Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Submittable blues

Do you have a Submittable problem?

Do you log into the Submittable manuscript submission system several times a day, just to see if that status of your work has magically shifted from “Received” to “In-Progress”?

Have you ever found yourself howling and shaking your fist at the sky after detecting no apparent movement by editors?

Quit that. You’re misunderstanding the system.

Magazines that accept electronic submissions typically chose from one of the two most popular systems, Submittable or the CLMP Submission Manager. Having worked on the editorial side of both systems, I prefer the CLMP system for discussion and response to submission, but as a writer, Submittable wins, hands-down.

When you send work to a magazine using Submittable, all of your contact info and even your bio are preloaded. You attach a file and press send and that’s it. With Submission Manager, it is necessary to type in that information for every new magazine, and on subsequent visits, you need to enter a password to withdraw or leave a note or submit again. I dislike fussy submission procedures, whether we’re talking picky guidelines or a lot of data entry, so Submittable suits me just fine.

I find, however, that writers—even writers who are experienced submitters—misunderstand what happens with their work once a journal receives it, and the misunderstanding stems from the Status area of the Submittable site.

Submittable offers a number of status updates, but the ones that cause consternation are for manuscripts that are actively being vetted: “Received” and “In-Progress.”

When work is received by a magazine, the status reflects that fact; it reads, “Received.” At this point, journals begin their very individualized processes of considering manuscripts.

The false assumption of some writers is that editors completely ignore their work until the status shifts over to “In-Progress.” Convinced that their work is languishing unread, they grow vexed at the inattention.

In actuality, work can get quite a bit of attention and never show up on Submittable as “In-Progress.” All “In-Progress” means is that a file has been assigned to a reader, or it has been forwarded to a staff member, or it has received a written in-house comment in the Submittable system. That’s certainly a sign that something is happening.

However, apparent lack of action does not necessarily equate with lack of attention. Submittable charges journals for editor access, and there are different levels of membership for different sizes of staff. Most journals get by on a shoestring, in my experience; they find ways to economize and make do with as little overhead as possible.

Maybe that means editors fudge a little and share sign-ins. No need to forward work if everyone reads on the same password, right? Thus, the status would still say “Received” deep into the process.

Or maybe a small magazine has a single person in charge of each genre, or even in charge of the whole shebang. There is no forwarding then, and no need to pass along notes.

Or maybe to save money, journals print out the work that screeners like best. That means, once again, no forward, and no status change.

At the magazine I served for a dozen years, we had only one computer. You get where I’m going with this; when two or three heads are bent over the same screen, there is no need to forward, and no trigger for a status change.

Yet time and time again, I participate in online forums where writers lament the fact that their work just sits there. Everyone grumbles. Occasionally someone with some editorial experience may offer the perspective I just outlined, but the news never gains traction. We visit sites like that because we seek commiseration—not to hear some wiseacre yak.

But I should confess: I do the same damned thing. I’ve been on Submittable four times today, certain I’ve missed an acceptance e-mail—something faulty today with Google or Safari or Mac. Sunspots. Pirates. Martians. I submitted a lot of things in the vortex known as “September,” see, and there’s something about September submissions; editors save them for last. October, November, even December submissions are cleared out, but there sits September. Ignored.

If this sounds like crazy-talk, it’s because it is. Most of this submission game is governed by idiosyncrasy and chance. Journals have their own ways of doing things; submissions get responses in their own due time (or they don’t—but that’s another issue, and a blog post for another day).

My advice? Don’t watch the calendar (or the clock) over those old submissions. Instead, write something new. And by all means, simultaneously submit—there’s more than one show in town.

In short, move forward. Find your audience. And show editors they need to get a move on if they want the privilege of publishing your work.


  1. Thank you, Karen! I am one of those obsessed people. I've wondered why I sometimes get a note back from a magazine that I never saw "in-progress" on.

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  2. Great post. I've never been an editor, but I read for a lit journal in college. We'd sometimes pass around a short story for weeks before coming up with a decision. However, as a writer I get a little giddy when I see something is "in-progress." Those rejections are always a bit more biting than the ones that get rejected with a "received" status.

    1. You're so right! I, too, get hopeful at the idea of what "in-progress" might mean, and the rejections are a special disappointment. Best not to noodle too much about things that we have no control over -- that's where I land, ultimately. :)

  3. Replies
    1. You are very welcome! Thanks for reading! :)

  4. Thank you Karen. More than once, I've pondered what "in progress" vs "received" meant. That does help thank you.

    I've had one sitting in "In Progress" for months now.The last time I contacted them, they said they were holding it over for consideration in their next issue. As the next issue hasn't appeared (yet?), I'm beginning to suspect they've either got a seriously irregular publication schedule or they've gone belly-up (Their FB page has gone quiet as well). But I am too superstitious to ask. The story has been hard to place so I'm not losing anything by leaving it in their hands for at least a while longer.

    1. Well, I'm hoping you get some much-deserved good news from that submission! Fingers crossed.

  5. I had 2 poems in Submittable for one year. So I sent a note to the journal. Several months later to my amazement, they said they were going to publish them in an anthology. Tha system's crazy. My advice to writers: get a life outside writing. You'll save yourself a lot of grief.

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