Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Writing Question Answered

A few days ago I reprinted an interview with Scott Nicholson. Scott has a writing workshop and sends out comments, Q&As, and other interesting things. Here's his latest. Check out his website, for more.

Simultaneous Story Submissions
By Scott Nicholson

Q: I have been submitting stories to magazines for some years, with a fair amount of success. But one problem that drives me nuts is this business of magazines indicating they don't want simultaneous submissions. It seems that the majority of them are saying this now and it seems arrogant to me. I mean, in several years I have seen exactly two magazines respond to a submission within the time frame they claim they will. They all end of hoarding your story for literally months while expecting you to not submit it anywhere else until they get around to rejecting it. I hesitate to ignore this "no simultaneous submission" tyranny, but don't want to get a reputation among editors. I know that, as writers, we seem to be at the absolute bottom of the pecking order in the publishing business, but what can we do about this?

A: Submitting can seem frustrating, because it's a condition of supply and demand. Magazine editors get hundreds of submissions, there are fewer magazines all the time, and the wait often seems unreasonable. (After all, why can't an editor open that morning's mail, breeze through all the submissions, and send out responses by the afternoon?)

Well, because most of them have jobs and spouses and a huge printing bill and are doing it for love or a noble belief in preserving a dying art form--the short story. And because some writers keep sending the same bad story around for years, there could easily be 20,000 stories circulating at any given time. Imagine an editor who takes two stories out of 100 (a fairly plausible percentage for anyone with standards). The editor, running on editor-brain, is slotting the story, thinking about how it will complement the others she's selected and perhaps how this writer will help promote and sell the magazine, if there is "name value" involved. To then go to the trouble of contacting a writer and finding the story is gone really weakens the editor's enthusiasm. If it happened several times, anyone would get discouraged and come to believe publishing is not worth the effort, and you lose another market.

I have to say I have disregarded that dictum in one or two circumstances, usually if I sense a publication is in trouble and will never publish. You don't want your story tied up for years after an "acceptance" where the magazine "pays on publication," yet never publishes. You don't want it in a pile where a writer pretended to launch a publication in order to curry favor and win a peer award. You don't want to be stuck with someone who suddenly becomes persona non grata through some bizarre revelation, because editors are far more prone to bad reputations than writers are.

But the approach I took early in my career seems the most practical--to keep a submission at every feasible, desirable market at all times. While the number of markets is limited, your supply is unlimited. No one is stopping you from writing another story while your latest is in the slush pile. With so few decent markets, it is easy to have more stories than places to send them. Once you have stories at all your favorite publications, write a few more, or some articles, or a novel or non-fiction book.

Once you have a dozen circulating, you will likely not obsess over the first couple, nor even remember them, so you will want to keep a submission log. When one gets rejected, immediately send another to that editor if you still want to publish there. If you are confident about that rejected story, send it back out to another market immediately, or take a second or third look at it. With this strategy, you not only are improving as you go, you are maximizing your odds--because until you are a commodity in the marketplace, there is still a good bit of timing and luck involved, even if your stories are well crafted.

Best of all, you will stay busy and creatively fulfilled. The biggest challenge for a writer is to be happy. The world is not set up to indulge writers. Life makes it hard, time makes other demands, people want to drag us away from our imaginations and "get with the program." I say it all the time, but repeat it here: Enjoy this day's work, because this may be all you get out of the deal. If that's not enough, maybe you're not a writer. And if you write no matter what I say, then good for you, because you are already successful!
Scott Nicholson is author of seven novels, two story collections, six screenplays, and more than 60 short stories. He also works as a freelance editor and journalist. More writing articles are at

No comments:

Post a Comment