Throw-Down on Twitter, SimSubs Style

Posted: September 6, 2012 in General Musings, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

For those who don’t know, simultaneous submissions (simsubs) are exactly what they sound like: stories submitted to more than one publication for consideration simultaneously. As an unpublished writer at the beginning of her career, I’ve always found the “no simsubs” requirement annoying. Essentially, “no simsubs” means I’ve written and revised a story that I think is ready for publication, but I have to wait three, six, nine months (sometimes longer) just to hear “Thanks, but no thanks” and move on to the next market, only to wait the same amount of time for likely the same answer. All just to see a single story in print. To say the least, it’s inconvenient. YOU’RE DELAYING MY ROWLING-ESQUE FAME AND FORTUNE, PUBLISHERS!

But I’ve also understood the necessity for “no simsubs” because I’ve worked with a literary journal before. When I was in college, I interned with Hayden’s Ferry Review, and both the journal and the experience were awesome. HFR is not an A-list journal—though it definitely deserves to be—and the slush was still monstrous. Thousands of pages, people. Thousands of pages read by volunteers who had day jobs and lives. And there were always more pages coming in—”hydra” is a better term than “slush.” My time with HFR was invaluable, if for no other reason than because I gained insight into the frantic lives of editors and publishers. I learned that patience is indeed a virtue for writers to have when it comes to editors. We are, after all, in this together.

Then I came across a heated Twitter debate over the value of requiring “no simsubs.” Wow. I never thought that was a convo that would get out of hand.

Here is the breakdown: It is inconvenient and even expensive (time-wise) for writers—especially writers who are new to the community—to have to wait long periods of time for responses. It is also inconvenient (not to mention frustrating) for editors and publishers to finally get to the perfect story only to have it withdrawn because it has been accepted elsewhere. It was also expressly suggested that requiring no simsubs necessarily places an editor’s convenience above a writer’s—to the extent of being called anti-labor. One participant summed up the conflict pretty well:

Competing business interests

I agree with the first statement, but I don’t understand the necessity of being required to choose a “side.” Competing business interests don’t have to result in an us-vs.-them mindset. (Game theory, yo.)

It is in the interest of editors to respond quickly to writers because doing so shows respect and professionalism, which is usually reciprocated. It is also in the interest of writers to be patient with editors where necessary, including response time.

This doesn’t mean a writer has to take it lying down when a market promised to respond in six months nine months ago; it just means writers should respect the needed (as opposed to convenient) time frame a given market has been honest enough to communicate—in fact, it benefits writers to do so. I have a feeling that way more writers* wouldn’t get their fair shake if all editors and readers had a response time of about a week instead of having the breathing room that a “no simsubs” caveat affords. For many publications, that would mean the readers and editors reviewed pretty much only the first page of the story, or just skimmed the text. Demanding that readers and editors push the bounds of what they are reasonably capable of reading in a given time period (either to simply respond quickly or to beat an imaginary competitor to the proverbial punch) can only result in a disservice to the authors who submit their work, the reputation of the publication that backs that work, and the readers who (usually) pay to see what the editors deem the best work. I’ll channel Neil Gaiman here: Editors are not your bitch.

Moreover, only the editors of a given market know what they are capable of handling because they happen to be the ones who know exactly what their submission volume and reading speed are. Editors have a responsibility to build their business—and it is a business, even if they don’t make any money—around what they are capable of producing and to communicate as honestly as they can what that capability is. Doing so is not privileging the editor’s convenience (a word that sounds to me like a charge of laziness) over the writer’s: it’s giving an honest depiction of what one is reasonably able to do and asking for professional courtesy in return (okay, requiring it, not just asking for it). As far as I know, there is no tech that will substantially mitigate the time it takes to read a given work critically and determine its suitability for publication in the target market. It’s the nature of the industry, so far, and no one has ever been shy about sharing this information.

When the word “anti-labor” made its entrance, the whole conversation deteriorated quickly. Frankly, I think the debate was doomed the moment it started because it was being held over Twitter, not because either side was unwilling to compromise or engage in intelligent discussion on the matter. Bandying the term “anti-labor,” however, hastened the conversation’s demise for two reasons.

