks, they get sick, their dog dies. Some weeks a bursting inbox might be too much to handle. Perhaps they usually give individual responses to each submission, but the week you sent yours they were simply overwhelmed. It’s easy to miss an email or forget to reply.

Check the submission guidelines. They usually tell you what to expect if the answer is “no”. If it says to expect a response within a week or two, send a follow-up email later in the month.

Awkward people become editors too

Some editors feel uncomfortable sending a no. They know how rejection feels and no-one likes to be the one to shatter a dream. It’s tough. How do you nicely say, “This article you spent hours of your life on is not worth me publishing.”

Are the emails with a generic response really any better? Here’s one I received recently, “Thank you for the chance to review your story. Unfortunately, it wasn’t right for us at the moment, but we’re grateful to you for sharing it with us.”

Cookie-cutter rejections feel false and disingenuous, don’t they? Are they really grateful? Did they even read it?

This type of editor would rather not say anything. It’s not a courageous approach, but it’s not intentionally nasty either.

It’s not a financial transaction

When you give someone a product, they usually give you something in return. Most often money. We’re used to the world working that way. I give you something, you owe me something.

When we send off our story, we feel they owe us a reply. They don’t.

They didn’t ask for your story. Sure, they might have put out a call for submissions but they didn’t specifically commission you to write for them. You’re not doing them a favor. When you send off your pitch, you’re asking them to do something for you: publish your story, and hopefully pay you for it.

Many editors don’t feel the need to reply. They pick the stories they want the same way we would pick a meal at a buffet. They scan everything that’s on offer and fill their plate with whatever looks tastiest.

If you send in seafood and they prefer chicken, they’ll simply pass you by without comment. Life is busy. We can’t blame them for approaching it efficiently.

The bias of bigots and bullies

Not everyone in an editing position is fair with their power. Some editors have strong biases towards certain groups and unfair rules about what they will and won’t publish.

Before he became well-known, Barak Obama’s book, Dreams From My Father, was rejected by a publisher. Was it because the editor didn’t think it was a good read?

Tracy Sherrod, now the Director of Amistad Press, was a junior in publishing at the time. She explained to Slate that the editor who rejected Obama’s book gave this disappointing reason: “We don’t really publish people with non-traditional names.”

That was in the 80's and 90's, and we’d like to hope there’s been progress, but it would be naive to think every editor is unbiased. It’s wrong, but it’s reality.

Strictly by the rules

There are magazines and publications with a policy to only respond if it’s a “yes”. Some publications receive hundreds of submissions and to answer every one would be impossible. I know it sounds like a quick, easy thing to send an email with a generic response, but imagine sending 100 a day. If each one takes even a minute, that’s a ton of extra work.

You left a bad taste

The last reason is one I’ve come across in my own editing. When writers send me a pitch, I reply to every email…except this kind.

If I open an email and it’s clear the writer hasn’t read the guidelines, has never looked at my publication and the kind of stories we publish, and demands feedback, I generally ignore it.

If you’re rude and demanding in your email, or can’t be bothered checking the guidelines and getting familiar with the style of a publication, expect to get ghosted.

Thankfully most writers know this (I’m sure you do) and 95% of the submissions I see are polite and friendly.

Final word:

Being ghosted by editors is a normal part of writing life. Don’t stress too much when it happens.

If an editor does send you a rejection email, you can always impress them with a humble “thank you for your time” reply. Who knows, it might mean they look twice as hard at your next submission.

Get Feedback on My Writing

This week, I’m in the final stages of reading and judging the writing contest at Inspired Writer on Medium. There have been dozens of wonderful personal essays sent in.

Personal essays are powerful to write and share. If you want to give them a go but don’t know how to start, I’ve got you covered. I created my introductory personal essay workshop so everyone can try this form and get individual feedback. Check it out here or with the button above.