In step with the legitimization of internet publication, it seems that the rules for simultaneous submissions of work have grown more lax. The protocol is different for fiction and I am not as familiar with those rules as I am with poetry so I am primarily addressing poetry submissions to journals. But I must state upfront that I am opposed to the practice of simultaneous submissions. I am referring specifically to the submission of a packet of poems for an editor or team of editors to review for publication in a literary journal or other form of print publication. Note also, there is a different protocol for submitting manuscripts or collections of work to potential publishers than that of journal publication.
This practice has become much more prevalent but I find it awkward and rather unseemly. Again, I consider the question, what is my goal as a poet? I want to honor the word and the work first. I want to take enough time to sculpt the words into my intention and the most crafted form I can discover as I go with any individual piece. Actually, I want to revel in that. The mere process of honing a poem is the heart of the purpose and identity of poet to me...my own personal version of "The Zone," to use runners' terms. Then, once I am comfortable with the poem, I want audience. Either a reader or someone to listen is my goal, consider my perspective through verse.
Somehow, there is an urgency in getting published for many. The search for audience drives us to fold our poems into envelopes and send them out into the world to be judged by a stranger. We think this validation will help us. To a certain extent, it does.
But why do we find it necessary to fulfill this need so dearly that we feel we cannot give one editor ample time to sit with the work thoughtfully and then make a decision before notifying the poet of the outcome? Do we not have enough of a body of work to send five poems in one direction and five more in another? Do we really need to send out the same five poems to three or four journals at one time and then do the juggling it takes if the poems are accepted one place before the other magaziness have had a chance to move them fully through their editorial system?
As an editor of a poetry journal, I have witnessed that we have had to pull poems from packets of submissions sent by at least 10 poets this season, all before the deadline for the reading period had even passed. Are these the only poems these writers have to offer?
Perhaps striving for a greater body of mature and well-crafted poetry is more important than a string of publications. Why is it necessary to have immediate response to the submission? There is a huge pressure on editors to turn work around faster and faster to fulfill the demands and expectations of poets offering work for consideration. It seems to directly correlate with this environment of digital immediacy we now experience in the age of 3G technology.
Regarding the awkwardness, a poet must contact the editor (or editors) of the other journals where the work is in rotation for review, asking to have the poem withdrawn from consideration due to acceptance elsewhere. That editor must not only locate the poem among hundreds, maybe even thousands; the editor will likely then spend some time questioning why that person is selecting the other publishing opportunity first. It has become akin to a little bidding war for a piece of property.
What is the rush? Is the need so great to be read that a few weeks for one publication to make a decision either way is too long to wait?
I believe that simultaneous submission of poems is poor practice. I know there are those who do not agree. But please consider that issue of creating a body of well-tended work. Publishing will have its place but patience is a part of the growth of a writer. Is it that difficult to wait 8 - 12 weeks? I think not. We have just grown accustomed to immediacy and now it has become habit. We can survive the wait. I am confident that we all have the ability to slow down and practice deliberate action as well as patience.
Georgia Popoff is a frequent contributor to the DWC blog, an editor, and a teaching poet with a number of poems in journals and anthologies. She once submitted simultaneously by accident and was mortified to have to withdraw her work.