Dueling Columns – An Editor’s Thoughts on Simultaneous Submissions

Preface: Richard and I are writing dueling columns on this subject.  He’s written up the writers’ view on simultaneous subs here.  I’ll link to it again at the end of this column.  Share your thoughts–editor side, writer side, what-the-hell-is-a-simultaneous-sub side (Richard answers that question), whatever.  We want to know what YOU think!

First, a disclaimer.  We allow simultaneous submissions at The Externalist.  Still, I sometimes think that we shouldn’t and as an editor, I completely understand why some markets don’t. 

Simultaneous submissions, lacking an online submission management system (several hundred dollars) or paid staff (several thousand), are an administrative headache. 

As submissions come in, I file them by 1) date and 2) name. I don’t open a submission until I’m ready to read it because that would be unfair to those who haven’t received word yet.  So when I receive an email with the subject header “Submission – Fiction – John Doe,” I file it with the rest.  I don’t check to see if John Doe already has a submission with us and that this might be a withdrawal, I just assume it’s a submission.  Some writers are terrific and put “Submission Withdrawal” or something similar in the subject header of their email, but most, surprisingly, don’t.  Nor do most writers send their withdrawal request to the correct editor.  Instead, they send it to the primary editors’ email address and I have to forward it to the right person, then double-check to make sure they received it. 

This is all assuming that the writer bothers to withdraw the submission at all.  Let’s face it: simultaneous submissions are an administrative pain for writers, too. When a piece is accepted, you then have to go back to every other market to which you submitted and withdraw it.  Again, some writers do a great job of tracking their submissions, but most do not and there is nothing more frustrating than spending your time reading a submission that you subsequently find out is already published somewhere else.  Especially if you were planning to accept it.  Why?  Because acceptances take twice the time as rejections—every piece I accept gets at least four reads.

And then there are the writers that abuse a simultaneous submission allowance.  Last week, for example, I received a fiction submission at 10:15 am which was followed by a withdrawal at 12:45 pm because the piece was accepted elsewhere.  I wonder if the writer just got tired of waiting for the other editor and submitted to us, or if the writer decided to publish it with a friend or on a blog, or if they were just looking for a creative way to waste my time.  Fortunately for me, I don’t read submissions when they come in, so I only had to read one email and toss it into the delete folder.

For paying markets, I can hardly comprehend those that do accept simultaneous subs.  Accepting work for payment requires a lot more paperwork than most of us editors have to deal with, and accepting a piece that some author forgot to mention was already published, or whose withdrawal letter was lost in the mail or the spam filter, is extraordinarily wasteful.  If it didn’t happen very often, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but even at the non-paying The Externalist, we see several withdrawals per month.

So why do we accept them?  Three reasons:

1. We don’t pay. Our contributors are a priority for us and if they can get paid for their work somewhere else, good for them!

2. We can’t guarantee a quick turnaround time.  We try to get to all submissions within four weeks, but we’re a staff of two and emergencies happen. 

3. The writer in me says that administrative hassles are well worth the chance to read something really, really good—even if I don’t get to publish it.

If something within these three areas were to change, if for example, we began paying our contributors or if this became the editors’ full-time job and we were able to guarantee every submitter that we would get back to them in two weeks or if we suddenly received such a huge influx of terrific submissions that we were always reading really good stuff, I would close The Externalist to simultaneous subs. 

In the spirit of complete honesty, I already favor material that has been submitted to us exclusively because that tells me the writer values The Externalist as a journal and an idea.  I don’t expect our contributors to like us more than everyone else, but I do expect a modest assurance that they know who we are, what we’re about, and that they believe in it.  And sending material to us exclusively and/or first is a darn good way of expressing that.


Read Richard Thomas’ view of simultaneous submissions from a writers’ perspective over at his blog!


9 thoughts on “Dueling Columns – An Editor’s Thoughts on Simultaneous Submissions

  1. Pingback: Dueling Columns – Simultaneous Submissions – I’m all for it « - What Does Not Kill Me -

  2. Some great points in there Larina. It seems that the writers that are doing things in a non-professional manner (like that submission for what, two hours?) are ruining things for the rest of us. I won’t debate you here, since I spent a whole column doing it at my blog, but you bring up some interesting issues for sure.


