You Ask, I Answer: What Do I Do When an Editor Goes AWOL After I Turn in an Assignment?

Ann asks: I was given a deadline of the 15th February for an article for Big Magazine. I told the editor that I’d send it over early, and she replied right away, saying she was excited to read my work. I sent it as agreed, nearly 2 weeks in advance. No reply. A week later, a few days before the deadline, I emailed to make sure she’d received it. No reply. On Monday, I rang to ask if all was OK — I got her voice mail and so left a message. Nothing. I’ve heard about this happening, but had just crossed my fingers and toes hoping it wouldn’t happen to me, and here it’s happening with my first article ever.

I know editors don’t want to feel stalked, so I’m doing my best to back off and give her space to reply, but it’s also making me really nervous!

Well, if it makes you feel any better: Welcome to the club. This has happened to all of us, and it’s especially nerve-racking for new writers: You’re all excited about an article you turned in, and anxious to hear what the editor thinks — and she never gets back to you, even to let you know she received the article.

It’s Not You

Take heart in knowing that the editor is most likely not blowing you off because your article sucks so bad that she can’t even bear to send you an e-mail about it. I know this is your fear, but take it from me: If your article was beyond repair, the editor would let you know straightaway, and either ask for major revisions or offer you the kill fee. Editors are not known to be shrinking violets.

What may happen is that you simply receive a check in the mail and see your article in the magazine a few months later. This is the best-case scenario. No revisions! They loved your work!

But then there’s that middle ground, where you never hear from the editor and you don’t get a check. The contract says you’ll be paid on acceptance, but the editor takes forever to actually “accept” your work.

This happened to me with a magazine that shall remain unnamed but that rhymes with “dead book” — the editor of which took five months to look at my article and then asked me to find and interview — over the Thanksgiving holiday — three parents whose kids had transient tics or Tourette’s. (And by the way, I didn’t get paid until the following April.)

The Dating Game

Unfortunately, situations like this aren’t rare, especially in the national magazine market, because they work so far ahead of time and also because editors tend to build a lot of cushioning into their schedules just in case someone (like the writer) flakes.

So the editor may ask for your article on June 1 and not really need it until June 21 or even later. And your article languishes on her hard drive while you go crazy trying to find out if the editor liked it and when you’ll get paid.

In a case like this, if you haven’t already sent the invoice, I would do that. It’s kind of a reminder that, “Hey, I turned this in three weeks ago and I think it’s time you accepted my story so I can get paid.” You can also follow up occasionally via e-mail or leave a voicemail message, which you already did.

Chin Up

Unfortunately, this is just the way some editors and magazines and work. The good news is that in the majority of situations, the editor is not trying to screw you out of your pay. She just has other things on her plate and your article is not a priority right now.

Get busy with more pitches so you’re not sitting by the phone for weeks waiting for this editor to get back to you. That will make the wait much less stressful.

How about you? Have you ever turned in an article only to hear deafening silence from the editor? What did you do? How did it turn out? [lf]

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16 comments… add one
  • Unfortunately, I’ve found myself in this situation fairly recently in which an editor assigned a story to me with difficult sources to obtain on very short notice and requests it be turned in during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It is now April 2012 and I have yet to receive payment or see the story published despite sending an invoice months ago and receiving the stamp of approval from the editor. My personal timeline was to contact an AWOL editor once every three weeks. We’ll see how this one turns out…

    I have to agree that sometimes these are situations that can’t be avoided. However, I’ve made it a personal rule to discontinue working with a publication who has a habit of doing this multiple times. Once an editor does this to me more than once, I make a mental note to place on my blacklist. I understand that everyone is busy, but it only take a few seconds to tell a writer you received the story. This is business. And this limbo practice wouldn’t be acceptable multiple times in most other industries so I don’t see why it should be accepted practice in the publishing world.

    • I’m sorry that happened to you, Terri! After that ONE experience with “dead book,” I put them on my blacklist and never pitched them again. Life’s too short and there are too many other markets out there.

  • I was approached by an editor who liked my website and asked me to do a story for a new travel magazine that was set to launch last summer. I had written for this editor for another publication and all had gone well, so I felt confident. I wrote the story, sent the invoice, and I’m still waiting – almost a year later. I’ve tried to follow up with the editor on several occasions, and even sent her pitches for the other magazine she edits, which is actually on the market. I haven’t heard anything from her in months. I continue to send email reminders every month or so, including new pitches for the other magazine, but I often feel like I’m stalking her. In my emails, I’ve asked if there’s a kill fee for the story if the magazine doesn’t get off the ground. It’s frustrating, but I have now pretty much forgotten about the money – I figure it’s probably not going to come down the pipe and if it does, it will be a nice surprise. Fortunately, I have other pieces in the works, so there’s cash flow from other sources that are real up and running magazines.

  • I’ve sat on both sides of the desk — as a freelance writer AND as an editor so I have sympathy for both sides and empathy for editors who are overworked and overwhelmed. That said, there is NO EXCUSE for keeping writers hanging after you’ve agreed to buy a piece.

    I don’t write for popular or trade magazines anymore (I do corporate work where the same issues arise) and, like you, I put people on my banned list when they don’t pay promptly enough or otherwise cause me too much grief.

    Recently, I had one such editor call me back and offer me a job and I told her I was too busy to take it on. (She wasn’t chronically late — just way too obnoxious to work with.) As you say, life’s too short to put up with people like that!

    • Thanks for the insights from both sides of the desk! I’m glad you agree — you leave me hanging once and you’re OUT.

  • I’m dealing with the same exact thing right now. I should’ve taken it as a sign that this editor took nearly 9 months to accept my pitch, but since I’d worked with other editors at the same publication with no problem and hadn’t placed the piece elsewhere, I went ahead with the story. Of course he needed it done ASAP, and so I rushed and turned it in. It’s been 3 months and, aside from a short email confirming that he’d received it after I followed up, I don’t know if it’s been accepted or when I’ll receive payment. I have invoiced but he hasn’t acknowledged it. It’s incredibly frustrating.

    • It’s interesting (and disheartening) to see how often this is happening to RW readers. I would follow up with Accounts Payable. Let us know what happens if you do!

  • First of all, thank you so much for using my question for ‘You Ask, I Answer’ – your advice, as usual, is freaking golden. So the follow-up to this is that I did in fact hear back from this editor like 3 weeks after I sent you this question…of course, she didn’t acknowledge my previous emails or my voice mail, but she was nice enough. however, I’d not gotten a contract until after the piece was sent in. In fact, that’s how it’s worked with the three articles i’ve sold thus far – the editors have informed me by email to go ahead with the piece, given me a deadline, I’ve written it, and THEN they’ve sent across a contract. Well, two have. The third assures me he’ll be in touch just as soon as he can clear his desk. And I really do sympathize – editing sounds like a berzerker non-stop madhouse of a job, and I’m not looking to put any additional pressure on them. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even be able to ask for the kill fee in these scenarios. And I’m heartily disheartened to hear how common this is…A hard-knock life, indeed.

    • Thanks for the follow up! I’m glad you finally heard from the editor. And I apologize that it took me so long to get to your question…I found it in my Blog folder and realized that I’d skipped it over! Is it possible to have Mommy Brain for 3 years?

  • JK

    Nearly a year after I turned it in, I’m still waiting for a national magazine (rhymes with “his”) to put my article in their next issue. I stupidly agreed to pay on publication, and I cannot begin to express the frustration. But hey, lesson learned!!

  • The Freelancers Union has a campaign going now called “Get Paid, Not Played,” and it’s all about not getting paid for completed work. Check it out at

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