Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ask the Moon: TMI

My friend Nick writes to ask the following:

On a simultaneous submission, is there a right way (and a wrong way) for asking that a piece be withdrawn from consideration after it’s been accepted elsewhere? And do editors even read those notes? On Submishmash, after you click "withdraw," it asks for the reason a piece is being withdrawn. Is it OK just to say, "Accepted elsewhere"? Or do editors want to know more?

I wonder if very many editors stop to think about what an intrusive question this is? The fact is that our work is our work, and when we submit, editors have a crack at it—that is, they have a chance to consider it and maybe vote to accept it, and then they have an opportunity to send an offer or a contract that the writer can look over. If the journal is very lucky, perhaps the writer will choose to accept its offer to print. That road goes both ways.

There is a sense among editors that they have a right to inquire why work is removed from consideration, but in fact, the only thing a journal really has a right to expect is professionalism—promptness, courtesy, a consideration of editors’ time. What we do with our work is up to us.

I say “we” and “us” in this instance to align myself with writers as I stand up for their rights to respect and privacy, but of course I’m also an editor of long duration, and I understand how that side works and the challenges they face. It can actually be rather healthy to know why work is withdrawn. Are other journals getting the jump on us? Has something happened to make publication with us undesirable? (Social media can turn publisher to pariah just that quickly, and people often turn against a journal en masse for political reasons, often very important and good ones.)

But a writer is responsible to her work. While mannerly conduct and consideration for editors’ time mark the kind of culture I’d like to be part of, writers don’t owe editors any sort of feedback. At any point before a contract or other instrument (like an e-mail) has been extended and agreed to, no one has any right to tell a writer what to do with her work, and even when there is an agreement, the rights of the journal are spelled out there and are not absolute. (Typically, journals claim first North American serial rights and/or first electronic rights.)

Editors don’t have a right to our life story (well, unless we’ve signed a memoir agreement!), and they don’t even have a right to our time. Sometimes we courteously offer aspects of both.

Incidentally, Nick asks if it’s OK just to say, “Accepted elsewhere.” In fact, there are a number of reasons someone might withdraw work. I’ve withdrawn for the very embarrassing reason of realizing too late that I’d already published somewhere (including on Facebook or my blog—places I didn’t write down, but where I already found my audience all the same, so that I cannot in good conscience offer first rights). I’ve also withdrawn because a journal didn’t accept simultaneous submissions and wasn’t moving quickly enough to make waiting for a response reasonable. And I’ve withdrawn after re-reading a poem and thinking, “What the hell was I thinking?”

Editors likely have the very best reasons for wondering. Often it’s to determine where their competition is. And I know that I like to congratulate writers when there is good news, so that they’ll know their right to simultaneously submit has always been respected and that they have committed no gaffe. I’m not every editor, though. Some do mind—a lot. And I think we all mind when a withdrawal happens late for a piece that was taken a long time ago or is even already in print. But when you snooze, you lose—and every editor has regrets about the ones that got away. It’s all part of the process.

As a matter of policy, unless I have a relationship with a journal (such as a past publication with them), I don’t tell editors why I withdraw. I consider it my business. I share a lot of my business—too much, my social media friends can attest—but I always get to decide what I share, and I believe it’s best to keep relationships with editors cordial, professional, and a little remote.

So, Nick, when you face that question, feel free to ignore it. It’s probable that an editor won’t even notice your work is gone, sadly—because in most cases, there are dozens or even hundreds more to take its place.


  1. Thanks for this helpful post, Karen! I've only recently discovered your blog, and am really enjoying it! Thank you. :)

    1. I'm thrilled to hear it! Thanks for writing. :)

  2. i don't know where i found you, karen, but am very pleased about it. thank you to whomever