The fast and slow on submission responses
Last week I mentioned a new site called Duotrope's Digest, which is a free online database of over 1200 current markets for short fiction and poetry. Duotrope allows authors to log in and track their submissions, enabling the site to compile rejection/acceptance rates for the listed magazines and journals. This leads to the most amusing part of Duotrope's Digest, their market response-time statistics.
Now, these response time stats must be taken with a large, clotted-together piece of salt since they are based on self-reporting by writers (with self reporting being a very inaccurate way of collecting statistics). Still, these stats are a decent way of knowing how long your submission might linger at different magazines. Their stats also match up nicely with my personal experience. For example, I have submitted fiction to Another Chicago Magazine and they took almost a year to respond (which corresponds with the reported response time of 357 days, which Duetrope indicates is the worst in their database). Another place I've submitted to, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, is listed as one of the fastest responders, averaging 14.5 days per submission. In my experience the assistant editor of the magazine, John Joseph Adams (aka, Slush God, who maintains a wonderful blog detailing his editorial adventures), does indeed respond within two weeks to most submissions. I can also vouch that a few of the other submission response times listed within these statistics appear to be accurate (for example, Black Warrior Review is indeed rather slow in responding, as are Zoetrope: All-Story and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine).
As a writer these slow reponse times drive me up the wall. As an editor, I have a lot of sympathy for the circumstances which delay the review of submissions. Many writers flood the markets with their stories, overwhelming editors. This results in editors having less time to spend with any particular submission, which, ironically, causes writers to flood the markets with even more of their stories, creating a never-ending cycle of submission hell.
What's the answer to this? On the submission end, I'm not sure. All editors can do is strive to respond to submissions as quickly as possible. As for writers, we shouldn't overly obsess on response times. Give a magazine three months to respond (unless their guidelines say otherwise). If you haven't heard back by then, submit the story elsewhere. Most importantly, though, keep writing. After all, what matters most are the stories we create, not how long it takes a magazine to respond.