Playing the Short Game: How to Sell Your Short Fiction (Part 12 in series)

The No-No’s: What NOT to do when submitting fiction

Welcome back to my on-going and generally weekly series on how to market and sell short fiction. These posts are written in a very specific sequence, with each entry building on earlier ones. If you haven’t already, you can read my earlier posts here.

In the last two weeks, Part 10 and Part 11, I discussed the mechanics of submitting your story to a market, cover letters, manuscript formatting, formatting different types of dialog, and an explanation of the two different methods of calculating word count.

This week, I finish this topic on how to submit short fiction by discussing two commonly confused and unwise practices: multiple submissions and simultaneous submissions.

Multiple Submissions: Not a Good Idea

A multiple submission means submitting more than one story to the same market at the same time. Don’t confuse this with the horrible and evil simultaneous submission (see below).

Even if a market’s guidelines say that they accept multiple submissions (that is, you can send that market two, three, four, whatever stories at the same time), my very strong advice is not to do so, especially for magazines. It is very unlikely that a magazine would buy more than one story at once from you, especially if you’re a beginner with no name value.

Why? Most magazines don’t build up an inventory of stories–they’re buying for the next issue and no further. If you send them four stories, and they buy one and reject three, you’ve lost your chance to sell them those three rejected stories for a future issue.

Anthologies are another story, no pun intended. Since most of these are one-time only with a specific theme and a submission deadline, if an anthology allows multiple submissions, I don’t see any downside in sending more than one story, assuming that all of the stories you send fit their theme and guidelines. But be reasonable–no more than three at once, and a maximum of two is better.

For recurring anthologies, I’d again recommend against multiple submissions. The editor will buy at most one story from you for the anthology. Your other stories will be rejected, losing you the chance to submit them to the next volume in the anthology series.

Simultaneous Submissions: The Ultimate No-No

A simultaneous submission means submitting the same story to more than one market at the same time.

Here’s a simple rule, folks. Learn this and never ever break it:


Yes, that was all in caps.

Yes, I’m yelling at you.

Beginning writers obsess about making some career-ending mistake when submitting their fiction. They stress out over fonts and word counts and formats and a thousand little things that they fear will place them on some imagined “black list” that they believe all editors maintain, written presumably in the blood of new writers foolish enough to make these errors.

Trust me, you can stop worrying. None of those things matter (well, not much), and none will get you on an editor’s black list (yes, they do have lists, but most are not written in blood).

Simultaneous submissions (sim subs, for short), however, will get you on their black list big time. Why? Well, if you sim sub, you introduce the possibility that more than one market will want to buy that story.

Great! you say.

Um, no. You now have a problem. A very big problem. You now have to tell one of those editors that your story is no longer available to them (not first rights, anyway).

That editor will now have to find another quality story to fill their issue or anthology. The problem is that they might not have another quality story that fits with their anthology’s theme or with the other stories in that issue. They liked your story. Maybe they even loved your story. Now they can’t have it. They are now totally pissed–with you.

And if they edit a print magazine, even if they can find another story that fits with the other stories in that issue, it’s unlikely that the story will be the same length, which means they have to completely redo the physical layout of the issue. Pissed even more? Oh, yeah.

It gets worse. Editors generally don’t tell authors that they’re accepting a story until they’re close to their publishing deadline, which means that they just might not have the time to react at all when you pull your story. Major pissed. You are now a few rungs below pond scum in their eyes.

And, yes–you’re now on their list, the bad one. You’ve actually moved from their good, this-is-a-writer-to-watch list to their very bad, this-is-a-writer-to-avoid black list.

So repeat after me: NO SIM SUBS. EVER.

But, But, But…

But wait, you say, some markets state in their guidelines that they accept simultaneous submissions. So obviously, it’s all right to sim sub to them, right?

Well, yes, but you can only sim sub if all of the markets you’re submitting your story to accept sim subs.

If you submit your story to two markets, one that takes sim subs and one that doesn’t, you still have the same problem described above. If both those editors want to buy your story, you need to tell one of them that they can’t have it. The only difference in this scenario is that you can tell the editor that accepts sim subs that, unfortunately, you’ve already sold your story to another market.

No big, right? I mean, they said they took sim subs, so they must be used to this. Sure, but the problem is that you don’t control when you hear from these editors about your acceptance. If the market that does not take sim subs contacts you first, then you’re okay.

But if the sim sub market contacts you first, then you now have to contact the non-sim sub editor to tell them that you need to withdraw your story. Even if you don’t tell them why, they’ll figure it out, and they’ll know that you sim subbed to them, and yes, you’re on their list now–the bad one.

And in case you’re thinking that you just won’t inform the non-sim sub editor that you’re story has been sold and just hope that they’ll reject you so that they’ll never know that you sim subbed, well, don’t. You’ll just make things worse if they want to buy your story, since they’ll have less time to react to the trouble that you’ve just caused them.

Even if you sim sub solely to markets that take sim subs, ultimately it’s not going to help you, simply because none of the top markets (and those are the ones you’re targeting, right?) take simultaneous submissions. So why bother?

So we’re back to my original advice: NO SIM SUBS. EVER.

Next Week

We’ve reached the end of this little mini-series of posts (Parts 10-12) on how to submit a story to a market. So now you just sit back and wait for a reply from the editor, right? Wrong.

Next week: The Numbers Game: What to do after you’ve submitted a story

As always, please feel free to add comments and questions, and I’ll respond as best (and as soon as) I can.



I am thrilled to announce that I have now repackaged the 32 separate posts that make up this blog series into a book titled Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction. The book is completely updated and reorganized, with new material not in this blog series, plus an introduction from multi-genre, multi-award winning writer and editor, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Here’s an extract from Kris’s intro:

Douglas Smith is the best person to write this book. … He’s one of the few people who has probably published more short fiction than I have, and in more countries, and more high-paying markets. He loves the short story as much as I do, and he’s good at writing them.

He’s just as good at the business side of the profession. He knows more about marketing short stories to other countries than I do. He understands how to manage short fiction contracts very well. He’s up-to-date on 21st century publishing practices, and he has a toughness that the best business people need.

We short story writers have needed a book like this for decades. I’m glad Doug decided to write it. Read and reread this volume. Because you’ll learn something each time you do. And take Doug’s advice. It’s spectacular.

—Kristine Kathryn Rusch

More information on the book, including full buying links for all major retailer sites, is available on my website here.

As a special offer to Amazing Stories readers, I’m offering discounts in my bookstore. Get the ebook or print edition at a discount by using the coupon codes AS-SHORT-E or AS-SHORT-P respectively at my website bookstore. Enjoy!


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