Don’t waste the lit-mag lifespan of your writing. Submit simultaneous. That is, let your short fiction or poems get read in several places at once. Don’t pay too much attention to how the editors feel about simultaneous submissions, either. Life is too short to wait three to six months to hear back from a lit mag that they didn’t find your story right for their readership.
This opinion is not held universally. In fact, a serious part of the most serious writing community would gasp at the above advice. The Poets & Writers magazine editors offer their take on simultaneous submissions at the magazine’s Web site. Their advice is to follow everyone’s rules and show respect for the resources that a small lit-mag might have already spent on your article.
Okay. If a lit mag has given your story a close read and is deciding on it in a shortlist of writing, I can understand that perspective. but you do have to decide for yourself if submitting to literary magazines — which is almost always a low-paying gig, often just in copies — means you’ll want your writing to linger on little magazines’ desks. If so, only submit to those who promise a six-week reading response.
This summer I took a course at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. The professor teaches writing at Coe College just north of IU, and as part of the College’s Writers’ Workshop he advises his students who edit the Coe Review lit-mag. (It’s an annual, and has been published since 1971). In class we talked about submission practices, and he said life is too short to pay much heed to submitting any writing to one lit-mag at a time.
Coe’s Review reads simultaneous submissions. You gotta love their guidelines on their Web site:
Remember, all editors are 18-22 years old.
They like edgy, quirky, strange, and new.
Anything titled “untitled” gets tossed.
Simultaneous submissions are ok.
No inspirational poetry.
No genre fiction.
Otherwise, anything goes.
The professor said if your story gets picked up elsewhere, just contact the Review. They’ve probably got another piece of writing that was waiting to get in — so your good luck at being published elsewhere just made an opportunity for another writer who submitted to the Review.
There might come a time in your writing life when being published in a very elite literary magazine matters to your career. This tier of magazines can be a place to build prestige toward getting an agent to read a book manuscript, or getting an editor at a house to consider it. This elite group isn’t a very long list of publications, but many, many writers are trying to get into them. And so they gets tens of thousands of submissions. My advice: If you’ve had a story that’s been published elsewhere, it could be a candidate for these “solitary submission” magazines.
But think hard about how long you want to lock up your writing in solitary. I heard a story from one writer at the Iowa conference about how their submission fell behind a desk (being a paper manuscript, and all that) and it took two years for the lit-mag discover it, read it, and then — oh yes, wait for it — reject it.
Gordon’s right. Life’s too short. Get your work out there, in many places at once. Then keep writing while you wait to hear back.