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 That's not ideal—it costs me some time and energy to deal with administrative stuff on withdrawn stories after I put them in the database—but it's not the end of the world.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