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March 23, 2006

Simultaneous Submissions

I'm just gonna say this, and disagree with me if you must:

Editors who don't accept simultaneous submissions hate writers. They hate us!

Now there are editors (famously, Howard Junker of Zyzzyva) who turn around submissions in two weeks. They can go 'head and not accept simultaneous submissions. They can get finicky about formatting. They can ask for a bio of exactly 25 words, no more, no less, and a two-page CV, and a package of peppermint candies with each submission. Heck, they can go to raves, candy flip, get naked, and talk to hot chicks about their "aura". As far as I'm concerned, any editor who can turn submissions around in less than a month has hella leeway.

However, most of the journals I've noted that don't take sim subs have a 3-6 month turnaround time. Not surprisingly, the journals that do take sim subs also have a 3-6 month turnaround time, and usually actually return somewhere in the 4 - 5 month range. Even when I receive stories back that were clearly screened by an undergrad grunt on slush dooty (all hail undergrad grunts on slush dooty! I was one!), it often takes 3 months. That means it could conceivably take up to a year for two journals to tell you "no". At best speed, it would take a year for four to six journals to tell you no.

Do you know how many journals are read for the annual "Best American" and "Pushcart Prize"? Me neither, but I do know that about seventy journals have had stories in the "Best American" and "Pushcart Prize" in the last three years. If you want a career, if you want to be noticed, you'll send to those journals first. Now, let's be generous to the editors and say that these journals are all so varied and different (*hack*, *cough*) that my story could only conceivably fit into forty of them. Forty journals. Four "no's" a year. I'm bad at math. You tell me how long it'll take to find out that everyone thinks my story sucks. Of course, most of those journals do accept sim subs. I wonder why that is.

Maybe it's because most journals are aware that most writers aren't mind readers (I'm holding out for the possibility that some are) and don't know what exact editorial direction this editor will take issue 56 in this time, so they should just cut the writers some slack already, and let them post to a bunch of journals whose next issue's editorial focus they can't foresee ... you know, just in case somebody likes their story. Or maybe it's because, deep down, they know that even the conscientious writers (like me ... sometimes) who actually do read samplings from all (... most ... the majority) of the journals they submit to, might not actually be able to see any difference in editorial direction, cuz the "editorial direction" wasn't so much transfused into the editorial process as it was vaguely waved over the proofs, much in the way that nutrients are waved over twinkies, or humanity was waved over the Bush administration.

I know that self-delusion is the engine of the literary industry. I know that, to produce even competent, much less brilliant work, writers have to convince themselves, against all evidence, that what they're doing matters. Having been an editor myself, I recognize that editors, even though they get a lot more daily validation (in the form of fawning supplicants), are also subject to this process of self-delusion. But let's get real for a moment. There are seventy journals out there, popping out puppies one to four times a year, seventy journals deemed important by the literary establishment. That's not counting the other hundred or more deemed somewhere by someone of at least passing credibility to be the cutting-edge, neglected instrument of literary fate.

You don't really expect us writers to read all of these, do you?

It's a peculiarity of this industry, certainly, but the producers of literary work benefit from experiencing the work of others to a certain extent, just like all other industries. But beyond that limited extent, the very producers of literary work will produce quality (and quantity) only in inverse proportion to the amount of time, energy and attention that they give to keeping up with the field. This is not just a matter of time economics. It's also a matter of crap economics. A lot of crap gets published in journals; crap of a certain trend stamp. The more of it you read, the more it gets impressed upon the part of your mind responsible for shaping, forming, and flavoring your stories. So, the more journalcrap you read, the more journalcrap you produce. Editors, as a body, like flocks of birds, break at an invisible signal and start off in a different direction; the viewer and even the scientist cannot tell you what sets them off. So the writer who has permitted his brain to be shaped by prevailing trends is left waving his fins in the air, and gasping through his rapidly drying gills.

I know that those no-sim-subs journals can justify it by saying that they only want writers who are really committed to or interested in their journal. But there are only about three journals at a time that I'm really committed to or interested in, and they're none of them yours. Most writers would, if they could but be honest, tell you the same thing. Anyway, I tend to think that writers should be spending their time, interest, and commitment writing and making their stories as good as they can be, not waiting ... for five months ... to hear back from an undergrad grunt on slush dooty. Any writer who really commits to making a story good wants to see her baby published -- ideally in the best journal, but any reputable journal that doesn't clash with her vision will do. Writers are funny that way.

Now if you're The New Yorker, if the simple crook of your finger can invest a pedant with semi-divinity, you can do whatever the hell you want. I stutter in your presence. (Can I also -- stutteringly -- note here that The New Yorker's claims its turnaround time as 8 weeks?)

But if you're almost anyjournal else, get over yourself. If you sat on a piece for five months without a word to the writer and it's yanked out from under you by another, more time-conscious journal, you have only yourself to blame. If a story is soooo goddamn good (or sooo perfectly embodies the hottest trend) that you're in danger of losing it to a rival, you goddamn well needed to move faster on it. You could have, at any time, come down from your high throne, shot that simultaneous submitter an email, and said, "Hey, I'm considering your piece but can't make a firm decision for another two months. Will you hold the piece for me?" If they don't simultaneously cream and fall all over themselves, they're Norman Mailer and you don't want their story anyway.

Damn. Did I just abort my career?


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A thousand times YES.

I mean, a resounding YES to your post, not your last question. (that's what I get for my itchy trigger finger)

a million times YES to your post! if all editors were like Howard Junker and could turn their replies around in under a month (Howard often does speedier replies) we'd all be in a different situation--but to wait nearly a YEAR? for one single story? bah.

i once went to a writer's conference--where everyone said "just send them out simultaneously--what are the chances of being accepted to TWO litmags anyway?"


jade, there's almost NO possibility of anyone's story being accepted to the top seventy ;) anyway, but once it's been accepted into ONE, the chances of somebody else wanting it, too, go up exponentially.

plus, suppose you sim sub a non-sim-sub journal and it gets accepted elsewhere before the non-sim-sub journal gets back to you? what then? you send them a note saying, coyly, "i am writing to withdraw my piece from consideration"? like, no one's gonna know what that means?

even if they were going to reject it, they might take a moment to scribble your name onto their blacklist.

omigod, i just revealed my paranoia publicly.

I don't think that by not accepting simultaneous submissions, they don't like writers. I think quite the contrary. But I do think that a journal not accepting simultaneous submissions is purely an ego thing on their part. Every journal wants to feel like they have some sort of exclusivity -- "we have work that no other journal has seen."

But I also think it's unrealistic for a journal to not accept simultaneous submissions. On this, I agree with you. If a journal thinks I'm going to submit my work and allow it to be tied up from 3 to 4 months, that's just not realistic. It's foolish for them thinking that.

Amen to this post. I feel very strongly about this.

All writers should always simultaneously submit, if they want to, without regard to editors' wishes. They should then be very prompt and professional in withdrawing pieces accepted elsewhere.

No hate here for editors, but it's a hard enough world out there for us writers without having to wait a year to hear back from the top few journals.

If everyone always did this (sim. sub.), there would be a de facto change in editors' policies and procedures, which would become more writer friendly. We (and the readers) are, after all, the reason for their being.

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