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Don't send us simultaneous submissions

By Jed Hartman

We recently added a note to our autoresponse email that says:

Note that we can't consider multiple submissions or simultaneous submissions. So please don't send us another story until we accept or reject this one, and don't submit this story anywhere else until we accept or reject it. If this story is currently under consideration elsewhere, let us know immediately.

And a surprising number of authors have sent us notes, after receiving that autoresponse, saying things like "I've submitted my story to [some other venue]; I hope that's okay."

On the one hand, I'm glad that authors are reading the autoresponse and are letting us know about their simultaneous subs.

But on the other hand, authors shouldn't get that far into the process before they find out that we don't take simultaneous subs.

Our guidelines say this:

Sorry, no simultaneous submissions. If you've sent your story to another venue, wait to hear back from them before submitting to us. (And then wait to hear back from us before submitting elsewhere.)

But I know a lot of people don't read guidelines. So our submission-form page says the same thing, more briefly.

So some submitters are missing both of those statements, as well as being unaware of the no-simsubs standard throughout the professional speculative short fiction world.

But okay, sometimes people just miss stuff. That's not ideal—it costs me some time and energy to deal with administrative stuff on withdrawn stories after I put them in the database—but it's not the end of the world.

But here's the thing to absolutely not do if you find yourself being told that a magazine doesn't take simsubs: Argue with the editor about it.

(Added later: I think I should stress this point: arguing with us about this cannot have any positive effects. Don't do it.)

I've had several of these arguments in the past few months, so I think it's time to attempt a public statement that I can point authors to in the future.

How you might think our process works

I gather that a lot of authors think that something like this happens after they submit a story to us:

Story sits around in limbo for four to eight weeks. Editor then looks at story for five minutes, decides not to buy it, and instantly sends rejection.

If our process worked like that, then you could withdraw the story at any time up to five minutes before we send the rejection, and it wouldn't cost anyone any significant amount of time. (Some annoyance, sure, but not much actual time.)

But it doesn't work that way at all.

How our process really works

Look at the submission-consideration process from our point of view:

You send us a story that's under consideration elsewhere.

It likely sits in our First Reader queue for a week or two. Then one of our First Readers reads it, and they pass it along to us editors. It sits in our queue for another week or two until one of us reads it and passes it along to the other two editors. We read it, we consider it, we re-read it, we talk about it in our weekly phone meetings, we weigh it against other stories. We finally decide whether we want to buy it. After we make that decision, it often takes us up to a couple more weeks to send the acceptance or rejection, for a variety of reasons.

It's now probably about six weeks after you submitted. Let's say we liked your story enough to buy it. We send you an acceptance letter—

And you tell us, "Oh, sorry, I actually sold that story somewhere else yesterday."

We've just wasted a lot of time and energy trying to decide on a story that it turns out isn't available for us to buy.

The key point here is that you have no way of knowing, at any given time, how much time we've spent on your story. So even if you don't wait to hear back from us, even if you withdraw your story from us as soon as the other venue accepts it, chances are still good that we've wasted time on your story.

And the next time we see a submission from you, we'll notice the note in our database that says "This author's last story was a simsub; we wasted a lot of time considering it." And we'll think: Why should we spend any time on this new story, after what happened last time?

Bear in mind that we're getting nearly 500 stories a month, and that we're unpaid volunteers. We don't have much time. We're happy to spend some of our time on stories we like—but if we spend a bunch of time on your story and then it turns out that time was wasted, it makes us angry.

What if the story sells?

I think a lot of authors send out simsubs without thinking about what happens if the story sells; they're (perhaps subconsciously) assuming that all the venues will reject the story. But stories do sell, and once that happens, the whole simsub house of cards comes tumbling down.

For example, think about what you'll do if you get three acceptance letters on the same day. Do you really want to turn down two acceptances, thereby making it unlikely that those venues will ever spend much time considering your work again?

But what about the author's time?

