Ask anyone who’s ever tried to make a living just by selling their fiction, poetry, articles, etc. how it goes. Okay, this is an unfair question, because you will not be able to find someone who is not an uber-celebrity makes a living solely on writing, because they don’t exist, unless they are living in their Grandma’s basement.
Writing and submitting one’s writing to companies is a labor of love. It has to be. I recall in one of my classes in college, way back when, my professor said that the last person to make a living as a poet was Alexander Pope. For those of you not familiar with the works of Alexander Pope, he died in 1744. This may not be 100% true, but in reading about Maya Angelou, arguably the most famous living poet, it doesn’t appear that even she had a period in her life where her only source of income was her writing.
There are many reasons why it is absolutely impossible to make a living as a writer, and this series is going to explore some of them. Today’s reason: the simultaneous submission.
What is a simultaneous submission? It is any submission of a piece of work – a poem, a short story, a novel – that is “under consideration” by more than one publishing source at a time. A submission is under consideration from the time it hits the mailbox (or inbox, if you’re lucky) until the time it is either accepted by the publisher or rejected. If a publisher accepts simultaneous submissions, you can take one poem, send it to that publisher, and then turn around and send it to another publisher that accepts simultaneous submissions a few minutes later. It’s a standard “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” scenario.
Unfortunately, there are a great number of publishers out there that refuse to accept simultaneous submissions, especially when it comes to larger works such as novels and short story collections. What this means is that if you’ve already sent a manuscript to another publisher, and they haven’t accepted or rejected it yet, you can’t send it to this one. You have to wait until every place you’ve sent that manuscript has either accepted the manuscript – in which case you can’t send it anywhere else anyway – or rejects it.
Once that happens, you can now send your manuscript to the place that does not accept simultaneous submissions, and wait for them to accept it or reject it before you can send it to anyone else. How long do we wait? Well, I could give you estimates, but I think it’s more fun to see what actual publishers say about getting back to their writers:
We do not accept simultaneous submissions. All submissions must be in English. Usually, it takes 3 months for us to let you know if your submission has got what we are looking for (poetry submission will take a longer time due to backlog). Sorry, we do not return submissions–we delete them! So we advise you to save a copy of whatever you are submitting to us.
Our reading period is October 1 – March 1. Submissions will not be returned. We will contact via e-mail by September 1st those authors we wish to include in the forthcoming issue. [That means if we haven’t contacted you by that date, you can presume the work has not been accepted.]
We prefer not to receive simultaneous submissions. Response time for manuscripts is six to nine months. Thank you again for your interest.
This is only a small sample of the kinds of limitations publishers put on writers. Six months is a long time to go without a paycheck and hope that a publisher will give you a chance. And even if they don’t, hope that they’ll give you a heads up that they don’t, instead of just having you assume after X time that they’re not going to publish you.
For the publications that do accept simultaneous submissions, if you are lucky enough to get your work picked up somewhere, you have to inform every place you sent that manuscript and ask to withdraw it from consideration.
Yes, the publishing world is out of touch. If publishing houses were employers, it would be like putting in your resume at one prospective employer, who will not allow you to put in your resume anywhere else, and wait 6 months before you know if you will get an interview or if you need to move on. And during that 6 month period, you can’t apply anywhere else. And every employer in the business is like that. Yeah, I’d reconsider my career choice, too.