September 14, 2014 by Nathaniel Tower
When reading submission guidelines, one of my biggest turn-offs as a writer is the dreaded “NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS.”
This is especially true for those publications with notoriously long response times. Who are these editors to demand an exclusive look at your piece? Would you apply for a job if the employer said you couldn’t apply anywhere else until they made their decision?
It’s very difficult to give away a story completely for months when the odds of it being accepted are slim. Still, maybe there is something to be said about exclusivity. Or at the very least, being reasonable with the number of places you send a particular piece.
Simultaneous Submissions Defined
Let’s take a step back and make certain we understand the terminology here. After all, even some publications get this wrong. Chances are, you’ve submitted the same piece to multiple venues at the same time. This is called a simultaneous submission. You are simultaneously submitting one story/poem/work to more than one publisher. Some people get this confused with multiple submissions, which means you are submitting more than one story/poem/work to the same publisher at the same time. Many publications accept simultaneous submissions. Very few seem to accept multiple submissions.
Simultaneous submissions seem like a great deal for the writer. After all, this is how you increase your chances of getting published, right? If you send the same story to 100 different lit mags, someone surely has to take it.
Overdoing Simultaneous Submissions
Unfortunately, simultaneous submissions aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. The practice of submitting the same piece to many different publications has plenty of downsides if you decide to overuse it.
1. It Can Lower Your Acceptance Rate
As writers, we care (at least a little) about our acceptance rates. The higher our acceptance rates, the better we feel about our output as writers. If you send out the same piece to 25 publishers at once, you will inevitably get more rejections than you would have if you had sent it out to only a few carefully chosen publications. What makes you feel better: 1 acceptance and 4 rejections, or 1 acceptance and 24 rejections?
2. It Can Waste Your Time
Let’s say you are the type of submitter who spends very little time researching a venue before submitting (and if you are sending the same piece out 25 times at once, then you probably are). At an average of five minutes per submission, you are still looking at over two hours spent just on submitting a single piece. In that same amount of time, you could have researched a few publications that were actually a good fit for your story. If you do get lucky and get a quick acceptance from one of those 25, then you are faced with another hour spent withdrawing your piece from dozens of publications.
3. It Can Waste an Editor’s Time
Dozens of simultaneous submissions don’t just hurt you. They ultimately waste the time of the editors to whom you are submitting. Very few stories are a good fit for 25 different venues. Chances are, your story will actually be a terrible fit for most of those venues. In many cases, the editors would’ve been better off not opening your story. This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the merits of your story so much as it does the overall aesthetic.
4. It Can Increase the Odds of Overlap
I’ve seen it happen to several writers. They submit to a bunch of venues and end up with 2 acceptances at virtually the same time. Before they can even respond to the first acceptance email, the second one comes rolling in. Now what? You might have to tell the second editor that he/she didn’t quite grab it in time. No matter what you say, there is going to be a pissed off editor who probably won’t want to read your stuff in the future.
5. It Can Cause You to Make Bad Decisions
Unless you are sending a piece out to 25 publications of equal caliber, you will inevitably have this happen: your story will be accepted by a second or third tier publication while a top tier (and paying) venue is still considering it. Now what do you do? Do you risk the acceptance you have for the “better” one? I actually know of writers who’ve asked a lit mag to wait because a paying publication might also want to accept it. I’ll let you go ahead and guess what happened.
6. It Places Emphasis on Submitting Rather than Writing
When you submit the same piece dozens of times, you are essentially saying that you are a submitter, not a writer. A writer should spend his or her time fine-tuning the story so it’s worthy of publication in the proper venue. A submitter sends out the story everywhere until someone is willing to accept it.
7. It Devalues Lit Mags
You can’t possibly be a reader of 25 different publications. At least not on a regular basis. If you are submitting to all of these places with no desire to read what they publish, then you are essentially saying that you only care about them as publication credits. You should place high value on any magazine you want to consider your work.
8. It Can Lead to Mistakes
If you send out the same story enough times, you’ll eventually mess up somewhere along the line. You’ll send it to the same publication twice. You’ll send it somewhere that doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions. You’ll end up having it published by two different venues who both want first rights. Something will go wrong.
Simultaneous submissions can be very valuable–when they are used wisely. I used to be a simultaneous submission machine. I once submitted a total of 1000 times in a single calendar year. As you can guess, this led to low acceptance rate and little time spent on writing. Now I don’t send the same piece out to more than 3 venues at the same time. So far this year, I’ve submitted a total of 16 times. Each one of these submissions was carefully chosen. Of those 16 submissions, 7 were accepted and 2 are pending. That’s an acceptance rate that tells me I’m doing something right.
What are your rules for simultaneous submissions? Share your thoughts in the comments.