We Need to Do Better with Simultaneous Submissions
And by we, I mean all of us as writers, because small presses, journals, and magazines deserve better
To date, my most viewed story is “An Editor’s Tips on Submitting to Literary Journals.” The people of Medium seem to like getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it’s like to be an editor at a literary journal, so I’m coming in hot and I’m ready to pull back the curtain again, this time on a somewhat widely debated topic: simultaneous submissions.
Explaining simultaneous submissions
In order to make my case that we need to do better when it comes to simultaneous submissions, I’ll first need to explain what they are and how they work.
First of all, what are simultaneous submissions
If you’ve submitted your work (poetry, fiction, nonfiction, even book reviews) to an online or print publication, you’ve probably run across the phrase “simultaneous submissions.” It’s something that most journals mention in their submission guidelines because it matters — to writers and to publishers.
The phrase is fairly self-explanatory, but the gist is that a simultaneous submission is a submission of writing that is submitted to multiple places at once. A submission that is submitted simultaneously, if you will.
What options are there in regards to simultaneous submissions
Well, there are pretty much two policies a journal can take in regards to simultaneous submissions — they either accept them, or they don’t. It’s not very complicated, really. If you’re used to only writing on Medium, then you may not have seen simultaneous submissions talked about too much. By nature of the way most writers submit to publications here (adding an unfinished draft to a publication where you’ve been added as a writer), a publication’s policy on whether or not they accept simultaneous submissions is not always going to be listed. But almost every independent literary journal or magazine that you’ll stumble across outside of Medium will probably list their policy on simultaneous submissions.
What are the benefits of simultaneous submissions
The benefit here is almost exclusively for the writer. We, as editors, accept simultaneous submissions because we know it benefits you, as a writer, to submit to multiple publications and not have your writing tied up in what, admittedly, are usually quite long response times. The benefit of allowing simultaneous submissions is that you attract the savvy writers out there who know their work is good and who don’t have time to wait around for your response (which sometimes, of course, is going to be a rejection.)
What are the drawbacks of simultaneous submissions
On the flip side, the drawbacks of simultaneous submissions fall almost entirely on the publications accepting them. Most guidelines for literary journals explicitly state whether they do or do not accept simultaneous submissions, yes, but they also usually only do so with the caveat that if your work is accepted elsewhere, you need to notify the publication and withdraw your submission immediately. For example, borrowed solace submission guidelines (the journal where I am the poetry editor) state that “Simultaneous submissions are welcome, but please withdraw your submission if it is accepted elsewhere.”
It would honestly be much easier for us as editors if we didn’t allow simultaneous submissions. But we are also writers, and we understand how much of a blow that can be to your acceptance ratio if your work is constantly tied up by editors, only to later be rejected. If it’s accepted, that’s great, and waiting for editors to review your piece is likely not such a terrible thought, but another thing we are all familiar with as writers is the often dismal acceptance rates out there.
Why we need to do better
So now to get to the juicy stuff — the reasons why we, as writers, need to do a better job with how we handle our simultaneous submissions. We need to be professional and courteous, people. Come on, now.
It helps out small, writer-first publications
We love our writers! borrowed solace will be the first place to shout from the rooftops that one of our writers has a book coming out, landed a literary agent, or got an amazing job at a publishing house. We’re ecstatic for you when you (and your writing) wins, and we’ll have you on the podcast to talk about it, give you a shout-out on social media, or send an announcement to our mailing list.
But it’s painful when writing we fell in love with and want to accept into the journal is withdrawn. I’m not even talking about those writers who courteously withdraw their submission right after getting accepted elsewhere (if that’s you, we send a nice email saying congratulations — because you deserve it.) I’m talking about the ones who never email us about withdrawing their submission and also never withdraw it from our submissions manager. It’s terrible when that happens — our poetry section for the latest edition of the journal has been chopped down by a third because of this. After putting so much time and thought into who I wanted to accept, it honestly breaks my heart a little bit.
It increases your chances of being accepted
When I was learning about literary journals in college— how they worked, how to submit, and the proper etiquette of doing so — I remember being told that if you didn’t withdraw your simultaneous submission in a timely manner after it was accepted elsewhere, that was a sure-fire way to get yourself blacklisted from any journal in the future. I remember thinking that surely editors didn’t have that good of a memory — they get hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions every reading period after all, right? Wrong. I have a list, and it might sound harsh, but if we get to the point of accepting you only to get a response that you have already been accepted elsewhere and didn’t take the time to let us know, then you’re probably going to be automatically rejected next time. Sorry, not sorry.
We want to publish your work, we really do, but when we put so much time and effort into picking our list of finalists to be published in the journal, excitedly let them know they’ve been accepted, and then get an email that their piece isn’t actually available anymore — they just forgot about telling us — it’s rough. I know I don’t want to go through that again, so if you’ve done that in the past, you’ll be my last choice for future publication, if not automatically rejected (the difference here often depends on how you handle email communications going forward, to be honest.)
It helps out swamped editors
This one obviously may not matter to you, and I get that. Most writers aren’t too worried about how swamped editors are, and I’m not going to hold it against you if that’s your thought process, too. But I thought I’d throw it in here because it’s still true.
When submitting your work for publication, you should try to follow guidelines, be courteous in your correspondence, and communicate when your submission is accepted elsewhere in a timely manner. All of those things, while they may seem like not that big of a deal, or maybe come across as too tedious for you to keep track of, make my job as an editor so much smoother. I don’t want to be overly dramatic and say that these things will make or break your acceptance into a journal, but the truth is they can — especially if you don’t follow guidelines, are not courteous in emails, and don’t withdraw your submission in a timely manner. Little things by themselves can stack up against you if they’re all ignored, and make it harder for your piece to be accepted. So just…don’t do these things. A good place to start is doing better with your simultaneous submissions process.
As writers, we should all do our best to be considerate of one another
I know that the field of writing is, by nature, a bit of a competitive field. Many of us are trying to be accepted by the same journals and are writing in the same genres. I understand that, but I also know that the writing community here on Medium (as well as elsewhere on the internet) is incredibly supportive and almost always willing to learn. It’s with those things in mind that I am writing this article to encourage us all to do better. That supportiveness and willingness to learn shouldn’t go out the door when it comes to simultaneous submissions. You can do better, I can do better. So let’s start actually doing it — together we all can do better and support our favorite journals and small presses while we embark on the next phase of our collective writing journeys.