The Dreaded Short Story Query
By Sara Codair
Querying short stories is the most stressful part of the publication process for me.
The word query has a slightly different meaning in the world of short stories than it does for novels.When you query an agent of publisher about a novel, you are essentially submitting a cover letter and sample to see if they are interested. However, when you submit a short story, you generally include an extremely brief cover letter and the full manuscript. Writers refer to this as a submission, not a query.
The short story query is actually a follow up letter. If the publisher does not respond to the story in their advertised timeframe, then you are allowed, and in some cases, expected to follow up with an email. For me, this is more stressful than the actual submission.
The longer a market takes to respond to my story, the more I start over-analyzing their silence. Did they forget about my story? Did they put it in their maybe pile? Are they just really backlogged? Any of these are equally possible.
If they are just backlogged, I feel bad adding more material to their reading list, even if it is just one email, so I always keep my query email short.
I take cues from their submission guidelines regarding how and when I can query. Most publications will provide some information about querying in their submission guidelines. For example, Firefly has this near the end of their guidelines: “if a month has passed from the day you have submitted to us and you haven’t heard from us, please feel free to send a query with either “Query” or “What The Heck” in the subject line. We find the latter more cathartic.”
I queried them once, but in the end, they were just backlogged and rejected my story. Other markets, like the Sockdolager and Museum of Science Fiction, have responded to queries telling me my story has made it past their first round and is being held for further consideration. The most successful querying experience I had was with Helios Quarterly as it turned into an acceptance.
Some markets have made querying unnecessary with extremely specific guidelines and efficient submission managing systems that allow writers to track their stories progress through the queue. However, many smaller and/or new markets can not afford said software, so they rely on email.
The best advice I can offer is keep it short, and make sure you read the guidelines first. If a market says “don’t query until three months have passed” then make sure three months have passed before you query.
Most of my queries look something like this:
Dear Editor (s),
I sent you my story, “The Best Short Ever,” on June 4, 2016, and have not heard anything. Could you please confirm you received it and provide an update on its status?
Dear Editor (s),
I sent you my story, “The Best Short Ever,” on June 4, 2016, and have not heard from you. Are you still considering it?
If I addressed my cover letter to a specific person, I will use their name. Otherwise, “Dear Editors” works fine.
I’ve never had an editor get made at me for querying. Most of the responses I get are sympathetic or apologetic. If a market says you can query after X days or months have passed, then do it. Just keep your letter short and polite. It will give you peace of mind and remind the editor you exist.