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Boycott? Seriously? 20 July 2011

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Publishing Industry.
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I’m always interested in what other fiction magazines are doing. After all, I wouldn’t be operating and editing a fiction magazine if I didn’t value the concept in general. No one does this for the money… EDF is special to me because it’s (partly) mine, but naturally I’m interested in other magazines too — the work they’re publishing, their guidelines and policies, how they handle the various challenges.

So even when I’m drowning in my own submissions pile and have a hundred administrative tasks waiting for me, I try to make a little time each week to look around at magazines that are not part of the Every Day Publishing family. It’s my little way of staying connected with the wider literary world.

Different magazines have different ways of doing things. Some send impersonal form rejections (we don’t) — and I fully understand why, given some of the insane reactions some writers have when they’re actually given reasons why their stories were rejected. Some close submissions from time to time or only have designated windows where submissions are taken (we don’t) — and again, I completely understand why, since the mountains of slush pile up quickly and it would be nice to have a chance to catch up without more coming in. Some don’t pay their authors at all, and some pay professional rates (we do the best we can in the middle with a token payment and wish it could be more). Some charge reading fees from authors, or subscriber fees from readers (we don’t, but the money would be nice…).

The fact is, I know that the realities of editing and publishing are slightly different from magazine to magazine, depending on manpower, financial resources, publishing schedule, target readership, and so on, so I don’t assume that there’s only one best way to do things. It has to be what works for each magazine and its readers and authors and editors. And frankly, I trust and respect my team and my readers and my authors enough that I don’t feel I need to tell anyone how to make decisions. Nor do I need to attack the policies of other magazines. I look around at what others are doing; I learn from it if I can; I assume that what they’re doing is what works for them at the time.

I was saddened, therefore, to come across the following from the qarrtsiluni submission guidelines:

People sometimes ask us how we feel about simultaneous submissions. We feel that however you choose to submit your work is your own damn business, and we urge you to boycott any publications whose editors feel otherwise.

Boycott? Seriously?

Because… that’s talking about… me and my magazine-baby! No, I’m not arrogant enough to think that whoever wrote that bit of copy was specifically thinking about me personally and EDF, but I’m an editor who doesn’t take sim-subs.

The fact is, Every Day Fiction doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions for two very specific reasons:

  • The first reason is that we ask authors to accept our standard contract on submission, and doing so grants us rights that may not be available if the piece is under consideration elsewhere. Obviously the rights revert unused if we do not accept the story for publication, but in the meantime we have a contract problem if someone else accepts the piece and another contract is entered into while ours is still valid.
  • The second reason (related because it’s the reason we do the contract on submission) is that we sometimes have a very fast turnaround between acceptance and scheduling for publication (it can be less than 24 hours if we’re looking for something specific) which doesn’t leave us much of a margin for worrying about contracts at that end, and certainly no margin at all for problem-solving if someone is a trifle behind on notifying us when a piece has been accepted elsewhere.

I can’t imagine the nightmares of having to chase down thirty authors a month to organize contracts after acceptance. What if one is away on vacation? What if another has changed his/her email address or upgraded to a more aggressive spam filter? I’m already swimming in administrivia that gets in the way of actual editing work, and Steven Smethurst’s excellent submission system automates the whole contract process so neatly when the story arrives in the system that I don’t even need to think about it. Also, it makes sense to put the contract right up front; if you don’t like the terms, decline the contract, then the system refuses the story and that’s the end, no time wasted on anyone’s part. My job would also be immeasurably more difficult if I couldn’t accept a story at the eleventh hour and throw it right into the table of contents to be posted that same night. There are months when I’m trolling through the slush piles, literally at eleven o’clock at night on the second-to-last day of the month, looking for one more humour piece for an empty Monday slot or needing something speculative or suspenseful to balance out a particular week heavy on literary introspection.

So it’s not as though we’ve said no to simultaneous submissions just because we can, or to be jerks to the poor authors, or for kicks because it’s funny. We’ve talked about it a lot over the four years since Jordan and Steven and I first sat down together and wrote out our original guidelines page in 2007, and refusing simultaneous submissions is still the best way for us to keep things running smoothly.

Personally, I think that most writers are smart enough to decide for themselves whether a chance of being published at EDF is worth giving us an exclusive look at their work for the 60 to 90 days it takes us to reach a decision. We probably do miss out on some excellent stories because of it, just as we probably miss out on some excellent stories from writers who’ve decided they won’t submit to magazines that pay less than semi-pro rates, but it is what it is.

And I’m glad Every Day Fiction’s submission guidelines don’t have anything mean and antisocial in them.


1. Sherlock Michaels - 20 July 2011

Good post…how un-professional and somewhat childish that publications guidelines were…

2. popsicledeath - 1 August 2011

I agree that what that publication states is a bit much, but their principle isn’t far off.

EDF is a bit different, seeing as it publishes so frequently. For most publications, particularly print journals, not allowing simultaneous subs just isn’t very feasible anymore. Why? Because for right or wrong, very few short fiction writers actually adhere to it (this coming from several fairly successful writers and editors of fairly successful journals and publication credits).

The advice I’ve gotten is that everyone else is doing it, and you’re just crippling yourself if you don’t. There are journals that take 6 months or more to even respond they’re even remotely interested, much less get through all the editing and paperwork required. If you’re working on simultaneous subs, as one writer I know put it into perspective, you’d be dead long before you had the time to get a whole story collection shopped around.

The bad thing is then writers are submitting simultaneously to places that expect that you’re only submitting to them. So, when a writers work gets accepted elsewhere, they either don’t tell the publication and hope their story was rejected anyway, or make up some excuse to withdraw it, instead of just being honest.

The smart journals (imo, and again not counting many online, high volume or frequent journals) just ask for honesty. Submitting to multiple places, let them know as soon as possible. It’s also opened up a bit of competition ala MFA program applications. Have to places (that take simultaneous subs, of course) that both want your work, and you’re honest with both, let the bidding begin. Which of course doesn’t amount for much when it comes to short fiction, but can mean getting into an issue with bigger name writers, or getting a better spot, or a few dollars more, or a personal request to send a different story straight to an editor.

So, yeah, the advice to boycott any journal that doesn’t take simultaneous submissions is a bit extreme, particularly when they state it’s the writers business how they submit, but seem to want to be all up in the business of other journals, but it’s based on a decent principle and one that’s increasingly changing as not allowing simultaneous submissions seems to be getting phased out, though perhaps slowly.

It’s funny how with agents and querying it’s considered almost offensive if an agent expects a writer to query only them… but with submitting short fiction it’s different?

And we’ve seen multiple publications share submission software the last few years. It wouldn’t surprise me (and imo would be smart) if publications also started teaming up and sharing slush readers if they’re looking for stories of different styles and themes and whatnot. That way they’re sharing manpower and trimming response times overall, and not really going to lose anything as many publications will simply not want the same stories anyway, so why not share readers and have the readers, as part of the vetting process, separating and sending work to places the fiction would fit best.

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