Friday, April 20, 2007

Simultaneous Submission

Author’s note: This post is designed with poetry submission in mind, though some aspects of it may apply to other forms of writing, especially short stories and the such. Certainly the role of simultaneous submission changes considerably when you’re submitting something as large and time-consuming as a novel or book manuscript, and my opinion of simultaneous submission changes in relation to these circumstances. So, read on and take it as you want, but for the purpose of this article, we’re generally talking poetry and short works.


Through the thousands of magazine guidelines available online and in print, there is strong mention of a process called ‘simultaneous submission’. Some magazines call this multiple submission (though the term ‘multiple submission’ is occasionally also used to describe submitting more than once to a magazine within its given reading period). Simultaneous submission is the act of offering your writing to more than one publisher or editor at the same time. It allows you to send what you consider to be valuable work to several places at once, thus garnering a higher chance of a positive response, or at least, rejections more quickly, giving you more of an idea of what the troubled work needs. This can be a blessing to the poet who has wide aspirations, or not much work, or who has a specifically themed piece that might be used well in several outlets where a submission window is a factor.

The benefit of using simultaneous or multiple submission, for the writer, is unarguable: It increases his/her chance of being published in a very direct, marketed way. Unfortunately, this act can be damaging to some editors, especially when a counted on piece from a submission is retracted close to a deadline, or at all, for that matter.

Let’s run through the process with an example and see where it gets us...

Flagella Garner has aspirations to be a published poet, and she believes she has three good poems to send out. They're entitled: "I Went Wild on Spring Break", "Spring Break Series #2: Pregnancy Test", and "I Think He Told Me His Name was 'Road Bird', But the Song Lyrics on the Napkin He Hid in My Glove Box were Signed 'Shawn'".

Now, Flagella has decided to send these three poems out to the magazine, Youthful Peril Bimonthly, but she thinks they'd also be a good fit at New Mommy Review, as well as at Experience: The Journal of Finding Things Out the Hard Way. She only has the three poems, but each magazine says to send exactly three. What can she do? That’s nine poems Flagella would need to submit to all three magazines. Well, she could send to one, wait until she gets an eventual response, and if it’s a rejection, send the poems on to the next magazine, and so forth, or she could send to all three magazines at once and hope they don’t mind. Well, in this instance, let’s say these three magazines state in their guidelines that they allow simultaneous submissions. Great news. Flagella can simultaneously submit these same three poems to all three magazines. Her odds just jumped up a bit, and someone is bound to accept at least one, right? It will pad her bio and give her a better chance at acceptance, with much more potential for having her work read by someone, which is why people want to print in the first place, to get their work read, yes? Sending these three poems out to a group of magazines, instead of one, will up young Flagella’s chances considerably. This sounds wonderful to her, and in this instance, is surely the best bet for achieving her goal of publishing the poems.

It seems as if things are going to work out for our young poet, Flagella. Or maybe not...

Simultaneous submission is trouble, and perhaps selfish. I wouldn't recommend it. There are rights involved in printing with magazines and anthologies. Rights to print are important and held in serious regard. Flagella can send to all three magazines at once, and hell, she could send the same poems to 12 magazines if she desired (and if they allow it), but she’ll have to let the others know the second one of them sends her an acceptance, or worse, she’ll have to tell the magazine accepting her that she’s holding out for a better magazine if she decides not to take the first acceptance. The rights become an issue (a big one) the minute she fails to do either of these things. Different magazines ask different rights, as well, and she'll have to maneuver her way through them in order to figure out what she can send and what she can't. The process can be a hassle, submissions can become more complicated than necessary, and there’s always the ever-present chance that she’ll piss someone off.

To give you a better idea of what's really going on when you simultaneously submit, with the fronts and well-meaning stripped away, try looking at it with the roles reversed. Imagine, as a poet, getting something like this in the mail from an editor:

Dear poet,

As you'll remember, I accepted two of your poems last month for my upcoming issue of World Renowned Literary Journal. As part of my selection process, I strategically 'over-accept' for each issue. I use twelve poems per issue, but will usually accept around 20, to make sure I have enough at crunch-time, when I head to the printer. I am about to release the issue, and am sorry to tell you that I have my twelve set up now, and yours aren’t in that, so I won't be using your poems as planned. Sorry if I got your hopes up, and please consider your poems freed and no longer of use to me; I've chosen to go with other poets. Thanks for your submisson to World Renowned and sorry to take back the acceptance. No hard feelings, and feel free to submit to us in the future.


Yeah, no hard feelings, right?

