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Here’s another real-life question I received from a long-time writing critique group member. It’s a predicament you might have been fortunate enough to experience, or might find yourself in one day! Many of us submit our stories and essays simultaneously to literary journals, meaning that one of our stories might be under consideration by two or more journals at any given time. (Although, not for me right now. I’m currently on a writing submission strike while I write the rough draft of my short story collection.) If you have a tough time remembering when and where you’ve submitted your stories, check out my earlier post on tracking writing submissions, which features a bunch of apps and online services that are a bit more robust than your standard Excel sheet.

On to the question-and-answer part! Story and journal names redacted to preserve privacy. The question I received via email:

Tara Lynne,

I need some quick advice. My short story has been accepted by two journals, Journal A and Journal B. B notified me December 3 and I replied December 6 telling them yes. They have not replied to confirm my acceptance. I’ve hesitated contacting others that I submitted the story to as I’ve not heard back from B and I was three days getting back to their initial notice.

So today I get an email from A saying they’ve accepted the same story. Two questions: which is the better option? and if the answer is A, can I tell B that since they didn’t get back to me after my acceptance I hesitated to let others know and now have a second acceptance I’d prefer to go with?

What a nice dilemma!

Thanks.

My response:

Thanks for your note. Double congrats on your story acceptances! This is tough situation though.

First, I read the guidelines for both publications and you submitted the piece appropriately. Both markets accept simultaneous submissions. I’m not sure if choosing a ‘better option’ is the way to the go. I think to do the right thing would be to check in with B and update your email subject line to ‘need response – your recent story acceptance.’ Then explain you are quickly verifying with them that the story is truly accepted. Explain you were waiting to hear back so that you can notify other markets that are considering the piece and whether or not you should continue submitting elsewhere. (B doesn’t need to know about the double acceptance yet. Just basically let them know you need their confirmation so that you can continue to do your job as a writer.) Give them a clear deadline, like ‘please respond by end of day Wednesday’ (or whatever day you need). Since A only contacted you today, you have a little breathing room to respond. Hopefully B will get back with you soon. If I were you, if B does not respond by Wednesday night, tell A yes and on Thursday tell B you must withdraw that story as it has now been accepted elsewhere, since you didn’t have an official confirmation you continued to submit it. That way you’re not burning any bridges and offering the first-responding party their rightful opportunity to print.

If the story is under consideration with other journals – withdraw it immediately to prevent this situation from rising again.

I know one writer who had the same experience as you, but she figured ‘no one reads journals’ and never alerted the other to the issue. She had her story published in both places. I don’t think either market has learned about it still to this day. Maybe there’s an author blacklist? Maybe not? It’s not worth the embarrassment!!