A publishing dilemma, demystified!


I recently received a great multiple submission question from a subscriber, and I thought it would be useful to share her question (and my answer) here.

If you’re starting to publish your work — or want to start publishing it — this post has some advice on how you can start to negotiate your writing career.

The reader’s question is below, and my answer is below that. I hope this is useful.

If you also have advice about publishing your work, or understand publishing from another angle, please share your experience in the comments below.

We need to talk about this stuff, and make it not so much of a mystery!

Dear Sarah,

I have a little bit of a publishing dilemma (albeit a good one!) and I wanted to ask for your advice, if you wouldn't mind.

I recently revisited a short story I'd written years ago and was never fully happy with, yet couldn't completely forget about, either. During the revision process, I shared it with a few readers, including hiring an editor. He's a freelance editor, but also the editor of Magenta Magazine*.

Along with his feedback, he suggested I "aim high" when submitting the story to literary journals. I've since submitted the final draft of the story to a handful of my top tier journals, knowing the chances are slim but wanting to give it a shot anyway.

It's been a few weeks since submitting the story to those journals. And a few days ago, I received an email from the Magenta editor asking if I would consider letting their magazine publish the story.

I'm so flattered, but I'm so torn, too, wondering whether or not I should stick with my original plan of trying for my top few tiers of journals first. (Magenta is around the middle of my very long list of journals to submit to.)

Do you have any advice? The Magenta editor needs to know my decision within the next few weeks, and I know it's pretty unlikely that I'll hear back from the other journals before then. What would you do?



* Note: all names have been changed to keep this conversation anonymous. I don’t think there is a magazine called Magenta. (If there is, I’m sorry, Magenta! This isn’t about you.)  

Dear Deborah,

Well, this is a lovely development! And a dilemma that might happen again, so it’s good to decide on your personal best practices are around this sort of thing. Multiple submissions are a thing.

I agree that you should aim high when you make your submissions. 

Print publishing is so slow — compared to digital, it can feel ridiculous, but even before online journals became prevalent, the wait times for lit journals and magazines could be up to 8 months or a year!

I’ve known writers who call or email editors to personally check in after waiting a few weeks (the squeaky wheel approach).

I’ve only felt sassy enough to do this once, but I must admit, I was able to negotiate a publishing deal for my story after I emailed the editor about it.

So a few weeks of waiting is not that long. One of the other journals might still be interested in your story (many editors take summers off, so your story might not even have been read, yet).

Here are some options:

1. Now that an editor has offered publication, it gives you some cachet. You can contact one of your top tier publications at this point and let them know that you’ve had a publication offer, but you would prefer to give them first pub rights, and could they let you know by the end of next week? Sometimes this is enough to pique the interest of an editor. You can do this with each one of them.

2. Do you have any other short stories ready or almost ready? You can keep your submissions out there, and offer Magenta Magazine another story, instead.

3. When you’re just starting to publish, collecting publication credits can be useful if you begin applying for writing grants or other opportunities. In Canada, that was important to me — once I had four stories published, I was eligible for certain Canadian grants. So if your priority is publication first for career-building reasons, you could say yes to Magenta now.

4. If you say yes to Magenta, it would be a great idea to contact each of the top tier mags and let them know. Tell them that your story has been accepted for publication elsewhere, thank you for reading the story, etc, and may you send them another, unpublished one? That way you can still leverage this acceptance and give them a bit of FOMO.

There’s no right or wrong thing to do here — it’s win-win for you!

Go with your instincts on Magenta: would it feel good and right to see your name in print there? Do you feel aligned with the publication? 

And remember, this is just the *beginning*. There will be more after this.

Congratulations — it’s happening.


Sarah” width=

Author spotlight: Melinda Burns
How to ask for a reference letter.


Jill Talbot

Only 4 stories for grants? Wow! That must be national? Provincial grants, I believe, are 110 pages of published prose. I meet partial requirements for poetry, prose and scriptwriting grants but since they can't be combined, 3 halves don't make a whole... As for the mag, I'd say just accept it. Too often we get too focussed on a single story, as if no other stories will come... If you get in your dream mag day 1, what do you have to look forward to? I lost a book deal over a name mix-up, a friend lost a book deal over a dead publisher... Getting published at all is impressive! Take what you can get... But I'm known for having the worst submitting habits and I never contact editors. I'm addicted to submitting like some people are addicted to playing slots. I'm trying to change it and care more about the writing...
Read more
Read less
Scott Fotheringham

What you suggest about using an offer as leverage for getting a more desirable publisher worked for me and my first novel. I had a good offer to publish from a local publisher. I then went back to another house that I had pitched (Goose Lane) and told them I'd had an offer and asked if they still considering. They said, "Hold on", then "Yes." I'm so glad they did.
Read more
Read less
Timothy Fowler

As a hunter I make this same choice every season. Take the first legal animal or wait for the big one. I take the first animal. We eat well. Forty five things published in eighteen months. There will be other stories to publish. Good hunting...
Read more
Read less
Matthew Bin

My attitude is similar to Jill's. Is the story I'm trying to sell the last one I'll ever write? No. The best one I'll ever write? No. So I'm going to send it out to likely markets--the best ones I think it's suitable for--and then write the next one. I have never tried to use it as leverage though. Not sure whether it would work or not. I'm making steady progress though, getting pieces accepted at better places. Slowly but slowly...
Read more
Read less
Elle Flythe

Have I been bringing a pen to a knife fight? It seems like the Magenta editor has a financial conflict of interest. Deborah compensated him for his edits and now he is offering to publish her in his magazine. Also, if I contact an editor about a piece I submitted asking for expedited review how can that editor read the piece "blind," as I thought magazines were supposed to do. As a newbie to writing I am so confused. Is following submission guidelines to the letter for suckers? PS - This is not meant as a critique of Deborah or her writing. I bet her story's fantastic and I wish her an awesome writing career.
Read more
Read less
Stephanie Hall

Hey Sarah! This is great advice. Do you have a post or any advice about making simultaneous submissions? I have a story that is taking ages to get published partly because I feel that I can only send it to one lit mag at a time, which, as you mentioned, can take up to a year just to hear back. Best, Stephanie
Read more
Read less

Leave a comment