This weekend, I encountered a few conversations about submitting stuff to editors. All of it started by a call for submissions that a friend submitted to me (actually, three friends submitted various calls this weekend, but that's beside the point).
The submission set me on edge for two reasons, both of them related to each other. The first was that the editor would not acknowledge any submission. The other was that they had no decision date or publication date.
I'm don't like not getting an acknowledgment. In the last year or so, I've put in a number of submissions that didn't come with even a quick email of "I got it, thanks!" It wasn't until later that I found out that they never got them; this was even worse when one of the editors told me they wish they got it, but it was too late. After a number of submissions and a bit of querying, I realized it was emails from my brokentypewriterpress.com domain don't always get there. I don't know why and I have no clue if I set off a spam filter, but somehow story submissions just don't show up.
Sadly, that means I have to use my gmail.com account, which I don't really enjoy doing. I have a domain, it's pretty, and perfectly good for every other piece of email. Just not submitting stories.
An acknowledgment doesn't have to be a fancy or personal email. Since it appears that a bulk of the editor addresses seem to be Hotmail, yahoo, or Gmail, it would be simply just to set up an auto-responder/vacation to say "I got it." That little thing would help a lot for piece of mind.
The second is a decision date. Most calls have a date that the submission has to be in, but almost none of them tell you when a decision is made. It could be weeks, months, or (in theory) years before a response will come. But, without any indication, how do I know? I remember Jim C. Hines saying he found out years later about his Goblin books, and that it came out of the blue. Tor (which I submitted FOTS this year and they rejected me) said I would get a response in six months. And I did and it was wonderful to have that deadline… though depressing that I was rejected.
Part of it is to know when a story is no longer being consider "submitted." Almost everywhere, they don't want simultaneous submissions. So, without an acknowledgment or a decision date, there is no way of doing when a story is no longer being considered.
It can be frustrating when it comes to sending out stories. Two years ago, I submitted two pieces and then heard nothing. I assume it was a rejection, but there was no response. I tried sending an email to the original place, but nothing. No feedback, no response, nothing. I agonized for half a year because I didn't know if they were just going slow or something had happened.
I don't like doubting. One things that was great about the Tor submission, among others, is that promise of a date. I knew when FOTS was no longer submitted and I could move on. Right now, I have three stories in limbo, one of them at a year mark and one six months.
Related to that: it would be fantastic if editors would create a RSS/Atom feed for their call for submissions. It doesn't have to be much, just a few key events: open for submissions, closed for submissions, decision made, book is out. Machine of Death did that and it went smoothly (though they had a ton of submissions… and rejected mine, but they told me why so I'm ecstatic). For the stories I currently have out, I would feel a lot better knowing if the anthology was dropped, it's being edited, or that decisions were made and if I didn't hear a response, it was a rejection.
Finally, posting those point (that there will be an acknowledgment email, a decision date, or a feed) in the call for submission helps. It should also reduce the number of "please send a response" or "have you decided?" emails; and that would hopefully make the editor's job easier.