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!