At this stage of the discussion/argument, several authors have said: That's all very well, but what about me? It's a waste of my time to sit around waiting for a response, when I could be showing the story to ten other venues at once!

To which my answer is: That's true, and it's too bad, but that's the way most of the field works.

Sorry, that's the mean answer. Fortunately, there's also a much nicer answer:

There's an easy way for you to work around this problem: write ten more stories, and submit them all to different venues. That way you've got something under consideration at any given venue at any given time, and nobody's wasting any time.

If you don't have enough stories to do that with, and you don't have time to write any more stories, then there's another answer: be patient. Sometimes stories take a long time to sell; trying to shortcut the process usually backfires. And if you find yourself getting impatient and wanting to simsub, then take the time you would've taken to submit elsewhere and instead spend it working on another story.

(There's another unspoken assumption here that I want to address in a future post, but I'll bring it up here in passing: a lot of authors feel like their careers as writers rest on that one story that they've written and sent out. Don't fall into that trap. A career as a writer consists of more than just a single short story. If you've completed and submitted one story, that's great; now write more stories.)

Disclaimer: other rules for other contexts

I should note that there are different rules for different genres and lengths and contexts. For example, I gather that in literary fiction, simultaneous submissions are common; and the rules for sending a novel synopsis to agents are different too. And there may be some speculative magazines (though not any prozines, I don't think) that allow simsubs; such venues will explicitly say so in their guidelines (because the default for short sf is no simsubs). This entry isn't meant to address any of that.

(Added later: It turns out that there are three sf prozines, as of late 2010, that explicitly allow simsubs. (Out of over twenty extant professional short-sf venues.) However, all three of them require that simsubs be explicitly marked as such.)

Conclusion

The core point of this entry is that we at Strange Horizons don't consider simultaneous subs. Even if you don't find the above explanation convincing, you're not going to get us to change our minds. It has been our firm policy for ten years. Arguing with us isn't going to help, even if you do it politely, and especially if you do it rudely (as most authors do over this issue). Ignoring our rule and sending us simsubs is really not going to help, especially if you find yourself having to withdraw a story from us because you've sold it elsewhere.

(Note added later: Each magazine sets its own rules, and authors need to follow them if they want to be published there. If you object to a magazine's guidelines, you should refrain from submitting to it. There are venues that consider simultaneous subs; if you feel strongly that you should be allowed to submit simultaneously, then you should restrict your submissions to those venues.)

In short:

Don't send us simsubs.

Comments

Posted by Debby at May 21, 2010 2:00 AM:

I'm appalled to hear that many writers don't read/follow the guidelines. I go over them very very carefully. I only send simsubs to journals that accept them, and I mention that they are simsubs in the cover letter. No skulking around. I feel that's there an issue of mutual respect. I respect their guidelines; they respect my work. There's a very good journal that has been sitting on my work (non simsub) for 8 months now. What that tells me is that I've made it to the finals. Even if their eventual answer is no, I don't think of that as wasted time. I think of it as good information about how close I am to breaking into the big leagues.

Posted by Zach M. at May 22, 2010 6:32 PM:

I spent two days reading over the submission guidelines for a micro-fiction piece that took me 10 minutes to write. Yes it was my first submission to SH's, and maybe I'm a little paranoid, but I figure if I'm going to consider myself a professional writer then it's only right that I follow the professional guidelines and courtesies of the industry.

It's understandable that as rejections start to pile up it can be frustrating to wait for what you assume will be yet another one. What we have to keep in mind is that a longer wait can actually be a good sign, as Debbie said above, and any excuse to write another story is a good thing!

Posted by J.P. at September 24, 2010 9:08 AM:


I'm a new author just starting to submit and never realized what a simsub was! Good thing I know now, I'd hate to have 3 magazines accept the same story and then not want to work with me again because I withdrew from 2. I think it was great of SH to offer such an honest explanation. I've written my whole life but just now (in my 30s) decided to try and publish and you're natural inclination is "the more places I submit, the better my chances." What I really need to do is write my stories! Thanks!

