I’ve read blog posts before where people claim that it’s “rude” or, at the very least, makes them extremely uncomfortable to simultaneously submit their writing to multiple journals or to multiple literary agents. This is ridiculous! Think about it. If you have submitted your manuscript to a single literary agent, the wait time is, perhaps, eight weeks. If you’re a betting sort of person–particularly a slots machine player–you know these odds are totally not in your favor. And getting your writing published is already an upstream battle; simultaneous submissions is one of the tricks (a completely fair and legal one!) to increase your odds of becoming a published writer sooner. The same goes for short stories at literary journals. You have to expect rejection at least a few times–even the greats were rejected before they were discovered; wouldn’t it be better to submit to five places all at once, get four rejections and one acceptance in the same span of wait time, rather than doing it single file and having to wait years, perhaps, to get a “yes”?
Not only does it harm yourself as a writer, but journals and agents expect simultaneous submissions because it’s what smart writers do; it’s part of the industry and as long as you politely warn them in your cover and/or query letters and promptly withdraw your work from consideration elsewhere it is perfectly acceptable.
How to Simultaneous Submit your Work without Stepping on Toes:
1. Read the fine print. Make sure that the literary journals and agents you’re submitting to accept simultaneous submissions. (Most do and they’ll mention it on their submission guidelines page; for example, see fugue, CutBank, and So to Speak. Those who are morally against the practice also mention it there.) There is nothing worse that simultaneously submitting something and then withdrawing it from consideration elsewhere when they don’t approve of the practice. You might have burned a bridge with an editor and a journal so they won’t even consider your work again. (This is not meant to scare you off! As long as they say they don’t mind simultaneous submissions, you’re golden!)
2. Only submit your story to a handful of places. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin or do more work than you have to. If your submissions are well-targeted–meaning you’ve read the journal before, or, in the case of a literary agent, have read their bio and are positive you’re writing fits their criteria–then you shouldn’t have to submit it one thousand times, so writing one thousand letters all at once would be wasted effort. Personally, I submit a story a maximum of four different journals at a time. And for queries, I usually send letters out in batches of five at a time.
3. Submit in tiers. In these batches of submissions, don’t submit to the New Yorker and you’re local no-name literary journal at the same time. What if that local no-name journal accepts your work? Great, right? But then when you go to withdraw from the New Yorker, what if the editor says “that’s such a shame, we were really interested in publishing it.” The New Yorker is a much better publishing credit–and a paying market–than the local no-name. But, the polite rules of the industry are that you must accept the first offer and turn down any successive ones. So to avoid shooting yourself in the foot, group together journals and literary agents in order. In the case of journals, submit to the most competitive, bit-of-a-stretch-chance ones first. Then, once you’ve heard back from all of them, go down a tier and submit to a batch from that level. Same goes for literary agents. Submit to your top five favorite, all-star, dream agents first because they might be interested. You never want to be disappointing that one editor or agent responded first. You should be equally happy to have gotten accepted by any single person in the same tier.
4. Be honest. In your cover letter, don’t conceal the fact that you’re simultaneously submitting your work. Just throw a sentence in there: “This is a simultaneous submission, but I shall notify you immediately should it be accepted elsewhere.” And then, if you do get accepted elsewhere, let the other journals/agents know. Don’t try to get a single story published multiple times. It’s dishonest, will hurt your career because word will get around, and might also lead to copyright legal issues.
So while you’re waiting to hear back about that one story, go submit it again somewhere else! Or if you’re waiting to hear back from that literary agent, send it to another one in the mean time!
16 thoughts on “The 4 Rules of Polite Simultaneous Submissions”
What a well written, well thought out post. I agree with most of what you said…here’s some additional food for thought:
I totally agree that short story writers should “sim-sub” (simultaneously submit their work to multiple journals. I think you’ve set yourself a limit of 4 and maybe that works for you, but others should let their own success or trial and error be their guide.
That said, don’t submit the same story to 20 markets at the same time, that’s silly and those markets are bound to have widely varying response times. BUT… Submittable (some people still call it Submishmash) makes it easy to “Withdraw” your piece cleanly. So submitting to 6 or 8 markets simultaneously isn’t unthinkable.
