Monday, August 11, 2008

A (Cautionary?) Tale...

...about simultaneous submissions. And, a story about a story that isn’t really a story, but a chapter from a novel.

In April of 2007 I submitted a story, really a chapter from my novel, which I had carefully transformed into a short story, to two markets. One was for a writing conference that had an affiliation with a decent print journal, which I’ll call Journal A, and one was a UK slightly academic looking journal with a remarkable pedigree. The story managed to get second place in a contest and I went on to an amazing writing conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in the summer of 2007. The story was then slated to be published in the magazine connected to that conference (Journal A).

End of story?

Not quite.

After the writing conference, I returned eagerly to the states with a stack of writing to work on, and to await the journal to contact me about the story. I had forgotten about the UK Journal, and after months of not hearing anything, I decided that the piece was never going to get published, anywhere. By the end of the year, a full nine months at least since I had sent it to both markets, I received an e-mail from the UK Journal informing me that if I revised my piece, the referee would take another look at it. So, I revised the piece per their comments, which were generally sound, and submitted the story to my writing workshop. They all unanimously approved, and I sent it back to the UK Journal. Then, I basically forgot it. Forgot Thailand (well, not really--Thailand is unforgettable), forgot Journal A. I thought, it’s been almost a year, and nothing. I went on a couple of short vacations, had given up hope of this journal, and pretty much forgot about the story. I was writing on more stories, revising a novel, thinking about the big picture, all that. In February of this year, the journal that initially was to publish the story finally contacted me about it; they were sending a proof for me to review. I wrote back and said, you know, I’ve revised this piece in the past year, would you look at the new version? Of course, this was the version I had revised for the UK Journal. Journal A agreed, and with a back and forth of a few months, two or three drafts of the story typeset for proofing, they eventually sent me a final copy to proof. Middle initial, get the bio right, remove an exclamation point here, change some of the wording there, etc. So, as of a week ago, I thought, finally, my chapter from my novel will finally be published, and all the world will get to read it!

Not so fast.

Last Thursday, after nine months, I received an email from the editor of the UK Journal. They were “delighted” to accept the the story. The referee offered the following commentary on it:

“There is a persuasive narrative voice here - I'm not sure how long it could be sustained in a longer piece, though I have seen similar from writers such as John Banville and Paul Auster (in their own way - though sometimes it could use some of Banville's descriptive powers). Nevertheless, it is no less powerful for all that, the short staccato sentences, clipped and jagged, jab a finger pointedly at the reader leaving no doubt as to their meaning.”

Needless to say, I was excited. I was also in a bit of a quandary.

I asked half a dozen writer friends (many of whom have gone through this process in their own careers) what I should do. The consensus was, if it is going to be published in Journal A, you can’t very well let the UK Journal take it. I knew this, I just needed to hear someone else say it.

Over the weekend I dashed to the bookstore for a copy of John Banville’s Booker Prize winning novel “The Sea,” which is, as expected, quite remarkable, thus further flattering me. Nothing like being compared to John Banville and Paul Auster to stroke one’s ego...

The prestige factor of this UK Journal was ultimately more appealing to me. They had published a lot of well known writers over time. Their editorial board alone was prestigious enough to make a Pulitzer committee proud. Who knows what further audience I might get across the pond? But I knew that Journal A was finally publishing the story. I decided to be content with that. I wrote an email to the UK Journal telling them that I was withdrawing the piece.

Now, either this is a very good piece, or I really lucked out only sending it to two places. I believe it is good. Maybe I lucked out, also. Although many journals say, “NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS,” every writer I know says, to hell with that. Send your work where you want it, if someone wants it, they’ll let you know. I’m not sure there was any prohibition on simultaneous submissions in either of these journals. But the long waiting that accompanied this was unusual, I believe. It was over seventeen months since I first sent it out. For months, nothing. So, was this situation terrible, or really unusual? Not really. Do I wish it could work out a bit differently? Perhaps. On the other hand, as a writer friend says, it’s always good to be wanted.

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