Posted by Joe at September 30, 2011 4:47 PM:

Yeah, this article does nothing to change my mind: the industry is terribly out of date.

This is not common in most fields. In comic books you can shop your story around, in screenwriting that's all you do is shop your stories around. Hell, if you have an agent you can even shop your book around. This model is solely set up to benefit the editor, and based on an old model that was set up around limited access to the printing press. You want me, as a writer to make your job easier. The line: "sorry, this is how the industry works," does nothing to dissuade me that it's an outdated model that could be improved to benefit everyone. And sorry, but we are watching the model disintegrate, and I'm not saying that I have all the answers or that my suggestions will save the industry, but what I am saying is that it's a great time to look at every aspect and think "how this can work better for everyone?"

Sorry that you wasted all this time, dear editor, reading and evaluating my story, just to have me send it someone else and sell elsewhere. Perhaps you should think about streamlining your process to get responses out faster. Further, perhaps you should run such a highly esteemed venue that people are waiting to get in because they Want to wait, not because they have to wait.

And yet you expect me to sit around and wait patiently for a simple rejection, no further explanation.

Simultaneous submissions would:

A- Let writers effect the price of their work. Not allowing simsubs effectively locks in prices. This 1 cent a word or even 5 cents a word is a bullshit model that hasn't changed since the 60s. If we could shop our stories this would effectively start an auction model where stories could have their value increase.

B- Get stories out of circulation faster by finding homes (or rejection basket) for them, and not dragging bad stories out for years.

Without the editor we wouldn't have a venue to put our stories out, but we are seeing with the internet the industry rapidly changing. And further without the writer there would be no stories to put out.

Posted by Jed at October 1, 2011 11:03 PM:

Did you see the part about how arguing with us isn't going to get us to change our minds?

I think one aspect that you're missing is where the supply and demand are. We get about 450 stories a month. If you don't sell us your story, that's a much bigger deal for you than it is for us.

If you aren't willing to follow our rules, that's fine; go submit to another venue. Why would you want to sell a story to a venue that's holding you back and keeping you from making all the money that you feel you should be making from your story? Why would you want to submit to a venue that might take longer to get back to you than you're willing to wait?

And if you write to us and say "Some other magazine's offered me 7c/word for this story, but if you offer me 8c/word, I'll sell it you," I can promise you that we will not offer you a higher price. Instead, we'll stop considering your future submissions.

Posted by Christian Riley at October 27, 2011 10:36 PM:

ASIM has a great submission model. They don't accept simultaneous submissions, but they have an open page of where your story lies in the review stage. As a writer, when I see that my story has been "bumped" into the second or third round of readings, it's so much more tolerable in terms of "waiting."

Posted by Jed at October 28, 2011 3:10 AM:

Yeah, there are a bunch of things we'd like to do to improve our submission-processing and -tracking system. It's possible some of them will get implemented in a couple of months; we'll see.

We're reluctant to tell writers specifically what their story's current status is, though; I suspect, given our particular processes and the ways in which they sometimes break down, it would be more often frustrating than encouraging, and I think it would lead to a lot of over-interpretation and false hopes.

But it's possible that we'll reconsider that at some point. Thanks for the comment!

Posted by Joe at November 21, 2011 3:46 PM:

Wow, I'm sorry, Jed, I thought this was the comments section, I didn't know it was reserved solely to be considered "arguing." I haven't submitted any stories to you, I just am a fan and reader at this point, and thought this was an open discussion. I was wrong. I apologize being mistaken and engaging in a discussion with you. In the future, as a fan and reader, I will shut up and keep my opinions to myself.

-Joe V.

Posted by Jed at November 22, 2011 10:44 AM:

Joe: I recommend going back and re-reading your original comment. Its tone came across to me as vehemently argumentative and as trying to change our minds. We get a lot of vehement arguments from writers who try to change our minds, which is why I said not to do that.