I've never had an editor do anything this cold and horrible to me, so why would I toss this kind of wreckage on one of them? I wouldn't, and I wouldn't advise you do it, either. Simultaneous submission in poetry is, in effect, over-submitting. There’s also the between-the-lines message inferred when you simultaneously submit. This message is that you don’t care about the magazine enough to send them something that’s solely for their perusal. This message is that you’re only out for the acceptance or credit, and don’t necessarily see yourself as a potential part of that magazine’s ongoing history. This message is that you probably don’t find their magazine any more important or necessary than the next one you have earmarked for the poems. In short, speed-dating. Many editors understand, of course, and are both tolerant and patient about a contributor’s submission practices, but on a certain level, simultaneous submission still bears with it an undercurrent, no matter how courteous it is handled, of disrespect. It can be a rude behaviour and carries with it a selfish vibe. Having to retract your work from an editor because of an acceptance elsewhere is an act of aggressive marketing, no matter how polite an editor may be to you regarding it.

If you're serious about your work and you’re doing you job as a poet, you should have enough material to send to the magazines you like. If you don't have these things, wait until you do. If you’re not serious about your work, wait until you are. Sending various editors the same poems at the same time is an efficient, expedient, helpful, bad idea. It requires more active charting and records, and can turn on you rather quickly. There are magazines that allow it (many, in fact, and some even encourage it), but most of them don't like it when it backfires on them much, especially when rights or money come into play. They're agreeing to allow it because they feel for you. They know you're trying to navigate a large and unusually sporadic gauntlet and they're willing to help, to some degree. Some editors do it when sending out their own work. Regardless, simultaneous submission is still a situation that can easily become a mess, cause you to burn bridges, and anger some editors that were counting on the poem you sent them for an upcoming issue. What happens if two magazines accept a poem? There are ethical choices to make in this situation, but in the end, you’ll most likely have to go with one and ditch the other. How is this going to mutate the now cuckolded and ditched editor’s view of you?

If you have certain works that you feel would be well received at various magazines, the smartest thing to do is go without and just submit within your capability until you've accumulated enough material to send unique and real submissions to the magazines you hope want them. In dating, under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t ask ten people in a room, one at a time, to go out on a date with you within earshot of the others, would you? If so, what the hell for? Upping your chances? Ask yourself this: Chances for what? Certainly not establishing something meaningful. An acceptance, a score? Sure, but to what end? There’s no simple way around it that isn’t damaging: You simply have to try your luck and wait for the rejection. You’re just going to have to wait. Want more poems out at more editors? Write them, then send them. If you get an acceptance, problem solved; you printed the work. If you get a rejection, problem solved; the work is free to revise and send elsewhere.

Now, many people use simultaneous submission to get around the achingly long response times of many magazines. This is understandable, and certainly a simultaneous submission can help you get your work to more publishers in that time span for which you’re waiting. However, in lieu of simultaneous submission, I offer that a well-placed rescinsion when necessary works much more efficiently and is far less confusing. I’ll get into rescinsion in another post, but for now, a ‘rescinsion’ is when you contact an editor and take your poems back because an irresponsibly undue amount of time has passed and you still haven’t heard back from them. This shouldn’t be done lightly. When I say ‘irresponsibly undue’, I mean that the magazine is out of line, and usually by leaps and bounds. Basically, if a publication states they received your poems and that they’ll respond in up to 6 weeks, and then eight months go by, and they aren’t answering your emails, they deserve to lose the poems. But that’s for another post. I only mention rescinsion as a useful and cleaner alternative to using simultaneous submission in the solving of long waits.

While the process does abound in the small press, I’d advise you to think it over before sending your work to multiple editors at a given time. Instead of debating how to out-maneuver the publishing process, and how to get a small number of poems out to more editors, you might want to ask yourself why you don’t have enough writing to avoid having to ponder these things. Again, you’ll have enough material to avoid simultaneously submitting if you're serious about what you do.

In conclusion, use simultaneous submission if you want to, but bear in mind the trouble you can cause, and the variety of bridges you can burn simply by losing track of who you sent what. Ask yourself this: Is getting a few more acceptances here and there worth pissing all over the longstanding conventions of the only place left that actually wants to print you and your ilk, for free, and often unprofitably?


The following are some various viewpoints from several sources on the subject, as well as some information taken from guidelines of various magazine that use poetry. Some are fine with simultaneous submission, some discourage it, and some downright hate it. If anything, this should give you an idea that simultaneous submission bears with it some controversy, and the tolerance of it seems to vary nearly by press. Brackets are mine.

Here’s an approval of it from the submission guidelines at Pemmican Press:

“It is indeed difficult for poets to send out poems, wait weeks, perhaps months on end for a reply that, odds are, will be negative--and then have to start the entire submission process all over again. Therefore multiple submissions [at Pemmican] are understood and encouraged.”

Here’s a no-no, with the punishment, from the submission guidelines at Toasted-Cheese Literary Journal:

“We do not accept simultaneous submissions. Withdrawing a submission because it has been published elsewhere will disqualify you from future submissions.”

An interesting article that also discusses a bit of rumored history behind how simultaneous submissions first began (purportedly Norman Mailer started it):

No comments: