WRITING TIPS
Why You Should Almost Never Withdraw a Story

Submittable makes it easy to withdraw a story, but should you? 

Submittable makes it easy to withdraw a story, but should you? 

What’s the most surefire way to make sure your story doesn’t get accepted for publication? Don’t submit it, of course. But there’s another method that’s just as effective and has the added bonus of wasting everyone’s time: withdrawing your story. 

I’ve never been much of a withdrawer. I’m of the mindset that the only acceptable case for withdrawal is acceptance elsewhere (and that’s only acceptable if the venue allows simultaneous submissions).

But I will confess that I’ve withdrawn once or twice for other reasons. Those other reasons include: 

  • Impatience: Hey, if it takes you three years to respond, I have the right to withdraw.

  • Embarrassment: Damn, I just realized this story sucks ass and having it published would humiliate my entire family. I think I’ll go ahead and pull it from consideration.

I used to be a submitting fool. I’ve sent out well over 1,000 of the things. I’ve never once withdrawn a story for what I would consider a petty reason. Unfortunately, that seems to becoming a much more popular thing. 

Here’s how withdrawal works in today’s literary world: 

  1. You submit your piece, effectively telling the publisher, “Hey, I want you to publish this.”

  2. You take your piece away, effectively telling the publisher, “Hey, I don’t want you to publish this.”

Submittable makes it super easy. You click a button and it’s done. If you want, you can offer up an explanation. Not that I’m blaming Submittable. It’s always the submitter’s fault. Submittable just makes it a little easier. You used to have to compose an email to do it! 

As Managing Editor of Bartleby Snopes, I have the (mis)fortune of seeing all kinds of withdrawals. Some of the withdrawals are perfectly understandable. Hey, you were accepted elsewhere? Congratulations! Send us something else, you superstar writer. 

But “accepted elsewhere” makes up far less than the majority of withdrawal these days. Here are some of the excuses for withdrawal I’ve seen just in the past couple weeks: 

  • There’s a typo on page three

  • I spotted a glitch

  • I sent the wrong story

  • I wanted to change the title

  • I made a mistake in my cover letter

Lately it’s just been getting ridiculous. There was even one submitter who withdrew and resubmitted the same story 6 times within a week. Every single withdrawal was accompanied by some minor excuse, mostly related to typos. If you have that many typos, maybe you shouldn’t have submitted the damn piece to begin with. 

The reason why these withdrawals are so frustrating is because they show a complete lack of regard for the entire process of writing and publishing. It’s like these writers dash off a story as quickly as possible and then send out their manuscripts without a clue what they are doing. Why not read over your submission before you send it? You know, put a little time into your writing?

Once you send out a story, you just need to wait. Found a typo? Okay. Just wait to hear back from the venue. One typo isn’t going to be the difference between your story being published and being sent to a literary wasteland. Be patient and have some bloody confidence in your abilities. 

It may not seem like a big deal--after all, it only takes a few seconds to withdraw. But it is. And not just because it wastes an editor’s time. 

Withdrawal makes you look bad as a writer. It sends the message that you don’t take your time on your work and that you don’t care about the editors. Withdrawing a piece for a reason other than “accepted elsewhere” is the equivalent of telling that venue: “I am an amateur.” And that’s really the best case scenario. 

You know what happens when you resubmit that story a few hours or days later? The readers for that venue remember you as the person who withdrew a story for some stupid reason. Why would any editor want to work with someone who is so careless? 

But it’s not just the carelessness. It’s also the perceived fickleness. If you are willing to withdraw a story because of a single typo in a cover letter, what else are you going to do? Are you going to ask to make a change after the story goes up online or to the printers? Or maybe you’ll ask to have the story removed five days after it goes live. Whatever the case, you’re not setting yourself up as someone who would be pleasant to publish.

If you want to get accepted, you need to send out stories only when they’re in publishable condition. You also need to act like a professional. Nothing says unprofessional like pulling your work away before a venue even has a chance to respond. If you withdraw, I promise they will remember you. And not in a good way. 


Nathaniel Tower lives in Minnesota with his wife and two daughters. He writes weird fiction, juggles, and manages the online lit mag Bartleby Snopes. His short story collection Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands is out now through Martian Lit. Find out more about Nathaniel at http://nathanieltower.com