It’s been some time since I posted a new Tip for Writers. Sorry about that. I guess I’ve been busy. Today’s tip is prompted by a question I received from a reader of my Perpetual Folly Pushcart Prize Literary Magazine Rankings. If you’re not familiar with the rankings, be sure to check them out.
Here’s the question: What the heck does “in progress” mean as the reported status of a submission in the Submittable online submission manager system.
Answer: Not Much. Now, it may mean something at some magazines, and obviously I can’t speak for all of them, but at Prime Number Magazine it only means that some action has been taken with regard to the submission, but that action could be as insignificant as one editor assigning the submission to another editor. It does NOT mean that the submission has been read, necessarily, and it does NOT mean that it has passed any sort of initial screening. Furthermore, a submission that is still labeled “New” or “Received” may actually have been read already by the first editor assigned. So, in fact, such a submission might be further along in the process than one that is labeled “In Progress.”
As I say, I can only speak for my magazine, but here’s how it works. We have four editors (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Reviews/Interviews) and submissions are assigned automatically depending on which category a submitter has selected. Such a submission is labeled “Received” (or “New” from the Editors’ side). When the Editors open a submission, the status does not change. In fact, if I don’t reject a story immediately, it may keep that initial status for a long time while I mull it over and look at other submissions available to me. Now, I have several options at this point. I may have an initial impression–favorable, neutral, unfavorable–but not enough to make an accept/reject decision. So I might mark that impression in an internal voting process visible only to the editors. If I do that, the submission’s status will change to “In Progress.” Or, I may discover that a piece was submitted in the wrong category, in which case I can change the category–shifting it from fiction to flash, for fiction to non-fiction. The status of that submission will change to “In Progress” whether or not I’ve read the piece. Or, I may want to get the opinion of another editor on something and so I will add that editor to the submission’s review assignment and, again, the status changes to “In Progress” even though I may not have actually read it fully.
So, bottom line, the “In Progress” status in Submittable, at least the way it is used at Prime Number Magazine, means that something has happened with a submission, but not necessarily much. And the absence of “In Progress” in the status line doesn’t mean that nothing has happened. In other words, you can’t read too much into “In Progress.”