So, about your New Yorker comment, I say this: don’t submit to the New Yorker. You’re not going to get in. I’M not going to get in. None of us are getting in. Sorry – that’s just how it is. You can go ahead and submit there if it makes you feel better, but they take like 9 months to reply. If that market is part of your “first choice” strategy, you’re just signing up for a world of disappointment.
fyi – I submitted to the New Yorker once. They lost my submission/never responded, even though I followed their guidelines, submitted in pdf format, blah blah blah. After that I was like …. when I get an agent, THEY will help me submit to the New Yorker. Until that happens, I’m skipping it.
Finally, do you really truly know seasoned short story writers who don’t think sim-subbing is a good idea? If we go back a few decades, when everything was done on paper and submitting via hard copy-snail mail, then maybe it made more sense. But now with the ability to send (or withdraw) your submission at light speed (literally!) I can’t see what the resistance would be since it’s not in a writer’s best interests.
Thanks again for this post, I really enjoyed it – as I’m sure you can tell!
All the best,
I do love Submittable (formerly submishmash). I can stalk my submissions’ progress at any given moment which satisfies my constant desire for updates. I’ve never submitted to the New Yorker myself–and I probably won’t anytime soon, because I know they wouldn’t look at my work at this point in my career (I like your idea of an agent doing that for me!)–but I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience. When I mentioned the New Yorker in this post, I was more alluding to paying markets in general. Like right now, for example, I have a short fiction story waiting for consideration at Cicada, the only paying YA literary magazine on the market. Technically, they allow simultaneous submissions, but I don’t want the story to be accepted by a different publication–where I have no hope of getting paid–before I exhaust the potential that I could get paid by Cicada. So I’ll wait it out and if it gets rejected I’ll submit it to a collection of about six non-paying journals in my second tier.
Honestly, I don’t know many seasoned story submitters. By looking at the publication list on your website, you’re probably the most aggressive (and I mean this in the most positive way possible) story submitter I know. I did originally write this post because I was coming across multiple bloggers who kept stating that they thought it was “unprofessional” or “rude” to submit to multiple journals/agents at the same time. I tried to explain in the comments sections that it’s quite acceptable within the industry, as long as you’re polite, but they rolled their eyes and acted like I was quite naive. Thinking about it now, they probably weren’t very seasoned. I totally agree with you that simi-submissions are in the writer’s interest!
Haha, yes, I’m aggressive about submitting! The not-so-secret truth is you’ll get a story placed if you are persistent and can submit until you find the right editor who says yes. So bombs away. 😉
You know, my expectations are so low when it comes to getting paid for my stories, my inclination is get it published and worry about getting paid later. This strategy may not be the best one (I’ve never been paid for any of the 16 stories placed) but I’ve at least been able to get my publishing resume underway.
For many markets (paying and non-paying) this makes no difference because if they like the specific piece I sent them they’re going to accept it or not regardless of past pub credits, but I do believe success breeeds success.
This is a long winded way for me to say I wouldn’t worry too much about getting paid for your work right now. It’s probably a safe bet to sim-sub to paying and non-paying markets and whoever gets there first “wins” your story.
Yet another way to think about it: if you send a withdrawal notice to a paying market because your piece was accepted elsewhere, whether they would have accepted it or not, they’ll probably at least take notice of your name because they “missed out” on the chance to publish you.
Be In Demand.
I sort of resorted to the “bombs away” approach looking for an agent for my book. I am new at this, and I figured I would carpet bomb. Now, I am realizing I have a couple of smaller agents interested–one wants a new proposal and i think will offer to rep, but both seem to be with really small publishers (and I am not always clear on the difference between big 6 “imprints”, small publishers, and I think there are really small publishers out there that are barely above self-pub.
I am waiting on one bigger agent but I kind of have one agent hanging. He is expecting a pretty minor edit to my proposal and then I expect an offer of rep. I am going to then have to tell the other two I have an offer and please let me know. I keep agent #12 hanging, I guess? how do I make sure a smaller press is still decent and has some distribution and/or credibility?
