29 April 2023

Simultaneous Submissions


When I was teaching courses on writing and selling short fiction (my final classes were five years ago this month), there were three questions I usually asked those students who already had some experience:

1. Do you outline your stories, or just start writing and see where it goes?

2. How do you begin your stories? With a character? A setting? A plot? A theme?

3. Do you submit stories simultaneously, or to only one market at a time?

Mostly I asked these questions because I thought the answers were interesting. As for number one, about half the students in any given class always said they outline and half said they don't. The answer to number two was usually "with a character." The third question, like the first, was often a 50/50 split. I never tried to change the way students answered these--but I did try to point out a few things, about question #3.


A simultaneous submission, for those of you who don't know, is the sending of the same story manuscript to more than one market at the same time. (This is different from multiple submissions, which involves sending several different manuscripts to the same market, either at once or over a short period.) At first glance, simultaneous submissions seems a sure-fire way to increase your odds of getting a story published in the least amount of time. And actually, it does increase your odds. If more than one editor is considering your story, you have a better chance of selling it soon--and after all, one acceptance is all you need.

Therein, however, lies the problem. One acceptance is not only all you need--it's all you want. What if you've sent your story to three different editors and more than one of them say "yes"?

In real-world terms, it's like asking a young lady to go with you to the school dance and then asking another before you get an answer from the first, just to make sure you don't wind up sitting home alone that night. That approach seems a little foolhardy to me. Writers, and high-school kids as well, have enough troubles and stress already; they don't need to actively look for more.

The Good

There are, of course, writers who love simultaneous submissions, and I understand why. Again, it helps their chances of getting published. As for the risks, those who do it regularly say the risk is small. Getting a story accepted at all isn't easy, so there's fairly little danger that several different editors in several different places at the same time will like a particular story enough to buy it. Besides, some of those markets state in their guidelines that they "allow" simultaneous submissions, so what's the harm?

Think about that for a minute. Let's say you send out a mystery story to two separate markets. If one of those two markets rejects your story, all's well and good--you still have another egg in your basket (or, if you're a hunter, another load in your shotgun). If the second market happens to reject it also, you're back to square one, but all is still peaceful in the world. And if the first market rejects it and the second market accepts it, well, everything's great--you've not only made a sale, you've saved yourself a lot of time. And in fact that's the way simultaneous submissions usually work. Either two rejections, or one rejection and one acceptance, with time saved either way. Nothing wrong here, folks.


But let's say that first market says "yes." In that case, you send the editor of the other market a polite note withdrawing your manuscript from consideration there, while still celebrating your good fortune at market #1. Market #2 probably won't take offense at this; you're not telling them the story's been accepted elsewhere, you're just telling them you'd like to withdraw it. But they won't be overjoyed either. Editors are smart, and a withdrawal note like that, polite or not, tells them that another editor has probably been looking at the story also, and decided to buy it. You've still not broken any writing rules--but it's not something you want to do too often.

The Bad (and the Ugly)

Now consider another scenario. Let's say that market #1 accepts your story and, during your celebration, market #2 later says "yes" as well, possibly before your withdrawal note reaches #2, or before you think to send the note, or before they have an opportunity to read it. If that happens, you have stepped in an extremely stinky place in the cowpasture. You will now have to tell one of those two editors that your story--even though they have spent time reading it and possibly discussing it with their staff and have told you they want to buy it--is no longer available to them. And they'll know why.

But why should they mind? you might ask. Their guidelines said they allow simultaneous submissions. My answer to that is, it doesn't matter--they still won't like it. And they'll remember you. They'll most likely put a little black mark beside your name, and those can stay in place a long time. 

One more thing. We're not talking just about stories that might be submitted to several markets on the same day. Simsubs are also stories that are sent to one market and then later sent to another market before you receive a response from the first. The point is, your story is being considered at more than one place at the same time. This kind of delayed-submission situation is where I personally have run into trouble. Twice. In each of those instances I had submitted a story to one market that hadn't responded in so long I assumed it had been rejected, so I submitted that story to a different market, and then--wouldn't you know it?--the first market sent me a note accepting the story. In each case, after a few bad words and some acid reflux and some visions of two-dates-to-the-prom, I sent a carefully-worded withdrawal letter to that second market. As it turned out, the editor who received the withdrawal note seemed to take it well and I don't think any damage was done--but I still remember how bad I felt having to do that, and after the second time it happened, I resolved never to make that kind of mistake again.