If you didn't intend it that way, then I apologize for misreading your tone.

A general note, not addressed to Joe per se: Discussion and comments are fine. But if you attack our approach, tell us that we're wrong, or otherwise try to convince us to change what we're doing, then I interpret that as arguing with our policy. I can't stop you from doing that, but I can tell you that it cannot have good consequences. But I should probably stop telling people that, because most people seem to interpret it as a challenge to increase their levels of hostility. It never turns out well, but that doesn't seem to stop people.

Posted by Joe V. at December 5, 2011 2:57 PM:

Fair Enough. Perhaps I did come off as a bit snarky/vehement, I think it was more impassioned, but you're right, let's keep things cool. It's your magazine and, so, frankly, it's your rules. I have no problem with that.

I think what struck me most, and what I was responding to, in like tone I thought, was the "sorry, this is how the industry works," theme, which isn't so, there are other mags that are trying out different models, and I think there are other models out there that can provide superior results, which is the discussion I wanted to have, and not necessarily a discussion of Strange Horizons policy in specific. It's your mag, you do as you please, I merely was trying to engage in a discussion on how we can evolve an industry that is currently in flux, and evolving around us.

Food for thought.

-Joe V.

Posted by Jed at February 23, 2012 11:25 PM:

@Wow, Joe. You have my sympathies.

@Jed, a little more courtesy and a lot less arrogance has never hurt anyone. Yes, this is your magazine, and everyone must play by your rules, as outmoded and unfair as it is. But with comments like, "If you aren't willing to follow our rules, that's fine; go submit to another venue," after a vague and inconclusive defense of the no simsub policy brings into question the ethical and moral aspect behind the decision.

You are placing unnecessary restrain a writer's ability to profit from his work purely to make your life easier.

Posted by Layla at February 25, 2012 5:17 PM:

Sure, it's better for everyone with simsubs!!!

How many stories can a person seriously consider? If everyone starts submitting their stories everywhere, then simsubs will vastly outnumber single submissions. Editors will dread having to read anything, since chances are, the story will be bought somewhere else. Get excited, then find out it's not for sale, even though you've been pushing it on the other editors all week? No thanks. And how would that benefit the writer? You sell a story in one place, and then ten other magazines say to themselves, "Oh, that's Mr. W---. Don't bother reading, someone else is already buying it."

Yes, I'd love to be able to send my stories everywhere, and have the editors start a bidding war over each piece. But if they're busy doing that, who's reading the three thousand (simultaneous) submissions a month? And now pretend you're not the magic writer who incites those bidding wars; you're in the slush pile at every magazine, still waiting for a response. Don't worry, though, the magazine promises it will respond to every simsub within two years; you may query after five years if you receive no response.

Posted by Jed at February 28, 2012 1:30 AM:

Wow, Layla, way to go with your completely off-the-wall and illogical scenario.

Tell me something. Can you name any other industry where suppliers have to compensate for the inefficiency of the wholesaler?

Can you name an industry where a supplier has to approach ONE client, and wait for them to decide before approaching another client?

While you're at it, can you also explain why the same rule does not apply to established writers, whose agents regularly send their manuscripts to a number of publishers, who COMPETES to publish the said story? Are there two separate rules at play here? Is this how the free market operates?

Imagine going for a job interview, and being told to NOT apply for another position while waiting for the employer's response.

So yeah, this decision lies entirely in the hand of publishers, and writers [i]must[/i] abide to this. But please don't make it into anything other than what it is, which is, inefficient publishers abusing their position to hold writers captive.

Fear not though - free market never fails. Strange Horizons, and others of their ilk, WILL change their submission policy somewhere along the road in order to survive – it’s inevitable.

