Should We All Be Cheating?

(Note: This post is about the submission process. If you were expecting an entirely different subject matter based on the title, I apologize profusely, and would like to offer you a complete refund.)

(Further note: Judas Priest video vaguely thematically related, but otherwise fairly gratuitous.)

I’ve been fascinated by an article by Theodore Ross with the attention-grabbing byline: “Cheat! It’s the only way to get published!” that a reading/writing friend of mine recently re-posted. Ross’ thesis seems more or less to be that following the submission rules is for suckers, and a writer ought to seek to bypass them, and peddled influence wherever possible. There’s also a dash of- Nothing is ever accepted off of the “slush pile”, and anything coming from there is treated with derision by all readers.

There was a lively comment string following this posting, in which several writers and editors I know pointed out that this is mostly bull-puckey. In the particular case I’m most familiar with, Mud Season Review, where I’m a co-editor for Poetry, these things definitely are not true. While we will occasionally solicit submissions from someone we admire (and even then, the submission gets reviewed by the editorial panel, there’s no automatic “fix”), almost all of our submissions come through Submittable via our general submissions call. I.e., it’s all one big virtual slush pile. Every submission is read by Readers, who pass it on (or not) to Assistant Editors, who pass it on (or not) to the Genre and Managing Editors. And in the process of sending out the rejections, the Genre/Managing editors also take a quick look at what was passed up by earlier readers, so even the first-level rejections get at least 1.5 reads.

We do not, as Ross seems to think might be widespread, have pizza parties where we chortle at all the fools who decide to submit. I don’t doubt that what he says he did can work. And of course, as in any professional field, it doesn’t hurt to mention connections. I certainly, for example, put in the fact that I’m an editor at a literary journal in my cover letter in my submissions, on the chance that it may increase the likelihood I’ll get a second look. Ditto with mentioning if the journals editors’ and I know someone in common who brought them to my attention. And I don’t doubt that there are journals out there that solicit a larger percentage of their work, and deliberately lead toward name-recognition. Based on the number of journals out there though, and the people I know who work on them, that is in no way a majority.

Getting back to Mud Season as an example, if someone does contact us directly to send something in, we either re-direct them to Submittable, or, if it’s a personal connection and we’re feeling generous, might post it there ourselves. Either way, it ends up going through the same round of editorial reviews as it would if it were directly submitted. The only difference I’ve seen is that we tend to send a more personal response for rejected material if there is some kind of direct connection.

Also, I’m a *bit* skeptical, given that he himself notes he’s not kept records, about how much extra oomph he really got from this methodology. Did it double his acceptance rate? Increase it by 10x? And is the increase worth the string of vaguely annoyed editors who will re-direct you to their preferred submission method, and the ones who will zap things that don’t follow their guidelines sight unseen? I’d like to see some data! In the mean time, I’m not convinced that we should all be cheating.

Fellow readers, writers and editors, what do you think?

3 thoughts on “Should We All Be Cheating?

  1. wattersmichelle68

    Marge Piercy told me that the more prestigious magazines like the guy is alluding to never accept from the slush only from well known authors with an agent. Obviously MSR and other small lit mags don’t fall into the same category but why is it so hard to believe?
    My method is to submit to any lit mag I enjoy reading and has an acceptance rate, no 0% bullshit for me. 5% and above.
    I love The Paris Review but I’m not going to get accepted there so why bother spending the time and energy to submit?


    1. chrislwriter Post author

      I do believe him, when it comes to your Paris Reviews, et al., absolutely. but I don’t believe (in fact I know it is not true) that the only way to get published anywhere is to cheat the system, and that editors universally disdain general submissions. I like your 5% or more guideline. I’ve got to get on Duotrope!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. wattersmichelle68

        Well… sending out simultaneous submissions to no simultaneous lit mags kind of cheating and apparently everyone does that but yeah I agree. I think he was being tongue and cheek.


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