Friday, February 05, 2010

TIBAL: (No) Simultaneous Submissions

The "Things I've Been Asked Lately" series of posts (TIBAL) is exactly what it sounds like. People ask me questions in real life, on the blog, or on the forums I follow and I endeavor to do my best to answer them. This is, of course, all IMHO.

What should I do when I find a market that says "no simultaneous submissions"?

I'm later getting around to this post than I thought I'd be but I did not forget about it! Last month I got into a discussion with a writer who was frustrated because her story had been tied up in a "no simultaneous submissions" market for the past four months. I'd be frustrated if I were her, too.

First off, the phrase "no simultaneous submissions" is one used by literary magazines and it means that if you submit your story to them then they don't want you to submit the story to any other magazine while they're deciding whether to accept or reject it.

Having your would-be partner demand an exclusive relationship right out of the gate is a bit daunting. Especially when you're trying to make your first sale. The good news is that very few markets make such strenuous demands.

Is it really a strenuous demand? Yes. I read in a Poets&Writers profile of an up and coming writer whose first story was rejected from forty markets before it was finally published. Last spring I had a member of faculty tell me that a story of mine was ready to send out and I "wasn't to change a thing until it's been rejected fifty times." A overheard a fellow student in my program congratulating another on his recent publication -- it was reject sixty-two times before the acceptance came and then twice more even though he'd withdrawn it from those markets. When you consider that stories are being rejected between 40 and 70 times before they find homes and should you only submit a story to one market at a time and each market takes 3-4 months to respond ... you're looking at your story getting published ten years after you begin the submission process (and that's the optimistic numbers).

For the most part, the only markets demanding you get exclusive are well respected, highly funded, highly ranked journals with long histories and name recognition in their favor. They're the kind of journals that get so many submissions in a year that they're only open for a few months anyway. My theory is that they ask for no simultaneous submissions to thin the herd. Their rate of rejection is already high, but if they can convince writers to not send them everything they've ever written then they're saving everyone a lot of heart ache and frustration.

Now, the big question: do you ignore the "no simultaneous submissions" request?

Ploughshares is one of those good reputation journals who says "no sim subs" and if you state in your cover letter that the story has been submitted elsewhere your story will be returned to you unread. And yet I've heard from those associated with the journal (when speaking as writers giving advice to other writers) to ignore the "no sim subs" request.

I've heard of people getting snarky letters when they withdraw work that was simultaneously submitted on the down low. And while I suppose that could damage your relationship with a magazine I have doubts that they're keeping blacklists.

So my answer is that there's no easy answer. It's all up to you same as it was before. Do you have a relationship with a magazine that you don't want to jeopardize? Do you really want to be published by one specific journal and are willing to wait? Are you absolutely unwilling to wait? Odds are that the "no sim sub" market will reject you anyway. Odds are that every submission you send out will come back as a rejection.

The advice that's been given to me by people better versed in the industry than I am has been to ignore the request. And my personal take on it is that any market that is going to hold your story for over a hundred days doesn't deserve the ability to command an exclusive relationship.

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