To follow up on yesterday's post, it should be noted that most magazine and journal editors do it more as a hobby than anything else. Very few editors actually get paid for their time, and if they do get paid, it's very little. (Granted, there are some major magazines whose editors work there full-time, but that's rare.) Still, despite all this, that doesn't make it okay to sit on stories for months and months and then, after a year, send a form rejection.
Back when I helped edit Flesh & Blood, we stayed on top of our slush pretty well. Usually responded to subs within a day or two. Those were just electronic submissions though, not print. The print ones piled up into a mountain and weren't even looked at until the next convention when, with about a half dozen of us sitting around a hotel room, we did a marathon reading and breezed through the stories in a couple hours. So response times varied greatly, as those who submitted by e-mail received responses within a few days, while those who submitted by postal mail received responses within a few months, if not longer.
Also keep in mind that many journals have "readers," whose job it is to "read" the slush, but these people are usually not being paid anything, so their every day life comes first, and the submissions get set aside, and while Reader A might stay on top of his or her subs and respond in a timely fashion, Reader B might let that pile of stories build and build ... so in that case, it's all based on luck who ends up with your submission.
Of course, we writers can help our chances greatly in terms of the submission game. I've said it before and I'll say it again: always make sure you study the market you're submitting to. Like, you know, actually read the stuff that market is publishing.
Dan Chaon has some pretty great stuff to say at The Review Review (thanks to Matt Bell for pointing it out on Facebook; in fact, I'm stealing the exact quote Matt posted because it's so damned accurate):
The writing community is full of lame-o people who want to be published in journals even though they don’t read the magazines that they want to be published in. These people deserve the rejections that they will undoubtedly receive, and no one should feel sorry for them when they cry about how they can’t get anyone to accept their stories.
I'll admit (shamefully, yes), in the past I've submitted to markets without actually reading them. These days, though, I try not to do that. In fact, I haven't written much short fiction anyway, so it's a moot point right now, but when I do start writing it again, I'll be sure to carefully study the markets I think would be a good fit for my stories. Because if I don't, I'm just not wasting the editors' time, but my own.
And for online magazines, there's really no excuse -- the stories are there, so why don't writers read them before they submit? After all, don't we as writers only want to be published in magazines and journals that we really like and respect? Because if we do then, um, why aren't we reading them to begin with?