This month’s post isn’t particularly legal, although it does involve contracts so there’s that! What I wanted to talk about is straightening out the terminology between multiple, simultaneous, and exclusive submissions. I get asked about this a lot, and it always seems to confuse people.
Whether you’re submitting poetry or short stories to a journal, or full-length novel manuscripts or nonfiction proposals to publishers or agents, the place you’re submitting will likely have rules about whether they take multiple, simultaneous, or exclusive submissions. Even if they don’t, it’s a good idea to let them know what kind of submission you’re making.
So let’s get that terminology straight!
Simultaneous submissions are the most common form of submissions, and the category that most often confuses people. What it means is submitting the same manuscript to more than one publisher, journal, or agent at the same time. Most publishing houses and journals note on their website whether they’re open to simultaneous submissions. Most are, but typically ask you to note on your cover letter whether your submission is a simultaneous submission. They also generally require you to let them know promptly if you accept an offer of publication from someone else, so they don’t waste their time reviewing something that’s been placed elsewhere.
Where the publisher notes this on their website or other submissions instructions, it likely becomes a contract term governing the submissions process i.e. they accept your submission on condition that you notify them if you accept an offer from someone else before they’ve made a decision. As I say, the legality of that isn’t a big deal. If you breach that contract term, what are they going to sue you for? But it doesn’t look good professionally or ethically to ignore submission guidelines, so it’s a good idea to keep track of where you submit a piece and make sure you withdraw it from other editors if you accept a publication offer.
If you’re submitting to literary agents, most will be happy to take simultaneous submissions for representation. In fact, most will expect it. However, again, they will want you to let them know if you’ve accepted (or even if you’re considering accepting) an offer of representation from another agent.
Exclusive submissions are the opposite of simultaneous submissions. An exclusive submission is where you submit your manuscript, story, poem, etc., to only one agent or publisher. This may be because they require exclusive submissions and won’t consider your piece if you’ve already sent it to other people. It may be because you’ve decided you particularly want to work with one agent, journal, or publisher, and you note that you’re giving them an exclusive submission as a sign of your interest in them.
Most writers don’t voluntarily decide to give exclusive submissions (because it takes too long to go serially through the list of places you might want to submit to, and because most publishers and agents don’t expect it anyway). However, some publishers do require an exclusive submission which means in return for considering your piece, you’re giving them an exclusive look at it and not submitting to anyone else. This can come up with writing contests, and some journals also require it. You might want to think about how important it is to you to submit to those journals, especially if they don’t make a guarantee of a particularly speedy turnaround.
Multiple submissions are often confused with simultaneous submissions, but the term actually means something different. Multiple submissions usually refers to submitting multiple pieces of work to the same place: for example, sending more than one poem or short story to the same journal or more than one manuscript to the same publisher. Generally, publishers, journals, and agents prefer to consider one thing at a time from each author. If they’re interested in seeing more of your work, they’ll let you know.
They may also be open to considering a second (or third, or fourth) piece after rejecting your first submission. If a journal, publisher, or agent’s website asks you to only submit one thing at a time, you should respect that. Again, it’s not going to cause you a major legal headache if you don’t, but it’s unprofessional and can give a bad impression to an editor or agent, both in terms of your not following posted submission guidelines and of them having to potentially read and reject multiple pieces if they don’t like your work. If they do like your work, they may well ask for more, but if they don’t like your work, it can be a waste of their time (and yours) for them to have to read multiple pieces.
See? I promised you there would be nothing overly legal about this month’s post and there wasn’t, but hopefully it’s helped demystify some of the terminology that trips people up when they submit their work to journals, agents, and publishing houses.