Bottom line is, I think the possible risks of simultaneous submissions outweigh the advantages. I believe that after sending a story to an editor, you shouldn't send that story anyplace else until you've received a response (yea or nay) from that editor. If you feel that's a waste of time, I have two suggestions. One is to send the story first to a market that you know will respond fairly quickly--there are several of those, and that'll cut down the wait time. The other suggestion is to write more stories while you're waiting, and send those to other markets. 

So, to go back to those first three questions to my classes, my own answers would be: (1) I outline my stories (at least mentally) before beginning, (2) I aways start with a plot, not characters or setting or whatever, and (3) I don't do simultaneous submissions. Once again, I would never try to encourage you to do what I do on questions #1 and #2--different strokes, and all that--but I would encourage you to give a lot of thought to #3. That one's a roll of the dice, and when it comes to writing and publishing, I'm not a betting man.

If you're a writer, what do you think about simultaneous submissions? Do you or don't you? Have you or haven't you? If you haven't done it already, would you or wouldn't you? Any war stories, about this kind of thing? Please let me know, in the comments section below. I'd also love to hear the opinions of editors, if any of you decision-makers are reading this.

By the way, I have submitted this column only to SleuthSayers and to noplace else. (Who else would have me . . . ?)

Upcoming news: Next Saturday, May 6, I'll be featuring a guest post by my friend Judy Penz Sheluk in this space. I hope you'll tune in.


  1. Good advice. Simultaneous subs always make me nervous.

    1. Me too, Janice. It's often tempting, because I don't have a lot of patience--but I think the risks are just too high.

  2. I've NEVER done simultaneous submissions. I do multiple submissions, yes.

    1. Eve, I can't say I've never tried it--but it was a long time ago, and I soon gave it up. As Janice said, they make me nervous.

      As for multiple submissions, I think almost all of us do that. For a place like AHMM, which takes around a year to respond to most submissions, you almost have to have more than one story in the submission queue at any one time--otherwise, even if every story you submit there was accepted, you'd never see more than one story a year published.

  3. Multiple submissions, yes. Simultaneous, very rarely.

    Several years ago, I sent a story to a contest and, several MONTHS later to another market. I got word that I didn't win the contest, and sent the story to an anthology market. When the anthology accepted it, I sent a withdrawal note to the other (second) market.
    Then things got weird.

    I worked with the editor to clean up the anthology submission. A few weeks later, about two months after I withdrew the story, the second market sent me an acceptance. They hadn't seen my withdrawal. They would have paid much more than the anthology, so I was pondering how to pull the story. Then someone (accidentally, I suspect) let it slip that the anthology had not been submitted to any publisher yet. The people in charge merely assumed that the publisher who had accepted previous collections would take another.

    I asked for advice from MWA, and they said if I didn't have a contract with the anthology, which I didn't, I was under no obligation to them. I pulled the story from them and signed with the better paying market.

    I have never put myself in that position again, but I have several stories in the queue at one market right now.

    1. Hey Steve. Thanks for the example--my experiences have been similar, though I didn't know to seek advice from MWA. Sounds as if you did the right thing for sure, and--as you said--that kind of incident can make you never want to get into that situation again.

      Multiple submissions, no problem. I too have a good many stories cued up at other markets. Good luck with all those!

    2. Sorry. Queued up, not cued up.

  4. Oh Brother. I did exactly that, about 15 years ago. Sent a story to EQ, waited months, gave up on it, sent it to another market which took it right away, published it, and then two months later got an acceptance from EQ! Had to tell them it had already been published, and I know it hurt my rep. For years after, AH took my stories and EQ did not (all is well there now, happily.) But I don't do it ever, now. Melodie

    1. Whoa! That's not a war story, Melodie, that's a horror story. So sad that happened to you. I'm not sure it hurt your rep, but I'm sure it was unpleasant to *you*. As you said, glad all is well now. Live and learn, right?

      It's certainly a dangerous practice, and since I was dumb enough to do it a number of times early on, I'm fortunate I didn't have more mishaps like the one you mentioned.

      Thanks as always.

  5. I'm a bit more sympathetic to editors who warn no simultaneous subs. Oftentimes, when I'm not subbing, I still get the horror stories since they're also writers.

    1. Me too, Jim. I'm honestly surprised that so many publications say in their guidelines that they "allow" simultaneous submissions. They probably realize that some folks are going to do it regardless--but I suspect no editor likes the practice.

