Simultaneous Submissions (Should I or Shouldn’t I?)

By | September 20, 2012

I’ve often heard writers ask whether they should follow a “no simultaneous submissions” policies, as requested by some publishers.

The question of multiple submissions, also call simultaneous submissions, is daunting to an emerging writer.

Here is how the policy is often stated:

Please do not send us work which is also being submitted elsewhere. We do not consider simultaneous submissions. This policy saves our editors from reading work that is not actually available for first North American publication, and it saves authors the embarrassment of having to withdraw a manuscript.

My advice? I recommend that authors do what is in the best interests of the author, and let publishers do what is in their best interests.

It’s a bit of a gray area, I admit; it may depend on how “hot” or timely or truly amazing your work is. You generally want to be respectful, in part to increase your likelihood of acceptance anywhere. Still, in a nutshell, if you feel compelled to violate a publisher’s policy . . . well, you cannot always shape your business model to what is most convenient or efficient for a publisher.

In short, while publishers logically are publisher-centric . . . as an author, you need to be author-centric. Exclusive expectations to review literary work, given the competition of the real world, seems unrealistic, especially if you are submitting work “over the transom” (which means unsolicited).

As an author, your responsibility is to submit good and appropriate work, which gives a publisher a chance to consider it and respond as quickly as they wish to. In this business climate, publishers should know that unbought work can be bought or acquired by a competitor if they don’t move quickly enough.

I’d say publisher legitimately could request a “no simultaneous submissions” policies if:

  1. They acknowledge receipt.
  2. They indicate how long before a response will be given.
  3. They indeed respond to your submission within that time.

If so, their request that authors don’t submit work elsewhere is more reasonable. Still, authors – especially new emerging authors – need to submit and get work published, and they need to pursue this aggressively.

Caveats and exceptions:

1. Don’t submit countless random, machine-gun simultaneous.

I recommend authors be selective. Do good research into likely prospects. Start with the highest-value publishers (or literary agents), those with the greatest pay or highest readership or greatest literary prestige. If it’s a timely item, you might want to send it to a selection of a few prospects. If you don’t hear anything soon, then move onto the next prospects on your list.

2. Do honor explicit requests for an exclusive read.

If a publisher, editor, or agent looks at a brief query and requests more, asking for or expecting an “exclusive look” for a set period of time, I’d likely grant that. I’d confirm the period of time; if one isn’t given, I’d send the requested work but state my acceptable period for an exclusive look, perhaps 3–4 weeks. At that time, I’d nudge, and ask how the review has gone, before withdrawing it from the “exclusive” zone.

3. Avoid irritating good clients.

If you have a working relationship with a publisher, then you have a reason to give that partner in your literary career a first look, probably an exclusive one, at new work. Some book contracts may insist on that. But it’s generally a good way to do business. This would be true also of a literary journal where you’ve seen some past publishing success; you may have an inside track, and so logically want to build a good relationship.

But, if you are an emerging writer without a lot of published credits or existing relationships with agents or publishers . . . and you want to get your work published to launch a fairly new career . . . ask yourself what is the best model for your success? You are exactly the person who needs to get your work onto a lot of editorial desks to be reviewed.

A publisher should know they are in competition for manuscripts, especially when it comes to discovering new talent.

Sure, they’d like an exclusive look. Who wouldn’t?

As a business matter, authors should consider the risk. Ask yourself: what’s the down side? Let’s say one publisher accepts it, and you have to notify others (yes, you should be courteous and do this immediately) that the work was accepted elsewhere and you have to withdraw your submission from further consideration. If they are peeved . . . well, they should have responded sooner if they really wanted to acquire the work.

And you have made the publisher who accepted the work happy; this is the publisher you’ll clearly be working with. You’ve annoyed an editor who thinks he/she “wasted” (possibly) time considering your work, but didn’t move quickly enough. So? It’s only a factor for you and your business if you later want to work with that publisher, and if the same editor is there and maintains a black list. Is there some risk here? Have you possibly burned a bridge? Sure. But I think your outcome, in such a case, is better than having your work sit too long on a single desk.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in playing the literary game fairly. But to me, an exclusive demand for unsolicited work just doesn’t meet my definition of fair to all parties involved.

Further Reading:

Here’s a well-balanced discussion of some issues (Harold Underdown recommends reasonably that you indicate that your submission is a multiple submission): http://www.underdown.org/multiple.htm

Here’s a good author-centric analysis: http://whatdoesnotkillme.com/2009/08/31/simultaneous/

4 thoughts on “Simultaneous Submissions (Should I or Shouldn’t I?)

  1. Farrell Winter

    Publishers say no simultaneous submissions but authors do it anyway? What an illogical system. I want to be honest in my submissions; it seems dishonest to include the statement, “This is a multiple submission,” when the publisher has requested no simultaneous submissions, and even more dishonest not to include the caveat if you have indeed submitted to more than one publisher (or agent). What is to be done?

    Reply
    1. Philip Martin Post author

      I think the top issue is what’s really fair considering the business needs of both parties. And also, of course, you need to be true to your own professional standards. A little lower in my ranking, if taking the author’s point of view, is what publishers want. I happen to feel that publishers should be a bit more considerate of the needs of authors and play by normal business standards (including the “you snooze, you lose” rule; if you miss a business opportunity, you probably need to blame yourself, instead of expecting open-ended exclusive options by decree.) Publishers have long felt they have the upper hand in the business relationship . . . especially when dealing with authors without agents. Authors with agents, notably, get better treatment and the negotiations are more equalized.

      Reply
  2. Victor David

    It would help if your terminology were correct. A multiple submission is not the same as a simultaneous submission. I stopped reading in the second paragraph when you stated they were the same.

    A multiple submission refers to the practice of sending more than one piece to the same publication at the same time, such as sending two stories. Simultaneous submission refers to the practice of sending the same piece to different publications at the same time. This is an important distinction.

    Reply
    1. Philip Martin Post author

      Victor, no great disagreement from me with your comment. My article (at least I titled it correctly, but could have made it more clear) was mostly about submitting larger projects to literary agents or book publishers. This is where writers suffer a good deal of economic hardship if they don’t market their big projects actively; they need to avoid getting sucked under the bus of waiting long for individual agents or editors to response.

      To quote Writer’s Digest/Chuck Sambuchino about the difference between “simultaneous” and “multiple” submissions: “Sometimes, the two words are used interchangeably, so quickly note the difference. Simultaneous submissions are when you query multiple agents about the same project. This is fairly common (and recommended, to a degree).” He goes on to note: “Multiple submissions is when you submit multiple projects to the same agent for consideration. This is almost never recommended as pitching multiple projects usually comes off as amateurish.”

      However, with shorter pieces, such as poems & short stories, submitting multiple works to the same place at the same time, like a literary journal, is common and often encouraged (at least for poetry journals, where they may allow a poet to submit up to a certain number of poems in a single submission).

      So your point on using the correct terminology is well taken. My hope was to encourage for writers to understand what is in their best interests & employ pitching tactics that work for them and their career interests.

      Nice website of yours, by the way. Good online portfolio with lots of examples of your work. Kudos for that.

      –Phil

      Reply

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