Posted by Andrew at March 9, 2012 1:37 AM:

For what it's worth, I was an articles editor for a moderately prestigious (second tier?) law review and received many article for review. Simultaneous submissions were assumed. There was a lot of time pressure to review these because the number of *good* articles was small and the hierarchy of journals clear. As soon as we sent out an offer, the authors were on the phone with whoever was "above" us. It was even rumored some of the top tier journals didn't review articles from non-famous writers until they got one of those calls, effectively using us as a screening service. I would given authors only 48 hours to decide, arguing that if we weren't good enough for them, they shouldn't submit to us. Realistically, the quality of the article will outshine the specific journal if you hit reasonably high level ... and what do editors know?

Anyway, the simultaneous aspect of it was fine, and necessary where many works were time-sensitive (the world changes, and professors want tenure). It's really pretty easy to find the cream of the crop, perhaps more of a debate which specific piece to publish, but I'm not going to feel sorry for the editors here for being skow readers. If there was not such an excess of potential authors, the journals would not have the leverage to put these submissions in limbo, especially where 98% of the answers are going to be "no" anyway.

Posted by Big D at March 12, 2012 12:05 PM:

once i read a blog from an editor/slush reader talking about cover letters. the editor/slush reader stated that, as a writer, you'd better do research to figure out what editor/slush reader exactly may be reading your story and affix them in the salutation. and look out if you don't include a cover letter. to me it's the same as this simsub hubbub. if a writer wants to simsub, go ahead, take the risk of embarrassment and wasting other people's time. it's your product (at that point). business of all sorts can and will be rude and self-centered. so what?

Posted by Sheogorath at April 6, 2012 2:26 AM:

"This 1 cent a word or even 5 cents a word is a bullshit model that hasn't changed since the 60s."
Actually Joe, the advertised rates here are 7 cents a word, which would net me around $21.55 for my 3,078 word story if I could submit it here for consideration (I already sent it to another site and am waiting for word back). Oh, but wait! This publisher _has_ to pay $50 dollars a story, minimum. I reckon that's a _lot_ more than 1cent a word or 5 cents a word, don't you?

Posted by Lauren at April 17, 2012 12:14 PM:

I've been searching for an answer to this question for a while, now, and I'm hoping asking here is alright.

What if an author submits to multiple places, but with your agency being the only 'no simsub,' what if an author was willing to reject the other agencies if you said yes?

There's a magazine I really want to submit to, but the chances of a yes are minimal. There's another magazine that I have a much better chance being published in, but I really would prefer getting published in the former. I would hate to outright say no to the second company if they accept it just to be rejected by the first, but at the same time, if there's any chance the first company would publish me I'd prefer that.

Is a simsub alright, in that case? Where the company who is against them would be given priority over all other places submitted to?

Posted by Marika at May 9, 2012 9:34 AM:

@Sheogarth... my calculations show that a 3,078 word story at 7 cents per word (0.07 x 3078) would earn $215.54, not $21.55.

Posted by Marika at May 9, 2012 9:37 AM:

Sorry, that was for @Sheogorath and $215.46... proving the value that editing adds.

Posted by luis at September 18, 2012 6:20 PM:

refusals to your arguments:


"There's an easy way for you to work around this problem: write ten more stories, and submit them all to different venues."
just one thing to tell you on that: you call that easy?
very poor answer.

the real answer is this:

"That's true, and it's too bad, but that's the way most of the field works"
and it only shows that you, people from the magazines, are thinking only about yourselves. and then you want us to think about yourselves too?

i wonder if any of you had ever tried to be a writer, i don't think you have, not seriously enough at least. do you have any idea of how it is to be writing for years, trying to be published for years, and only being rejected? you know the first few times are not easy, but you let it go. but how about the 6th time or the tenth time, or even more. you wait and wait and wait and then you get an answer like this: sorry, but unfortunately, blablabla… and theres no advice, no tip, no explanations whatsoever. and you want me to think about your waste of time? sorry, pal. you've notice the bitterness? thats the result of all this waisted waiting, years of waisted waiting, my friend, so don't go telling me what you think i should do; if theres a law for it, I'll respect it, if not, too bad for you, cause im tired of it being just "too bad for me".
and as for not being welcomed in your magazine, well, at least there are others.
ps. oh, and about the "Oh, sorry, I actually sold that story somewhere else yesterday"; well how nice it must feel to be the one saying "sorry", for a change.
and by the way, don't tell me about arguing with you, i am not trying to change your mind, i don't really care about how you think.
if i were you, if you're not open to changes then i would stop replying to people.

