"I submitted my manuscript last year/last month/last week/yesterday/ten minutes ago and I haven't received a response. How long should I wait before I call the editor/withdraw my manuscript/submit my story elsewhere?"
I see variations of this question on various Yahoo groups and message boards nearly every day. Are writers less patience today than writers were several years ago, or are we just as impatient now as then but are more obvious about it thanks to the speed with which we can share our impatience with others?
I have to admit that I share some of the impatience of new writers unfamiliar with the slow, grinding pace of traditional publishing, but my impatience isn't related to the length of time it takes for a single editor to respond to a single submission. I have too many manuscripts floating around to even remember all of them, let alone worry about any particular one. My impatience has to do with communication gaps.
If I don't receive something in the mail (surface or e-) every few days--acceptance, rejection, contract, check, contributor's copy, request for revision, etc.--I start to get nervous. If more than a week passes without contact, I start thumbing through my file of submitted manuscripts, calculating which ones should have generated responses based on my previous experiences with particular publications. If more than two weeks pass, I get jumpy, leaping up to check the mailbox every time I hear a noise outside the front door and making my e-mail refresh every few minutes rather than letting it automatically refresh every twenty minutes.
So, while I understand and share the impatience of new writers, I have the advantage of knowing the solution for both of us is the same: Produce more work.
The more manuscripts under submission, the less time we have worry about any individual manuscript and the more likely we are to have some kind of regular contact from editors.