  6. Great post.

    Your average market can't have it both ways by insisting on exclusivity but then taking a while to respond. That's not fair to the writers, and the obvious compromise is simultaneous submission latitude. I've done it a few times -- but only a few and not in a while. I've never done it for a crime story. The places I submit aren't your average markets, and I value those relationships a ton. I don't ever want to be in a position with AHMM, etc. where I'm retracting something I asked a friendly editor to consider.

    1. Well said, Bob. Yes, simsubs are the obvious compromise, and yes, I've done it myself more times than I should've. You make a good point by saying there are some markets and editors with whom you are more careful than others, where this is concerned. But to have to withdraw a story from anywhere is never something writers enjoy doing. Lately I've just tried to avoid the risk completely.

      As for AHMM, my position there is that when I send them a story, I forget it totally until the year-long response time is over and I receive either the acceptance or the rejection. I admit that it's sometimes tempting to send one of those stories elsewhere during that long wait--but I just don't let myself think about it.

    2. Elizabeth Dearborn29 April, 2023 14:58

      I submitted one story to AHMM in my whole life, two or three years ago. It took them 15 or 16 months to reject it. I figure the editor & slush readers at AHMM, would just naturally read stories first when they know the author's name, especially if it's someone they've published before, so my story was further down the slush pile. At my age, I just don't have that much time to wait any more.

      Simultaneous submissions? Never done that, & it seems risky to me.

    3. Elizabeth, they are indeed risky. As for Hitchcock, I do understand how you might not want to commit a story for such a long time without even knowing whether it'll be rejected at the end of the wait--but I assure you that writers who've been published there for years usually have to wait just as long as you did for an answer. I've sold two dozen stories to AHMM so far, and at the moment I have one in their queue that's been waiting 11 months for a response, and another that just passed the one-year mark. And as much as I hate using this cliche, that's just the way it is.

      Meanwhile, I wish you luck with every one of your submissions, everywhere. May they happen fast, and may they all be acceptances!

  7. Once or maybe twice I've been lured by a perfect market promising a quick response to submit a story that was already in the queue at AHMM. But not only does AHMM allow simultaneous submissions—EXCEPT to EQMM (and vice versa)—but a quick look at the online submission status will show if a story is still "Received," ie no one has spent any time on it yet, so it might be less egregious to withdraw it. That said, I'd still rather have a story in either AHMM or EQMM than anywhere else, and the older I get, the more patient and the more risk averse.

    1. Hey Liz. My first thought is, "You're getting more patient the older you get??" I think I'm just the opposite--I've never been very patient anyway, and I think that's only gotten worse. But I agree that I love having things under consideration at both AHMM and EQMM because I have such respect for both publications, so that makes me more lenient about the long AH response time. As somebody in our mystery family recently said, it's worth the wait.

      As for sending a story currently in the AHMM queue out to someplace else in the meantime, I admire your courage--I doubt I'm brave enough to try that. If I did, I'd probably have the same thing happen to me that Melodie said happened to her, with her EQ story--the "other" market would accept the story and then AHMM would for some reason read my submission earlier than usual and accept it too. And I'd have to fess up and tell them I'd been a traitor.

      Anyhow, thanks for the thoughts--and hey, whatever you do and are doing, it must be right, because you continue to publish at the top markets. Keep it up!

  8. I learned many, many years ago not to send simsubs and I never did. Really glad I didn't because I sure did NOT want to get on any editors naughty list. All your info here is spot on. As far as your advice on #1 & #2, I agree. As to my own method, I honestly think each of us must write the story
    however we "do our thing." Sometimes the plot came first but for me usually the character came first. Usually a character started talking to me or I could hear two characters talking to each othet and I'd just start writing dialogue. However, I'll admit plotting has never been my strong point.

    1. Jan, I wish I had talked to you back when I first started sending stories out, in the mid-90s, because I'm afraid I occasionally did exactly what I shouldn't have done--until I finally realized how risky simultaneous submissions could be. In those early years I sold a lot of stories but I was lucky enough to never have more than one at a time accepted someplace, so I never gave the matter much thought. Again, I was just fortunate. Since then I have (I hope) gotten smarter in several different ways.

      As to the way I put stories together, I think the reason I rarely begin with a character as most folks do is because plotting is the fun part, for me, so the plot's usually my starting point. I still hear writers say, now and then, that they don't worry at all about plotting--they just give their characters something to do and let it go at that. My reply to them is that what the characters do IS the plot. Oh well. As you said, we all have to do our own thing, in our own way.

      Thank you as always for your insights!