    PS-I am not submitting the comment anywhere else. It is all yours. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Dueling Columns – An Editor’s Thoughts on Simultaneous Submissions « Significance & Inspiration [larina.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com

  4. This is one of those issues I really see both sides of. As the Poetry Editor of Contrary, I’ve had poets who write BRILLIANT work withdraw everything, poem by poem, until they have no other work left with us. (We’re a quarterly publication, and we try to have fast turn-around time, but there’s only so much you can do.) Maybe if you’re at that point in your career where you pretty much know everything you write is going to be published *somewhere*, send it to fewer places–like two or three places rather than everywhere in the universe.

    I also had a piece that I sent in for a contest–$400 prize for one poem–and I wrote to withdraw it because it was picked up elsewhere. I figured, what are the chances I’ll win this one prize? And I did! And the contest never “accepted” my withdrawal. They just went ahead and gave me the prize money and made sure to publish it before the other place did. I felt that that was a little shady. I mean, I’m still at a place in life where $400 is welcome, but I felt like I tried to do the ethical thing, and somehow it didn’t happen.

    In any case, very interesting duel, both of you.

  5. Hm. Editors should stop and think: Who reads a journal? People who are submitting and/or thinking about submitting, mostly, right? If you close to simul subs, people will either ignore that requirement or stop submitting. If they stop submitting, they’ll stop subscribing/reading you, too. I bet your circ drops by half, at least, as an unintended consequence.

    Do you think writers are that motivated by whether a journal pays? I only care about the exposure. So, when I look at submitting, I’m thinking, will you help me connect with my audience? Do your readers care about the stuff I’m writing about? Also, are agents reading you? What is it you can deliver for the 5+ years it takes me to complete a story? If I’m not in it for the money, there’s not much else I need from you, either, is there?

    If a journal requires simul subs–and as Richard points out, fewer and fewer do, even among those that do pay–I just cross them off my list. If they’re REALLY big, maybe I’ll follow their rules. Or maybe I’ll igore their rules and submit anyway, simultaneously, figuring the odds of acceptance are so slim, I’ll probably never get busted. Eg, I sent an exclusive sub to the NYer and they lost it. So my story was off the market for 6 months, plus another 4 when I re-sent. Then they rejected it anyway, which honestly, was statistically fairly likely. So. Waste of time. No more exclusives for them. Their own fault if they have a slush heap a mile high.

    Consider. GlimmerTrain pays, has an online system, and now allows simul subs. Mass Rev is prestigious, allows simul subs and has an online system. Ditto Ploughshares. Prairie Schooner is in the stone age with snail mail, requires exclusives, and is no more prestigious than any of the previous three. Why should I bother with Prairie Schooner, no matter how enjoyable to read. There are dozens of enjoyable journals out there at this point. Few stand out. It’s FM radio out there, and there is no reason to favor one journal over any other. You subscribe because it’s in your geographical region or because they’ve published you, or because you hope they will. That’s it.

    One more thing–I think I can explain the submission and rapid withdrawal you sometimes see. This has happened in a couple of cases to me lately, as more of my stuff gets accepted, particularly with poetry. I now have around 90 or so pieces in circulation, and submit them in chunks of around 5, mixed and matched based on the mood that’s evoked in me when I surf through samples on a journal’s site (and woe to the journal that doesn’t post samples–they get shotgun subs…another topic, and one they should stop whining about if they refuse to post samples). So I might custom-build a submission for you that feels connected to the type of stuff you publish but that contains 3 pieces that are submitted elsewhere, maybe to 3 separate journals. In fact, maybe 2 of them are each submitted to as many as 5 other journals. Maybe those pieces were submitted as long ago as a year (because some journals are that bad about response times). It HAS happened that I’ve sent in a carefully constructed submission and within a day heard back from one of those other journals and had to pull that one piece… In the case of one fairly prestigious journal, I actually had to pull 3 poems (of 5 submitted) within a few weeks of one another, all taken by separate journals. Oh well. Bird in the hand.

