Interpreting Submission Guidelines: The Manuscript Submission Process Part I

Don't ruin your efforts here by not reading the
guidelines before you submit!
© Barbara V. Evers, All rights reserved.
During our writing critique group a few weeks ago, a member of the SCWA board visited to fill us in on upcoming plans for the organization, especially in regards to publication options and educational opportunities.

During her presentation, she asked if anyone had questions. One of our newer members asked about the acceptability of submitting previously published works. Her question dismayed me because I realized this newer member didn't understand the typical criteria for submitting to a journal and hadn't thought to ask our group. We have plenty of opportunities to discuss these subjects before and after the meetings during our social time, but she had not participated in these opportunities yet.

This got me thinking. What do newbies, and maybe more experienced writers, not know about the submission process? With that question in mind, I'm going to share some basic information on submissions in this post. I hope new and seasoned writers will read through to the end for two reasons:

1. To clear up any confusion
2. To add information I left out

Previously Published Works

Most contests and journals do not accept previously published works. Always check the submission guidelines for any clarification on this, but typically this means published in print or on the internet in any form or in an e-format.  Most journals revert the rights back to the author after publication. That doesn't make your work unpublished. It means you have the right to publish it elsewhere.

Some publications accept previously published works. Make sure you verify this and that you still own the rights to your work before submitting these manuscripts. Some publications define previously published based on the circulation of the first publication. For example, if the previous publication had less than 5000 copies circulated, it might be considered unpublished.

Simultaneous Submissions

If you submit a work to more than one contest or journal at the same time, it becomes a simultaneous submission. Most journals allow this, although some have specific guidelines on how or when you notify them of the simultaneous nature of your work. In the most common situation, you're asked to provide the courtesy of withdrawing your submission from one journal if the other has accepted it. If you fail to alert one publication about the acceptance of your piece elsewhere, and they discover it's been accepted by someone else, you will probably not want to submit to them ever again. Publishing is a small world and many of them talk to each other.

Multiple Submissions

Some journals and contests accept more than one entry at a time from authors, in other words multiple submissions. You might find a contest or journal where you want to submit two stories or a story and an essay during the same submission period. Can you do that? It depends. If the publisher accepts multiple submissions you can.

Read the fine print because some prefer that you wait until the next submission period to submit a second item. Also, some will allow multiple submissions as long as they are not in the same category (short story, essay, poem).

The Bottom Line
Make sure you read the submission guidelines. If you're in doubt, either send an email asking for clarification or ask a more experienced writer.

Submission guidelines cover a broad spectrum. I've written two other posts focused on formatting, and they can be found here:

What other submission guidelines would you add?


JoAnne Simson said…
Good overview! Another thing you might say is: "Don't become totally discouraged when four or five journals reject a piece. But be sure to look it over carefully if it's rejected, and give it a bit more polish!
Thanks for the suggestion, JoAnne! You have a valid point that might work well in a follow-up post focused on what happens after you submit.
Unknown said…
Great overview, Barbara.

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