First, the term assumes that the relationship between writer and editor is necessarily one of conflict—“us vs. them,” “pro- vs. anti-.” This assumption lives right down the street from WHY DO THEY DESTROY MY WORK OMG THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND MY VISION!—an attitude the helps no one, least of all writers, because it inhibits valuable communication and constructive progress.

Second, it denies the labor that the editorial side of publishing demands. Editors are not managers, either in function or in name (unless they’re managing editors and above, of course). They are the creative people who collaborate with writers on the next stage of a story’s life (less so in short-form markets, but still). Writers definitely do the bulk of the work throughout the creative process, but this fact does not diminish the quantity and value of the creative work required of others, namely editors.

Understanding all of this doesn’t make me any less impatient when I have to wait after submitting a story, but that doesn’t mean the problem originates with the editors and the markets they represent. I make the choice to submit to markets with long response times because those markets also have a larger and more consistent readership, which translates into visibility for me. I’ve always had the option to submit to markets with shorter response times, but those markets tend to be smaller and are often “untested” in my estimation. Then again, I’m also “untested” in the eyes of the more popular markets, which have a stricter image and aesthetic they need to consider. It might behoove me to rein in my ego and submit to a smaller market that can respond faster and has greater freedom to take a chance on a newbie like me**.

*“Way more writers,” of course, being a highly reliable statistic of the scientific variety. Science.

**Or I could just write better. That might help, too.

  1. Nice post! This is an interesting topic. I’m dealing with it right now, because I sent out a short story to several publications back in March, with a promised response time of 3 months… and I’m still waiting on some of them. But I know readers and editors are extremely busy, so I’m trying to patient.

    When it comes to simultaneous submissions, I can definitely see both sides. In a way, it seems that the larger a publishing house is, the more willing they should be to accept simultaneous submissions, because 1.) they get tons of submissions, with more odds that they’ll find ones worthy of publication even if a good writer backs out, and 2.) getting tons of submissions means they will take a lot longer to read everything, so it seems fair to writers to allow simultaneous submissions.

    That being said, I think it’s the writer’s job to choose what style suits her. I only send my stories to publications that accept simultaneous submissions, because I’m just starting out. I want to increase my odds of publication, and I don’t want to wait around. In the future, I’ll probably be more selective about where I submit my work. But for now, as soon as I see that a publication does not accept simultaneous submissions, I skip over it. That works for me at this point in my career.

    • Depending on the publication, it’s probably just fine if you contact them about your story at this point. Check their submissions page again. That’s usually where they say to inquire or to assume your story has been passed up. Sometimes (not often, but sometimes) stories can even be lost. If you submitted a hard copy, it may have fallen behind a shelf somewhere, been clipped to another story, or any other scenario. Even if you submitted an electronic copy, it could still get lost in a spam folder or even in an inactive email account if there’s been a change in the editorial staff. I’m all about patience, but I also believe in holding a publication accountable to the response time they’ve advertised. Nicely, of course 🙂
      To your first point, which is a good one, I’d like to add the perspective of the person who has to rummage through a physical slush pile (if there is one) to find a single story and of the editor/reader who very unluckily just read and loved the story that has now been pulled–oh, the chaos and frustration! These really are minor inconveniences and annoyances in the grand scheme of things, though, and I don’t really see them as valid reasons for instituting a “no simsubs” policy. You second point is a really good one in favor of allowing authors simultaneous submissions. Professional courtesy, after all, goes both ways. But when you’re the editor, you know there’s the story you want in that pile somewhere. If you also know that story is submitted to your competitors, some of whom may have significantly shorter wait times and smaller slush piles and who may have even gotten it before you? Well, it should surprise no one when editors have heart attacks.
      So, yeah, you’re right, it’s absolutely about choice. It’s a market’s choice to bite the bullet and drop a “no simsubs” requirement, and it’s a writer’s choice to submit to the market that suits her current career goals and strategies. These are all business decisions that must be made by the parties involved (who are the only ones who know what’s right for them) and can’t/shouldn’t be addressed with industry-wide, blanket change.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

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