Thursday, September 8, 2011

Work in Progress: “A System as Ancient as Leeches”

This is a recent quote from a writer friend referring to the policy held by many lit journals that refuse to read simultaneous submissions.  Yes, I know that many do read simultaneous submissions—and THANK YOU for that.  And I’m not going to rant about the lit journals that still don’t, because I get that lit journal editors and their staffs are over-worked and underpaid.  I get that email submissions make it easy (and cheap) to submit to 20 different places at once, and so there must be an overload of submissions.  I also get that the frustration of feeling that everyone’s a writer and no one’s a subscriber would have to wear on you, as you read nine million short stories in the second person that all sound the same and could be lumped into two categories: “bad” and “very bad.”  I also get that when it’s your journal you get to make the rules (spoken with the thrill of launching my journal Redux this week!).

What I’m here to say is, who cares?  Simultaneously submit anyway.  And no need to mention it.

You know they know we’re doing it.  You also know that given the response times of many journals, I would be well into my dotage if I had to wait 9 months—summer of closed markets—8 months—summer or closed markets—a year—6 months and so on before I placed a story.  By that time, the iPhones my characters are using are obsolete.

Now, if I know that a journal is notably quick in its response time and asks for no simultaneous submissions, I would respect that.  And definitely, if I had a relationship with an editor—or was trying to create one with a shared memory of those cocktails at the hotel bar at AWP—I would not simultaneously submit.  But otherwise, life’s too short.

I rationalize my rule-breaking by considering that in recent  memory various journals have:
--rejected my same story twice, months apart
--never responded at all (this happens roughly 10% of the time, I’d say)
--ignored my follow-up email asking if they still have my story a year later (now I rarely bother with those follow-ups and just assume the story’s lost)
--taken more than a year to respond
--sent me a rejection for another writer
--rejected the story I responsibly withdrew five months prior
I love literary journals, and I love seeing my work in them, but they don’t always feel as though they’re on my side—and nor should they be.  They have their own agenda, and I understand that.  As writers, our agenda is slightly different than theirs.

I also aid my case by keeping meticulous records, and I ALWAYS  let a journal know immediately if I need to withdraw a piece from consideration.  I also do not blanket the world with submissions; I carefully select journals where I feel my work would fit, and carefully choose which stories to submit where.  I subscribe to and read journals.  I donate money to a beloved favorite.  From time to time I’ll send along a complimentary note to a journal editor when I’ve enjoyed a particular issue.  In short, I do my part to be a responsible literary citizen.

Several years ago, I was at a conference, speaking on a panel of lit journal editors and writers.  The topic was the usual “how to get published,” and the inevitable question came up:  “Should we simultaneously submit our work?”  I kid you not:  Every writer on the panel immediately said, “Yes,” at exactly the same time every editor on the panel said, “No.”

And there you have it: if you’re a writer, it seems that the answer on this one is “yes.”

(Okay, I sent out my stack of stories last week, so hurry to slap me on your black list before you forget…and that name’s spelled ZYK, not YZK.)


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.