Part I: On Simultaneous Submissions

Zachary Martin

Feb 14, 2014

Shiva as illustrated in The SimpsonsToday's editorial staff member1

As both a writer and an editor, I cringe whenever I read the phrase "No Simultaneous Submissions." If you haven't run into this phrase before, sometimes abbreviated as "no sim sub," it means a publication does not want you to send your manuscript to any other journals while they are considering it.

Every publication can make its own rules, of course, but I think this policy harms our field more than it helps it. Near as I can tell, the argument against simultaneous submissions runs something like this: Accepting them allows writers to submit to us in bulk, and almost at random, never concerning themselves with whether a given journal would actually be a good fit for their work, thereby increasing the workload for our already underpaid and over-committed editorial staff. By refusing to accept simultaneous submissions, we lighten our editorial workload and force submitters to conduct more research—even buy a copy—to be sure that this journal is the place the author thinks their work will be welcomed.

please allow 30-40 years

Such an argument strikes me as specious for any number of reasons, starting with the simple fact that it denies the reality of the production schedule of most journals, as well as the limits of the human life span. Gulf Coast, for instance, has an acceptance rate of less than 1% and an average response time of 4-6 months. I imagine this is close to the figures at most U.S. literary journals, which means that if we all refused to accept simultaneous submissions, it could take an author decades to get a given manuscript published.

Yes, some people will say, but that acceptance percentage would go up and the response time would go down if people were doing more research and only sending to the "right" journals for their work. Not by much, and anyway the world of literary publishing can't be reduced to a numbers game. The world of editing literary journals is a fluid one—editors come and go all the time, especially when it comes to the Readers and Assistant Editors who make the initial pass on most submitted work. Becoming part of the community of readers of literary magazines is important—for many more reasons than just figuring out where to submit—but "research" done today isn't always valuable tomorrow.

Another line of argument I've heard is along the lines of: We really care about your submission and we spend a lot of time reading it, and re-reading it, and discussing it, and talking about possible edits. It really sucks when we do all that and then find out the work isn't available anymore because it's been accepted somewhere else. All that's true—the decision-making and editing process is time-consuming and it is disappointing when you lose a manuscript to another publication—but that isn't the fault of the writer.

Or, to put it another way, last Sunday I got up late and went out for brunch. By the time I ordered, they were all out of the dish I wanted. Is that the restaurant's fault for having a great product, or mine for sleeping in? Refusing to accept simultaneous submissions seems an attempt to invert basic relationships in the literary marketplace. While it's true that writers need journals to bring their work to a wider audience—though desktop and web publishing calls even that idea into question—the journals need writers' work in order to have something to give the audience. It's a reciprocal relationship, and trying to control how, when, and to whom writers can sell their work doesn't recognize their essential contribution. Most writers are not trying to scam the system when they simultaneously submit; they're just hoping they can see their work in print before they die.

Zachary Martin continues to discuss the topic of simultaneous submissions, including the responsibilities of the writer, in Part II.

1From The Simpsons, &copy Twentieth Century Fox