Simultaneous submission restrictions may be my least favorite aspect of the traditional writing process. Few steps embody the “submission" bit of writing more than meekly acceding to the arbitrary whims of particular markets.
OMG, did I just say arbitrary whims?
You bet yer sweet bippy I did.
The restrictions against simultaneous subs have little to do with fairness or efficiency and everything to do with the convenience of the market considering a story. By prohibiting simultaneous submissions, the magazine editors hope to minimize the time they spend on possibly uncertain acquisitions, in this case by pushing the time cost onto writers who submit.
Time is money.
I understand that running a magazine isn’t a sinecure. There’s little money, fewer subscribers, and lots of work. An editor hopes to have stories that fit well together in an issue, or perhaps match a theme.
It’s probably nice, not having to worry that a story you or your first readers are plowing through will be snatched from under your very nose because you took your sweet time rather than hustling. It must be super annoying to learn that you love a story, only to receive a message that someone else loved it faster. That’s like deciding between two pretty girls, and then discovering that your first choice already got asked to prom by some other dude. So frustrating!
You know what’s also frustrating? Being a writer who has to wait weeks, months, a year or longer to hear feedback. Add a few slow markets together and a writer faces the possibility of a story being in limbo for years before being published (and the writer getting paid). That’s real time. Time during which a story could be reprinted, anthologized, added to a collection to be sold as a book, and most importantly, time during which readers can discover a writer’s work.
The world moves faster now. If you can’t handle the speed, get off the road. Joyce Carol Oates just wrote two novels in the time it took you to consider a flash fiction piece for the next issue. How long should a writer wait? Maybe it shouldn’t be up to the magazines to decide.
Here’s my proposal for writers. Those simultaneous submission rules? Screw em. I mean, ignore them. Submit anywhere you damn well please, assuming you practice your craft, and assuming you did your research on what sort of work appears in a mag. If you get a piece accepted by a market, drop an email to the others informing them it's no longer available. Chances are, they haven’t read your story yet anyway, and therefore don’t care. If they were about to make you an offer…well, life is pain, Highness.
Sooner or later, some of these markets might notice a pattern and change their practices accordingly (the smart ones already have). Some won't. Maybe it won’t matter either way. In which case, it just proves that restricting simultaneous submissions is pointless.
So we could create some new rules as writers.
-If a market states that its response time is a month or less, submit to it exclusively. A month is a very reasonable time frame to sort through slush.
-If a market states that its response time is over a month, submit your story, but don’t be exclusive about it. Submit to other magazines with a similar time frame.
-If you are specifically invited or solicted to send a piece, that requires exclusivity. An editor who seeks your work out has already spent time on you...Of course, the piece may get rejected anyway. That's the business.
Be aware of your priorities. If you really, really, really want your story to appear in, let’s say, the Fairy Dome Companion, is it worth it to you to risk that another market will accept your story first, thus forcing you to withdraw from the Fairy Dome Companion? If being published by a particular market is important to your identity as a writer, you will have to accept that exclusivity is the only way to guarantee that market a full chance to accept your work. (In fact, most prestige-y markets pretty much count on your vanity to ensure this as common practice.) However, if you’d be equally thrilled to have your story appear in either Super Duper Wonder Tales OR Fantabulous Fantasy Realms Above, then by all means, toss your story to both at once, and see if either bites.
What’s the risk? Well, you could get a reputation. As a difficult writer. That risk is real. The publishing world is teeny tiny, and all these people talk to each other. So your name could get around. You’d be gossiped about as that one writer who submits to more than one place at the same time.
They’d call you fast. Your contact info might be ironically scrawled on the bathroom walls at the offices of Super Duper and Fantabulous. The editors there might see your name and say, “No way we’re going to even read this person’s story, regardless of its potential quality, because we’ve heard this name and because they’ve been published elsewhere before!”
Oh, yeah. One little point about the above scenario. The only way that you’d get a rep as an open submitter is if you got accepted somewhere and therefore informed other markets that they missed the boat. Otherwise, no one would ever even be aware that you submitted simultaneously. And when you consider that acceptance rates are often laughably small, what are the odds that a single story would win both the one in a thousand lotto AND the one in 30,000 lotto? Those are long odds. You’ve have to possess the powers of the Cleveland Cavaliers' back office to consistently win at odds like that. Three number one picks in four years? WHAT SORCERY IS THIS?
Huh. That was a weird aside. Anyway. All of this is to say: if you’re a writer, you have as much autonomy as you take into your own hands. There’s risk no matter what you do. But why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?
Note: The Cavaliers are a professional basketball team, which once had LeBron, then lost him, then got him back. Basketball is a popular “sport”, the details of which can be researched online or via NBA League Pass. Getting a number one draft pick at all is difficult. To get it multiple times over a short span implies magic (and also that your team’s not very good).