Posted by luis at September 19, 2012 12:24 PM:

another thing i forgot to mention,
here are some really smart and truthful arguments, on the contrary to yours (you editors are not that smart, are you?).
about your "stories do sell".
yeah, sure, but how much? i mean, common,
the probabilities are completely on your side and completely against us. what are the odds that you are actually gonna get rejected?! you're the ones rejecting everybody!
and you want us to feel sorry about your waste of time?
by your own numbers you're rejecting around 495 stories every month.
its got be a joke.
be honest, the probability of you wasting your time is ludicrous, because the absolute majority of the stories are rejected. so we are the ones that have like 99,99 percent of chance of being rejected, so we are the ones wasting our time, not you.
and then on top of the low probability of a story being accepted then you tell us about the probability of the writter (!) not wanting to be published! that means that his story had been accepted not only once (which is 0,01%) but twice! my God! ain't he the luckiest bastard on earth. and you, poor thing, are really, really out of luck.
so bottom line, you're rejecting 495 stories every single month. my God, im sorry, but i think you're going to hell. and then on top of all this kindness, your industry had the guts to tell us to wait. well, bu hu.

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Posted by Atsiko Ureni at March 25, 2013 9:18 PM:

In regards to the comparison to novels, you have to keep in mind that A) novels make more money than a short story; B) the majority of publishers are businesses, whereas many, many fiction magazines are not; C) novels take much longer to process than short stories, are submitted by an agent and not the author; and D) short stories aren't a full time job--arguments about lost revenues, most of which here have been silly, are not really germane to the discussion.

No simul-subs is a bit annoying as a writer, but as someone who has worked on a magazine, publishing poetry and fiction, which actually did allow them, I can tell you that it's much more annoying on the publishing side, especially when you have to figure out your publishing schedule and number of pages.

If one is a good short story writer, they could be turning out at least a story a month, so a 40 day wait on one of those stories is not such a big deal. You're making small money on a few stories a year, not churning out content you've got to sell, sell, sell.

If you want to make an argument for simul-subs, please pick a comparable industry. Don't base your argument on writerly bitterness, and try to have a better understanding of your own industry. And finally, take it somewhere else, 'cause this publisher has already made their opinions clear.

Posted by Elayna at April 26, 2013 6:07 PM:

The likelihood of rejection is related to the quality of the story. The good stories are the ones that editors will spend their time considering and they are also the ones that other magazines are likely to want. With this view, it makes sense to me why they would not want simsubs.

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Posted by Ezra at August 29, 2013 12:20 AM:

"think about what you'll do if you get three acceptance letters on the same day."

I'm sure everyone would enjoy fantasizing about that, but let's try some simple math. If you estimate your story's chance of acceptance at 10%, then the chance of 2 venues accepting the story is 0.1 times 0.1, or 1%. The chance of 3 doing so is 0.1 times 0.1 times 0.1, or one tenth of one percent.

If you estimate your odds at 5%, the odds of getting 3 acceptances is 0.0125%, or one in 8,000.

If you estimate your odds at 1%, the chance of getting 3 acceptances is literally one in one million.

Even if you estimate your story's odds of acceptance at 25%, the odds that three venues will accept it is still just 1.6%.

I'll leave it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

Posted by vicomtepicabia at October 11, 2013 7:12 PM:

Y'know, instead of using the system described on this page, that takes months and involves a dozen First Readers, you ought to use whatever system F&SF uses. They're capable of rejecting stories the very day they're submitted. Plus, their system has the added bonus that writers soon realize there's no point in submitting there, and cease doing so.

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