Magazine ‘lead times’

I’ve just had a short story published 18 months after submitting to Aquila children’s magazine. It’s the first of a two-parter. I submitted it as a three-parter (as per their contributors’ guidelines) but then the editor asked me to cut it by 1000 words and make it a two-parter. Yes ma’am! I said. What does this tell you about magazines?

Firstly, some of them have very long ‘lead times’. A lead time is the time from commission or acceptance of your article / story / poem until it actually appears. Aquila is one of only a few magazines in the UK that publish children’s fiction, so I wasn’t about to say no, “I’d rather take it elsewhere”. It’s the fourth piece they’ve published of mine in the same number of years, so I’m aware that patience is essential.

As the new writing editor of Plain Truth magazine I frequently get emails from writers frustrated at how long it takes for their work to appear. For that section of the magazine, our average lead time is 12 months, but 18 months is not unheard of. We only publish five times a year and only use one new writer per edition.

So my advice to new writers is: find out a magazine’s lead time so that you won’t be disappointed when it takes so long for your hard-crafted words to finally be read. And realise too that you will usually only get paid on publication, not acceptance.


1. How long should I wait before sending my article to someone else?

I try to let writers know within four months whether or not I will use their material. But I think it’s acceptable for a writer to politely query after three months. And I mean politely! I’ve had writers demanding to know what’s taking me so long – and that’s simply a short-cut to the bin. If you’re told that a decision hasn’t been made yet, or that you’re still in ‘the queue’, give it another three months and enquire again.

2. What if I was told my article would appear by a certain date and it hasn’t?

Try to get a date of publication at commission. This may change if the editor later decides that your article will be more suited to another edition. In an ideal world they should tell you, but frequently they forget. So if your article doesn’t appear by a certain date, a polite enquiry is certainly in order. If at this point they don’t give you a firm publication date, I think you’re well within your rights to withdraw the article and send elsewhere.

3. Can I demand a kill fee?

A ‘kill fee’ is a percentage of the agreed payment for the article that may be paid if publication falls through. This is common in the USA and Writer’s Market will give you an idea of the kill fees on offer. Sadly, the UK industry doesn’t work the same way and kill fees are rarely if ever paid. Ho hum. For more on what to do to ensure you get paid, check out my article What to do when you don’t get paid. If you want to know how to approach editors have a look at writing a proposal, which is part of my free non-fiction writing course. The same advice is applicable to short story writers and poets too.

Related posts:

  1. IC Iraq – new lifestyle magazine launches in Baghdad
  2. Non-fiction – how to write a proposal
  3. What to do when you don’t get paid
  4. Intros: hooking your reader
  5. Co-authoring: when two become one

Subscribe to my feed to receive automatic notification of new content. Or you can subscribe by email. (what's this all about?)

4 comments on “Magazine ‘lead times’

  1. Pingback: All Freelance Writing: Your Freelance Writing Resource: » Freelance Friday - June 13, 2008

  2. Malcolm Campbell on said:

    Lead time is a difficult part of the business for a young writer to get used to. One way for it not to matter so much, other than accepting it as the way things work, is to keep a lot of pieces in circulation. If you only write one story and then don’t do anything but worry about it for six months, a lot of valuable writing time will be wasted. If stuff is constantly going out the door, then waiting for a make-or-break decision from one editor won’t be the only thing in your mind’s eye.


  3. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    Very good advice Malcolm – have lots of irons in the fire.

  4. Pingback: » Blog Archive » The Business of Freelance Writing Carnival, Edition 29

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


HTML tags are not allowed.