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Those Terrible Multiple Submitters

By Aaron Shepard

Printed in Once Upon A Time, Fall 1994

For more resources, visit Aaron Shepard’s Kidwriting Page at www.aaronshep.com.

Copyright © 1994 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and shared for any noncommercial purpose as long as no text is altered or omitted.

I don’t know how it happened. Somehow, the practice of multiple submission—and the writers who do it—have become the scapegoats for the current flood of children’s manuscripts in editors’ offices, along with the consequent delays in response and the multiplying bans on unsolicited material.

This glut is a real problem, and it’s obvious that widespread multiple submission is not going to help. But that is not the only cause, and perhaps not the main one.

I believe the main cause is exemplified in a story told to me by a member of my critique group. At a party she attended, a young man was asked to read a picture book to the children. He was partway through when he turned to his friend and said, “Hey, I could write one of these!” “Yeah,” said his friend, “there’s big money in children’s books!”

Amusing as this story may be to one who knows, there are millions who believe that children’s writing is easy and a source of quick wealth. Luckily, very few of them ever get anything down on paper. But the small percentage that does is enough to create a glut of submissions.

Now, not many of these people have even heard the term “multiple submission,” much less about an organization like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators that inveighs against it. There’s no way to influence them or even communicate with them. The problem they cause will persist no matter what course is taken by more serious writers.

Should we then allow them to elbow us out of line? I can’t believe the proper response is to limit our own submissions. After all, if our writing is professional, our manuscripts are the ones that editors want to see, right?

There are, however, two ways we can avoid contributing to the problem. The first is one I emphasize in all my classes: Never send out anything before it’s critiqued. Children’s editors say that 90% to 95% of all submissions are unpublishable. Hopefully, serious beginners manage a better percentage—but my impression is that it’s still much too high. Get the best feedback you can before you take an editor’s time.

The second—and perhaps the more important—is to ignore Publishers Corner. Yes, I’m talking about the column in the SCBWI Bulletin—the one that discusses editors—the first thing many of us turn to in each issue.

If you’ve been following that column carefully, you will lately have seen a disturbing pattern. Two or three issues after an editor is profiled, Publishers Corner will often note that the editor is no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts. The problem is that thousands of SCBWI members have jumped on that editor, creating an instant glut far beyond her ability to cope. And for all we know, most of those submissions were exclusive!

My advice is this: Don’t submit to any editor profiled in Publishers Corner for at least half a year. Believe me, your chance of a careful reading will improve. Or better yet, watch the magazine from which Publishers Corner gets most of its leads—the one that reports editorial job changes about two months earlier. (Please don’t ask me the magazine’s name. It’s something you can figure out—but if everyone knows, we’ll have the same problem two months sooner.)

I can understand why many children’s writers are concerned about the current situation. I’m concerned too! There are too many submissions and too many children’s writers—serious as well as not serious. And the situation grows worse as the market shrinks.

Still, I am deeply disturbed when I or anyone else is told by an established writer—and it is generally an established writer—“try to get published, but not too hard.” Children’s writing is my profession as well as my vocation. I will submit my work as efficiently and effectively as I know how. And I will succeed if I can!

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