The Simul-Sub Dilemma

NYer1

Simultaneous submissions, like the Internet, are both boon and bane. They giveth and they taketh away. As a writer, you love journals that accept simultaneous submissions because they maximize your poems’ chances for publication. But…

First the little “but.” The niggling problem–a nice one to have–comes when you get an acceptance. You have to go through the courtesy of letting other markets know that the poem you simul-sent is taken. This means record-keeping. And though Submittable is a helpful tool, many markets are still mail-in and e-mail only. They mustn’t be forgotten, lest your name show up on a black list of rogue poets.

And now the big “but” (no cheeky jokes, please). Responses to poetry submissions are notoriously slow. Let’s say you’ve written a batch of poems you have high hopes for. These are your “breakthrough poems,” the ones that will vault you into such heavenly markets (both pay-scale-wise and prestige-wise) as Poetry and The New Yorker. It so happens that both of those publications accept simultaneous submissions. Yay, you say.

But hold on a minute. Yay? Really? If your best stuff becomes a simul-sub and you send it to the big boys, you know and I know that the response time from said big boys will be up around a year due to gazillions of Wanna-Frosts out there. A year! Meantime, if they’re that good, the poems are sure to be snapped up by smaller markets, ones that would not fall into your “first choice” and “greatest hope” categories. (Sound like the college submissions process all over again?)

There’s the rub. And the solution has a “deep blue sea” look to it, too, now that you think you’ve solved the devil. Let’s say you send your five best exclusively to The New Yorker. That market, tighter than two coats of paint, means the odds of slipping a poem in remain minute. Certainly less than one percent!

So the solution of voluntarily making a simul-sub market a “no simul-subs allowed” market could fail mightily and cost you a year in the life. A year in the life! (I repeat.)

What a way to make a living. And a decision.

Of course, if you generate enough poetry, sending exclusively becomes easier, so I guess that is the ultimate solution to this conundrum. Still, time and odds are not a poet’s friend. And who would’ve believed that strategy and playing the odds–such unartistic talents–would figure so prominently in the writing arc of poets’ careers?

But thanks to the odd bedfellows of writing poetry and marketing poetry, that’s just the case. If you invent a solution, let us know. And if not, I hear there’s money in building a better mousetrap….

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