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!