Monday, 10 October 2011

The Life Time of a Submission

The November issue of Dogs Monthly magazine carries an article of mine about fireworks (I like the promotion of it on the front cover!). But this idea was first born in August 2006.

Having done the research for a different commissioned piece, I realised I could quickly produce an article for dog owners, using the same information, so I submitted this speculative article to a dog magazine on 17th August (not Dogs Monthly!). Of course, an article about how to help dogs cope with fireworks is best aimed at the November issue of a magazine, however, fireworks are just as much an issue for dogs owners at Christmas and New Year too, so the piece may also have been suitable for the December or January issues.

At the end of December (when the January issue had been published), I contacted the editor to enquire if they were still interested in my feature. I heard back in February 2007 - the editor liked it and wanted to retain it for possible use in the November 2007 issue.

Well, time flies and the next thing I realised was that it was January 2008 and the article hadn't been used. I tried contacting the magazine, but heard nothing back. I tried contacting again in January 2009, but heard nothing.

In May 2009, I contacted the magazine again, mentioning the dates I tried contacting the editor in the past, and enquiring whether they were still interested in the feature. The editor emailed back the following day, saying they remembered it, but could I send a duplicate copy. This I did by return. A few days later, the editor emailed saying that they hoped to use it in the November 2009 issue.

Well, I'm sure by now you can guess where this one is heading. Suffice to say, it didn't appear in the November issue. So, in January 2010, I emailed the editor and enquired if they were planning on using it in 2010, if not, then I wanted to offer the piece elsewhere. The editor replied, saying that they couldn't guarantee using it this year, so I was free to offer it elsewhere.

Which I did, to Dogs Monthly, at the end of July 2010. The feature wasn't used in their November issue (with a feeling of deja vu!), so in January 2011, I enquired if the article was of interest to the editor. She said yes, and in June 2011, she asked me to bring the feature up to date again (because I'd submitted it a year previously) and provide a short biography.

Then, lo and behold, after five years, the article finally saw publication.

There are a few points to make here:

1. I said at the beginning this was a speculative piece. When I'm commissioned to write a feature, I always try to get another article (or two) out of the research I've undertaken. Whilst I try to get commissions for these, sometimes it only takes a short while to write the 'extra' article and so I'll risk a speculative submission. This example shows the risk of speculative submissions. Commissioned work rarely gets treated in this way.
2. Maintaining accurate records is imperative. Remember, you should know exactly where all of your submissions are at any one time. This is a business. You are competing with other professionals, even if your work is written around your day job and looking after the family.
3. However, the main point I want to make here is to never give up. I never set out on a journey of five years, but that's what it ended up taking. And it's only by keeping on top of submissions and contacting editors, without hassling them, that this piece has finally been published (and paid for).

Who knows what happened at the first magazine I submitted it to. Perhaps there was a plan to use it but something better came up, which was used instead. I don't know. I don't hold any grudges against the first magazine I sent it to. (But I haven't sent them any more stuff since!)

So, if you haven't heard from an editor, don't necessarily assume that's the end of your submission. Make enquiries. Don't chase two days after you submitted the piece. Even editors have days off and annual leave, and rumour has it, they're human and get stuff like the flu and coughs and colds too. They don't like being hassled during the week that the magazine goes to press, and they only deal with urgent emails and phone calls in that week, so everyone else has to take a back seat. But if several months have passed, then it's not unreasonable to make contact and just ask if your submission is of interest.

And if it turns out your target market is not interested, then find a new one. Stay persistent, and you increase your chances of publication. Ten years is my record, so far, for writing a piece and then finally seeing it published.

Good luck!


  1. This makes me feel much better Simon as I have an article pending publication for this very magazine too ( I have only been waiting 2 years though) so I realise I may have to wait a bit longer to see it in print. I have just started to give a gentle nudge if I have been waiting and sometimes it does pay off.

  2. Hi Di

    Yes, editors can hold onto pieces for a while, which is fine, as long as you're aware that that's the case. And a bit of 'gentle' nudging every six months or so, is fine.

    Good luck with your piece!


  3. Well, if that's not a good example of persistence, I don't know what is. Well done!

  4. Hi Simon, congrats on getting your piece in print in the end! Persistence and professionalism usually win through. Presumably you'll look at syndicating the piece abroad too? A post on that process would be appreciated!

  5. Excellent lesson for us all.

    Slightly differently...I began researching a subject over 15 years ago. I have a magazine article being published at the end of October - it scratches the surface and I hope to use more of the research for other articles too.

    Not so much persistence but procrastination in my case!

  6. I've had almost the same thing happen to me but after having 'missed the boat' two years running I contacted the magazine 3 months before the intended publication date they had told me, to remind them they had said they would publish it.

    If they would have told me then that they weren't publishing it or they had forgotten yet again I would then have retrieved it and tried to sell it somewhere else - but they had remembered and did publish it.

  7. Hi Baggy - perhaps the publication at the end of October will spur you on to write those other pieces!

    Few Ann, good to hear the magazine did remember to publish. Most magazines have systems in place for allocating articles for use in specific issues, but it's easy to understand why writers get concerned about this, because the editor rarely has time for extra communication, to put our minds at rest.