    And yes, I do have a very complicated system and each submission can take me as long as an hour to put together and enter in my tracking system, esp if it’s poetry. So in Sept and October, I spend all my time submitting and very little time writing, and I sort of resent that, and I also resent all the special needs editors keep whining about. I think everyone should have the SAME submission policies. I am sure there is one best practice for managing submissions; everyone should get on it. I am extremely professional about submissions and in my experience it is the magazine staff who are not–years or longer to respond (Blackbird, American Literary Review) with no response to queries (actually, Bb says they are still considering, over 2 yrs later), outdated websites–“current issue”=Fall 2007, for example, submissions windows that change with no notice, typos on the site, folding with no notice (eg New Hampshire Review), accepting and printing your work and then folding without distributing (Backwards City Review), etc etc etc.

    And we’re supposed check and dbl check and respect each and every one of these journal’s idiosyncratic policies to the letter…. (and on top of whether they want simuls, some want different margins and some anonymous coverpages and titles and some want two copies of everything…). And there are 200+ of them listed in the back of BASS and O. Henry, etc…

    Yeah, okay. I’m on it.

  6. Hi Richard! Thanks for stopping by!

    Shaindel, I feel your pain. The other issue with the ones that withdraw poem by poem is the sheer amount of time it takes to remove each of those poems from the submission and track those that have been withdrawn and those that haven’t. Gary takes care of our poetry subs and I won’t speak for him, but I can honestly say that if I edited poetry, I would be completely jaded toward simultaneous subs.

    Claudia, without going into the other topics you’ve broached here (good ones, but not the subject of this particular discourse), I just want to clarify that it isn’t that editors don’t understand why writers want to use simultaneous subs. To the contrary, most of us are also writers and do understand. Some are writers who use simultaneous subs but don’t allow them at their journal for administrative reasons. Others are writers who don’t use simultaneous subs but allow them at the journal they edit (this is the category I fall into). The issue is purely logistical. Many times there is one editor to hundreds, or even thousands, of writers. Certainly one editor to hundreds of submissions. They aren’t trying to be unfair. In fact, if I ever stopped accepting them at The Externalist, it would be in the interest of fairness to all of the other writers whose work I simply wouldn’t have time to read (making response times even longer) because the number of simultaneous submissions being submitted and withdrawn increased too much for me to keep up. And they do–in direct ratio to the number of submissions a journal receives.

  7. Great comments up here. Checked back to see if you all were being nice to Larina.

    I hear what you’re saying Claudia, and it can be very frustrating. Larina and I are going to try and talk about a lot of these subjects in the future, maybe on a bi-weekly basis,the next one going up October 1.

    I guess the bottom line to me is a couple of things: acceptance rates that are about 1-5% and the fact that many top journals and magazines can handle it just fine. It feels antiquated, so most of us just find a way around the system and ignore it anyway.

    Hang in there Larina, I promise you won’t always get the “wrong” side of the debate. 🙂


  8. I don’t mind getting the “wrong” side of the debate, especially when there isn’t really a wrong side. When I first started submitting poetry years ago, now allowing simultaneous submissions was the norm. That’s changed over time, in part because of an understanding of acceptance rates vs. response times, but also because more writers have also become editors. Catch is that any journal relying primarily on volunteers or only open for part of the year is at a tremendous disadvantage to those that have full-time staff. For my part, even trying to have a quick turnaround time, I also have a full-time job, four children, other volunteer activities, and with any luck, my own writing to do. I publish because I love it. I love reading a story or essay or poem that leaves me thinking about the world I live in and how I can be a better part of it. I love finding a terrific “first publication.” I love sharing my finds with our readers, who are mostly not writers. And it’s a huge letdown when it’s taken me two months to get something through every selection round only to discover that some other editor snatched it up and the writer forgot to tell me. Call me grumpy. Everyone else does. 😉

  9. As an editor, I accept simultaneous subs, and I’m really clear about when I’m reading, both in the Guidelines, in my receipt of work email, and on my journal’s blog. If people withdraw, my response is a shrug. I only read the one or two weeks before an issue comes out, so if someone submits poems that are elsewhere at the beginning of the cycle, they’re often withdrawn. That’s fine. If the author wants me to actually read and publish the poems while also simultaneously submitting, it’s best to submit the week or so I’m reading.

    As a writer, I only simultaneously submit to book contests and novel manuscripts to publishers (if allowed). Regular poetry submissions I usually don’t send to multiple places just because it’s a bit of a headache for me. My response to this policy has been: write more. The more I can send out, the less painful the wait feels for any one poem.

    Just my two cents.

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