  9. Hi John,
    Where do you want me to start? My first pro piece was back in 1974 (I know, a mere babe at the time) but that was pre-computer, so simsubs* were out of the question. And from there I never got into the habit of simsubbing. Spin forward X-many years (okay, make that XXXXVI-ish) and despite having now added 'No Simultaneous Submissions' in regard to Crimeucopia, we always get them. No one notifies us, we just get a withdrawal email, usually either in mid-read, or mid-pre-acceptance edits - and you know our agreements are as loose as we can make them without getting into the 'ridiculous'.

    If someone is 'honest' and lets us know when they submit, then fine. Not over the moon about it, but honesty is the best policy. Pressuring such as "I sent this to International Twerking Magazine a month or so ago. I think they're going to accept it shortly, but if you want it you better be quick!" quite frankly "pisses us off" to use a Limey-ism there.

    Multiple submissions are fine (to a degree - don't send all 30 of those shorts you put into an Amazon anthology) but we read in a cycle, one writer at a time, so accepting one does not automatically mean rejecting the other(s) - plus, we like to give time to other writers as well - or we could be working with another writer doing edits (etc). we had this problem with one writer recently. Accepted one piece, circled around, and sent out an acceptance for the second only to be told that it was no longer available and had been accepted by another market. Why do I remember this? Because the author added this comment to her reply back:

    "Guess you'll have to be quicker next time."

    Makes you wonder (we don't run a Black List, but being old, we have memories like elephants :) )

    John Connor
    Chief Cook and Bottlewasher + Line editing Little Darlings murderer
    Crimeucopia - Strictly Off The Record launched April 25th 2023

    1. Hi John--thanks for chiming in, here. I'm not surprised to hear you've had some interesting experiences, as an editor/publisher, with simsubs. I guess they're something you eventually learn to expect, now and then.

      As for a memory like an elephant, I'm not surprised at that either. I don't think I'd want to be the writer who said, "Guess you'll have to be quicker next time." That's a comment that'd be hard to forget. As several have said earlier, writers should be careful not to get on an editor's black list, whether it's written down or not.

      Congratulations, by the way, on the latest Crimeucopia. I can't wait to see the book itself. And thanks again for the comment!!

  10. Great post as always, John. As someone who edited and published 3 multi-author anthologies and about 300 submissions, I've only had one author withdraw his story and that was AFTER I accepted it. Apparently it had been accepted elsewhere but he didn't think to tell me (though I had a firm date posted as to when I'd announce). It annoyed me, because there's a lot of work and thought that goes into the final list. Honestly, though, I don't even remember his name now so probably won't hold it against him in future LOL. That said, I think simsubs are a dangerous road as you've stated

    1. Hey Judy! Yes, I'm sure that withdrawal-after-its-acceptance must've been annoying. If that writer happens to be reading this blog right now, I bet he, or she, is happy to learn that you don't remember the name. (I'm surprised you don't!)

      Thanks so much for giving us your thoughts as an editor, about all this. And I'm looking forward to your next-Saturday appearance (re-appearance?) here at SleuthSayers. Welcome once again!

  11. I generally don’t submit simultaneously if I feel the publication I’m submitting to has a reasonable chance for success AND it will respond fairly promptly. If the market is more of a longshot, AND slow responding, I will submit to a second market. Obviously, as has been noted earlier, AH is extremely slow and they allow simultaneous submissions, so I don’t hesitate to submit elsewhere at the same time. I could submit and hear back from half a dozen markets in the time AH comes to a decision. Perhaps if I turned out a consistent flow of short stories (I’m more of a novelist), I might care less about slow replies.

    1. Bruce--thanks for the note. Glad to hear your position on this matter, and I do understand your reasoning. As you pointed out, AHMM's well known for its long response time, which leaves writers plenty of time after submitting a story there to send that same story elsewhere (maybe several elsewheres) and get an answer back before AH makes its decision. My problem would be that if I did that and my story got accepted at one of those other places, I'd then have to tell Linda I'm withdrawing my story, and I hate doing that. But--as you again said--they do state in their guidelines that they allow simsubs. So I see your point.

      Another interesting thing you mentioned is that you don't create a steady flow of short stories to submit, and I agree that that could make a difference in whether or not to submit simultaneously. Lots of variables to consider. In my case, I do turn out a lot of stories, which I think makes it easier for me to avoid the simsub situation.

      Again, I so appreciate your sharing your views on this. As my granddad would've said, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Keep up the good writing!


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