I interviewed Mark Arnold–Writer, Script Doctor, Consultant, Director, and Producer, or rather, I picked his brilliant mind on what his thoughts were on multiple submissions.
Welcome to my blog, Mark.
What is your position on multiple submissions?
Ahem, well, you’ve touched on a tender subject with me there.
You’ve piqued my interest with that statement. How do you view your writing?
My writing is a business. The stories I write, until sold, belong exclusively to me and I may do anything I like with them
It is not good business to send a story out to one publisher, wait months for a reply, and in all fairness it is most likely going to be a rejection.
You sound a tad pessimistic?
That’s just the way the odds go, and then, once the rejection has arrived, send out the story again. Years can go by that way before a short story sells.
Hmm…that is rather ridiculous.
I don’t care what the publisher “prefers,” as far as sending out multiple submissions to other publishers.
Is there any other business that doesn’t want you to get as many potential customers as possible lined up for the product?
Not to my knowledge.
If I want to sell my car, for instance, I advertise in the newspaper. Thousands of people get to see it in one go. If I was to do it like I would for a short story the way the publishers want it, I would have to get a list of all the paper’s readers, go to their homes, one at a time, and ask them if they want to buy my car. I’m not going to do that. Who would?
No, I certainly wouldn’t. But Mark, what if two publishers want to buy your story at the same time?
I should have that kind of problem! I think the odds on that happening are in the neighborhood of winning the lottery – twice.
Doesn’t sound promising. Is there another way to look at multiple submissions?
Yes. Sometimes when a publisher says “No multiple submissions” they are not saying that they don’t want you to be sending the same story out to other publishers, they are actually saying, don’t send us more than one of your stories at a time. Let us reject one story at a time. Once we have rejected the first story, send us another. Make sure you understand what they mean by “Multiple Submissions.”
Good point. But doesn’t the publisher have the right to tell me what I can do?
Here’s the thing; the publishers have no right to tell me what I can do with MY story. They can let me know how they would prefer to do it, and that’s fine. Now publishers have preferences that are reasonable such as the format of your submission, contact information, etc. Most of this stuff is the same from publisher to publisher and I have no problem conforming to their needs – that is courtesy and professionalism, but I don’t work for them. I have a product that I want to sell and I’m going to do it in the most efficient way that I can.
Do you think we should be up front when submitting our work?
Some people feel that they should be up front when they submit their work and say that they are sending it out to other publishers at the same time. Well, that’s fine if they want to do that. I don’t do that. What I am doing with my story is my business and how I go about selling my work is not the publishers’ business.
With that attitude, I’m surprised you sell anything at all.
I can see your point, or at least, I would have seen your point when I first started out. Like most beginning writers I had the attitude “Please Mr. Great Publisher, who is God in my eyes, please stoop to look at my unworthy submission and have mercy on me, even though I am so low and unacceptable, please give me a chance. I will do anything to get published.” That comes from insecurity about your writing. And if that’s the way you feel about your writing, and that’s what you broadcast to the publishing world at large, expect to be treated as if you’re worthless. I’m not saying that I go to the other end of that scale with an attitude of, I am the God of writing, and I am willing to look kindly on your piece of crap periodical by allowing you to publish my work. I don’t think or feel that way. No, but I do expect, insist on, being treated with courtesy and respect. And decent business practices too, damn it.
Don’t you think you might be a little unreasonable in the way you attempt to sell your writing?
No. Publishers act as if they have all the power but that’s because writers hand them the power.
Oh. But I need a publisher to publish my work.
Fair enough. The publisher NEEDS a writer’s work so that he has something to publish. Think of it that way and you may realize that we’re actually on an equal footing.
Now I realize that I am writing this message with heat. That’s certainly not the way I communicate myself to the publisher.
Thank you for clarifying that. But how do you communicate with a publisher?
I attempt to be courteous and professional. I don’t give them my life’s story in my introduction.
What information do you provide?
I may mention that I am a published author with a list of credits, etc., just to show that I’m not some amateur beginner and that I should be taken seriously.
Can you give me an example?
I don’t explain why I wrote the story or what I was trying to accomplish. It’s “Hello, my name is Mark, please consider this work for publication in your periodical. Here are my credentials. Thank you for your time.”
That’s it? Aren’t publishers drooling to know how you came up with your story?
The publisher doesn’t want your letter of submission to be a novel in itself – and I find the more you write in the letter, the less interested or impressed the publisher, editor, reader, will be. In and out. Surgical.
Ouch. So how do you cultivate a relationship?
With time you may get to know the editor or publisher after many submissions and they may start sending you personal notes along with the rejection or acceptance letters, then you can start adding extra detail to the letters. And yes, cultivating a relationship with these people is a critical part of the process. They have to make the first move in this direction, however. If you are going to have a satisfactory relationship, if I want it to be satisfactory, then there has to be respect going both ways and not the relationship of patron and servant, master and slave.
Respect yourself before you can expect respect from others.
Sounds simple enough.
And stupid and obvious, but tell me, how did you feel when you were submitting your stories?
That’s a joke.
I’m not laughing.
You have rights as a person, if you give up those rights, don’t complain when you are treated badly.
Yes, I do have rights. So I won’t grumble or complain any longer.
Thank you Mark for you candid response. I’m now in your corner.
Mark Arnold has been writing since he was about ten years old. His first story was published when he was twelve. Mark now works in the film industry as a script doctor, consultant, and has written, directed, produced, and animated short films for cable TV. He also sells short stories to periodicals and is working on a novel.