November 29, 2015 by Nathaniel Tower
Simultaneous submissions can be a writer’s best friend. After all, your odds of having a story or poem accepted by any given publication are bleak. With many publications boasting acceptance rates anywhere from 5% all the way down to a fraction of a fraction of a percent, you’re probably going to see a great deal of rejections. Might as well improve your chances by submitting simultaneously.
A Brief Overview of Simultaneous Submissions
For the uninitiated, a simultaneous submission occurs when you submit the same story/poem/manuscript to multiple publications. You don’t literally have to submit it at the same time. This isn’t a term for some magical way of batch submitting your story to a thousand publications at once. Anytime you have the same piece under consideration by more than one venue, that’s a simultaneous submission.
Imagine for a moment a world without simultaneous submissions. You send your story to a journal. They hold your story for six months and then send you a form rejection. Then you send that story to another journal. They wait six months and send you a rejection. You do it again. If you’re lucky, you might get the piece published in a decade or so.
Put simply, simultaneous submissions give you a better chance of publication. Instead of having one piece tied up by one venue, you can send it to as many venues as you want. If it gets accepted somewhere, you kindly withdraw it from consideration elsewhere. With Submittable, this simply requires the click of a button. For email submissions, it’s as easy as sending a polite note: Dear so and so, I would like to withdraw my submission from consideration. It has been accepted elsewhere. Thank you very much for your time. That’s all you need to say. I promise there won’t be any hard feelings.
The Simultaneous Submission Snobs
Although simultaneous submissions don’t hurt anyone, there are some publications out there that refuse to accept them. Or at least they say they don’t accept them. In reality, they cannot police this. There is no way in the world they could know whether or not you have already submitted that story to another venue.
Wait a minute! Are you suggesting we can violate a publication’s guidelines and send a simultaneous submission in spite of them?
Ah, an interesting question you have raised. I have to confess that I’m a stickler for submission guidelines. As managing editor at Bartleby Snopes, I admit to getting a bit cheesed off by submissions that don’t follow the guidelines. As a writer, I do my best to follow every part of the guidelines down to a T. If they want the manuscript double-spaced, I double space it. If they don’t want previously published work, I don’t send something that’s been previously published. If they want the story saved as an RTF, I save it as an RTF. If they don’t want any sort of identifiable information on the manuscript, I make sure my name, email, phone number, etc. aren’t anywhere on there.
So why should guidelines regarding simultaneous submissions be any different?
Well, I’m not necessarily saying they should. But it certainly isn’t the worst thing in the world if you do decide to bend this particular rule.
Of the 1,000 or so submissions I’ve sent out in the past decade, I’ve probably only violated the “no simultaneous submission” rule a handful of times. Yup, that’s right. I’ve sent simultaneous submissions to publications that don’t allow them. Sometimes it’s been by accident, but other times I just said, “Screw it!” And you know what? No one ever got hurt. I even had a simultaneously submitted piece accepted and withdrew it from one of those “no simultaneous submission” venues. As you can imagine, the editors weren’t too happy with me. I received some sort of nasty response asking how could I dare to violate their sacred covenant against simultaneous submissions. But that was the extent of it. I wasn’t added to some literary blacklist. That publication didn’t implode. The sun rose the next day, and the world continued to turn.
A Waste of Everyone’s Time?
Let’s think about the theory behind “no simultaneous submissions” for a moment. It’s a simple theory: A publication doesn’t want to waste their time considering a piece that might be withdrawn.
Okay, that makes sense. It’s pretty infuriating as an editor when I accept a story only to have the author reply, “Uh, this just got accepted elsewhere a fraction of a second before you sent your acceptance, so I’m going to have to withdraw it.”
Well, that’s a pretty big waste of my time, right? If we didn’t allow simultaneous submissions, we wouldn’t have experienced such heartbreak after investing the time to read the story, discuss the merits of the story, send the acceptance, and begin the preparation for publication. What if I had based my entire next issue around that particular piece that was unfairly ripped from my publishing hands? I’d really be screwed now. Curse those simultaneous submissions!
Then again, what makes an editor’s time so sacred that they can’t be bothered to consider a story that’s good enough to be accepted elsewhere. If it’s that good, they should want the chance to read it. Hell, they should beg to publish it. A publication cannot exist without something to publish.
Honestly, I almost never submit to publications that refuse simultaneous submissions. Part of this is because I don’t think any publication deserves exclusivity. Imagine if you’re applying for a job that demands you not apply anywhere else at the same time. How likely are you to finish that job application and tie up your job prospects for however long it takes them to go through the hiring process?
I value my work too much to tell one particular venue that they can have sole possession of it while they hide it in their enormous slush pile for months. That’s a much bigger waste of my time than a simultaneous submission would be for them.
The One Submission Guideline That’s Okay to Break
Violating a no simultaneous submission rule is a lot different than breaking any other submission guideline. If you don’t format your manuscript the right way, they’ll see it. If you send a previously published piece, you are potentially breaking a copyright issue. If you send a story that’s too long, you are submitting a piece that directly violates what they want to see in a piece. But if you send a simultaneous submission, there is a fraction of a chance that you might have to withdraw it. Given that most publications spend less than five minutes considering any given piece, you certainly aren’t creating too big of an inconvenience. They won’t ever know except in that rare case you get the acceptance elsewhere.
So I say go ahead and send simultaneous submissions to publications that tell you not to. You aren’t going to hurt anyone. The worst case scenario is that a publication will tell you not to submit to them ever again. But that’s after you’ve received an acceptance elsewhere, leaving you with a published story and thousands of other less uptight publications to send your work to in the future. That doesn’t sound bad at all.
Personally, I’ll probably continue not to send my work to venues that demand this ridiculous exclusivity. I have better things to do with my time.