I’m confused about what you’re saying: what do you mean by “both seem to be with really small publishers”? Literary agents should never be associated with a specific publisher. If every book they’re acquiring is instantly published by a single publisher–by this I mean, they’re not “shopping around” your book to multiple editors, approaching a lot of people in the industry and finding you the BEST publishing deal–then they aren’t literary agents. They sound like acquisition editors. I obviously don’t know all the details, but from the sounds of it if they’re calling themselves literary agents, I think they’re misrepresenting themselves. Are you sure these people are creditable?
When an agent offers to represent you, that means they’ll represent you to multiple publishers and editors. It’s a long term relationship and it might take them years to find a publisher for your book. Do you understand this relationship differently?
You shouldn’t have to find out if a small press is decent unless you get a publishing offer from that small press. This should be a separate step from an offer of representation from an agent. Besides that, you agent should be able to offer you advice and use their industry expertise to let you know whether it is a good opportunity or not. If they are expecting you to do all the legwork and research, they don’t sound like experts themselves and it would make me nervous of whether they can represent you well.
I didn’t mean they only have one publisher, but that all of their books tend to be smaller publishers. To be honest, i am a little paranoid, I suppose, but I jut don;t know this industry that well. I guess I was expecting/hoping for the Big 6 publishers and hadn’t thought much about other options. I don’t know if that is naive o not but I am learning as I go.
One agent is definitely a member of the AAR and has had some with “imprints” and the rest with smaller pubs I am not familiar with. The other has thus far shown much interest, and with apparently reputable publishers, but they are small. I am a little paranoid, I am sure, but I am realizing I don’t know this industry that well, either, and especially the ins-and-outs of the smaller publishers and what it means for exposure, distribution, advances, etc.
Again, bottom line is I am unclear about any differences between small, reputable pubs and getting *some* exposure.
People don’t get published by the Big 6, exactly. They get published by an imprint that falls under the umbrella of a big publisher. For example, Dean Koontz is published by Bantam, an imprint of Random House. Similarly, Grand Central Publishing is actually an imprint of Hachette Books, one of the big six. But books published by Grand Central Publishing have Grand Central Publishing on the spine, not Hachette.
I think you really need to research into the books that these agents have secured publication for–you might be surprised. What you thought were small publishers might in fact be imprints of bigger publishers. More importantly, look at the books they’ve represented that are similar to yours. If you have written an adult thriller, you don’t want the agent who primarily represents adult romance novels. They won’t know the right people, have the right connections.
Also, there’s nothing inheritance wrong with small publishers. Quirk Books in Philadelphia, for example, has made a respectable name for itself and published Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in 2011 and it’s gone on to be a best seller (see amazon rankings for a clue into that). I don’t think more than 20 people work at Quirk, but they do a really good job of promoting and loving their books. Some authors claim they get better, more personal care at smaller houses, some disagree, so I think it depends. You need to research to see if these small houses really promote their books–awesome–or if they just publish them, post them on sale on Amazon, and then never think about them again–not awesome.
Thanks a lot. That helps.
Are the agents you’re considering members of the AAR, the Association of Authors’ Representatives? LOOK INTO THIS! Check their database: http://aaronline.org/
I’m so glad I found this post on simultaneous submissions as I am looking to submit a short story to a few literary magazines and wasn’t sure how and what I needed to say. This one post answered more questions then half the searches I did on Bing. Thank you again.
Unfortunately, the part about most publishers accepting simultaneous submissions isn’t true at all for science fiction short publishers. Almost none of them accept these kinds of stories. I guess it’s one submission every quarter of a year for me.
Thank you for your advice! It’s exactly what I was looking for.
I do have another question though: As a new children’s book author, sending out simultaneous submissions, what is the protocol if one is accepted at a publishing house? Do you direct your other picture book manuscripts to the same company or is it acceptable to be published with different houses? How do you indicate that you’ve been accepted previously with that house, or that you’ve been published with another company prior? I would appreciate any insight!
Unfortunately, I have no experience, either personal or through research, regarding children’s book manuscript submissions to offer you. Good luck!
Thank you! You were able to answer my doubts about this.