Simultaneous submissions: Should you sim sub or not?

My tongue-in-cheek approach the other day on how to kill a writing career generated a great response from readers. In fact, a number of people suggested additional ways to kill your writing career, including the use of cliches, mixed metaphors, and peppering every sentence with gerunds. All great suggestions, and all ones any writer desiring a swift end to their career should embrace.

However, there was one suggestion I disagreed with: The use of simultaneous submissions.

The person who emailed this suggestion was an editor who'd been burned before by sim subs. And as a former editor, I totally agree sim subs are annoying.  Especially when you devote a considerable amount of time to reading a manuscript, only to discover it has already been accepted elsewhere.

But from a writer's point of view--and especially from a new writer's view--sim subs are seen as a way to break through the massive wall supposedly guarding publishing nirvana. If you spend months or years working on a manuscript, you don't want to submit to one place and then wait months or years before hearing a response. Not when you can submit that manuscript to five places at once.

The pros and cons of this approach have been discussed to death (for starters, see here, here, and here). Basically, submitting to multiple places increases the odds of a publishing bite. But you also run the risk of burning your relationship with editors and publishers. Why?  Because while everyone says don't sim sub to places that don't allow the practice, we all know this is exactly what writers do.

So what should a writer do? If you feel you must sim sub, here are my suggestions:

  • If you are a new writer, sim sub to the top magazines and publishers in your genre until you receive either an acceptance or personalized, positive feedback on your work. From then on, submit to that place first. Continue to sim sub to other markets until you either receive positive responses from them, or earn enough publication credits to become a more established writer.
  • If you are an established writer (i.e., with a few good publications under your belt), never sim sub. The odds are now against you, and sim subs might end up biting you hard.

The reasoning behind my strategy is simple. The odds of a top magazine or publisher picking up a new writer's manuscript are rather low, so the odds of being burned are also low. By using sim subs you increase the odds of landing that first publishing bite, which is such a career boaster that it's worth the risk.

However, once you are somewhat established, you have built up enough of a relationship with editors and publishers, or enough of a reputation, that sim subbing is a bad risk. So at this point submit one place at a time.

Now comes the big caveat: Sim subbing isn't the best way to get published!

The best way to becoming a published author is to continually improve your writing, seek feedback from other writers, and build relationships in your genre. Everything else, including worrying about sim subs, is mostly a waste of time.

I tried both approaches in my career. Early on, I sim subbed my short stories to every publication that wasn't dead and stinking. I had a few bites--but nothing to write home about--and got burned once--but the burn didn't scar me for life. I was also lucky because the editor I burned wasn't working in the genre I now focus my writing on.

So sim subbing didn't do much for me.  Instead, I started landing decent publications when I no longer worried too much about submitting. When I focused on my stories first, and only worried about submitting after the story was the best it could be. I also began submitting to editors with whom I'd built enough of a relationship that I knew they'd give my work an honest read.

That's my advice. Take it for what it is. I'm far from an established writer, but I have enough experience and publications to have seen what has worked and not worked for me.

For the record, I no longer sim sub, and wouldn't consider doing so again. That said, I also don't think sim subs will destroy your writing career, and they might even help new writers.

But always remember that sim subs can never take the places of improving your writing and building relationships.