To simsub or not to simsub

Simsubs – or simultaneous submissions – are a bone of contention in the writing world. A simsub is when an author submits a story to two or more publications at the same time.

I just took a quick look at Duotrope. I checked for flash length fantasy fiction in any payscale (that’s from no pay to pro pay). The initial list was 211 primary matches and 191 secondary ones. When I put in the same search and asked for publications that took simultaneous submissions, the numbers dropped to 78 and 101 – less than half the first total.

I understand the editors’ take on simsubs. If they spend time reading and evaluating a towering slushpile and then send out a story acceptance only to be told, “Sorry, that story is no longer available,” they may be justifiably annoyed.

I also understand the authors’ take on simsubs. If they submit each story to only one publication at a time, and the editors take forever to reject it, it takes so much longer to make a sale. Some of us, fools that we are, actually think that it’s possible to live on writing, and to make part of that writing living selling fiction. No simsubs and long response times make that much harder.

It seems to me that the good middle ground is a combination of no simultaneous submissions and fast response times. If I’m going to hear back from you in sixty days or less, you’ve got an exclusive look. If you ask for an exclusive look, and especially if you’re a low-paying publication, or one which pays in the undying love of the editor, then I’d say it’s only polite to give a fast turnaround.

I submitted one story to an anthology in October 2009, and have heard nothing from the editor except posts on the site that she has health problems, other writing things to look after, et cetera. When I politely inquired a few months ago how it was coming along, I got a terse response that if I hadn’t heard, I could assume no progress. The tone suggested that she had better things to do than edit this anthology for which she solicited submissions and set the deadline, and I should just back off. It’s been fifteen months now. Have a guess about whether she still has an exclusive look at that story.

My husband has suggested that when I submit a story, I indicate the length of time I’m willing to wait before I submit it somewhere else. When he suggested it, I said I liked the idea, but I wanted to wait until I have fifty paid publications. I don’t know why I said that – already I have over a hundred paid radio pieces, half-a-dozen paid poetry publications, dozens of fiction publications in print and on line and a respectable list of non-fiction articles, including some on the craft of writing. I guess I’m worried that I’ll get blackballed, that word will go around that I won’t leave a story for six months or eight months or a year and a half to be told “No, thanks” – sometimes without even the “thanks”.

The thing is, simultaneous submission bit me in the ass once. I sold a poem to a publication I liked, which pays very little. No sooner had I sent my email to the publication than another one – higher paying, too, dammit – accepted the very same poem before I could notify them it was no longer available (author code for “I sold it elsewhere”). The second publication had said “no simsubs”, and I’d ignored it. (For those of you who are wondering, I stuck with my original sale. I have some integrity!)

The delightful Katharine Sands has something to say on simultaneous submission in the print world, and I’ll discuss that in a later post.

For now, to simsub or not to simsub is still the question. The answer, alas, is up to each of us to find.

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