A Northwest Based Literary Journal

To Resubmit, or Not to Resubmit

Editors’ Note: We’ll have complete info on our AWP booth, reception, and other activities in our February 7 blog, so check back next week.

As part of our Feedback Options for submissions, Nonfiction Editor Yi Shun Lai and I send a lot of revision advice to writers, along with declines. Recently a couple of submitters who’d opted for feedback thanked us for the comments, and asked, “Do you accept resubmissions of edited stories?” It’s a great question that pertains not only to TLR, but to other journals as well, so we thought we’d expand on the issue.

In the guidelines for our Feedback Options, we clearly state that if we would like to see a revision, we will specifically say so in our response. If we didn’t, then we are not expecting to see one. But that doesn’t preclude a writer resubmitting a story if she thinks it’s been reworked enough to make a difference.

Before you do that, however, here are some factors to keep in mind.

  • Take a look at the original feedback. Look for signs that the editor really liked the story and that it came close to publication. If not, a revision and resubmission may not help your chances, since there may be some other reasons for rejection that weren’t stated. If you have any doubt, email and ask if a resubmission would be worth the trouble. Some editors (us included) will let you know. Some will not respond. If the editor doesn’t, then…
  • Be realistic. Too many writers look at positive feedback as a near-acceptance, and convince themselves that with a few tweaks, the piece will be accepted. More accurately, positive feedback is encouragement. It’s the editor saying, “Your writing is good, possibly good enough for publication here or elsewhere.” But it doesn’t necessarily address all the work’s shortcomings, or the effort required to improve them. Remember that improvement in one’s writing takes a dedicated effort, and can take a long time.
  • So don’t rush it. If you feel the work can be made better, put it away for a while so you can approach revisions with a less biased perspective. When you think it’s ready, run the story through your writers’ group, maybe hire a literary editor to give you a professional evaluation. Don’t worry that the journal editor will have forgotten you or the work, because…
  • You also have to consider the odds. Most journals receive hundreds or thousands of submissions every reading period. Even if you’ve improved the work significantly, it still has to rise above the other submissions…
  • And somewhere along the line the story may have to get to that same editor who liked it the first time. Keep in mind that many journals have large, fluid staffs of people, and your submission may be read by any one of them. Check the journal’s masthead and about pages, and try to get a feel for their reading process.
  • Read the journal’s guidelines carefully, too. A few journals specifically say that resubmissions are allowed. A few others warn against it. Most don’t comment on the practice, but the implication is that once a story’s been rejected, they don’t want to see it again. There is, however, a chance that you can resubmit to such a journal and no one will notice. I’ll admit, I’ve done it, but only to journals that (a) I’d really like to be in, (b) have large staffs so the odds of the same story going to the same person are extremely small, and (c) with stories that I’ve substantially reworked over a period of months or years.[1]

Clearly, there is a lot working against a resubmission becoming an acceptance. It can happen, but our advice is to consider all the points above and make a realistic decision before undertaking the effort.

[1] Don’t try that with me, though. I read all submissions myself, and I’ve got one of those elephant memories, and can spot a resubmission after two sentences. In fact, I’ve come across several resubmissions from writers who have actually forgotten they sent the stories in the first time. You can imagine the embarrassment when I point it out…

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Categorised in: business of writing, Fiction, Guidelines, Nonfiction

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