Everything You’ve Wanted to Know about Using Submishmash (From this Editor’s Perspective, That Is)

Over the years, this post (yes, this one!) has consistently been a heavy-traffic zone on this blog. A lot of you want to know about using Submittable/Submishmash! I’ve decided to make a thorough update to my advice in this blog post, as Submittable’s technology has changed and improved over time. You can read my most up-to-date advice on submittable by following this link to the new post.Β -kd

I’ve always enjoyed reading the Google search terms that direct people to my blog. One of my favorite Google referrals of all time was “trying to contact the version of me who lives on another planet.” I was sorry that my blog would have been of little help for that Google user, but not a little amused that someone out there was researching such an important topic. But at least once per day, I see some permutation of the question “how do I withdraw a piece from Submishmash?” or “what does it mean when my submission’s status is marked In Progress?” in this blog’s search results. If there are that many of you with questions about navigating submission managers, I think it’s time for a little public service announcement about all things Submishmash (a.k.a. Submittable).

First, a disclaimer: this is one lowly editor’s advice about how to understand and approach Submishmash/Submittable. Not all editors are the same in the ways they run their publications; while I am trying to give the most broad advice possible, I can’t speak for everyone in publishing. I also do not have complete and unending knowledge about the intricacies of Submishmash, as I do not work for them.

Okay. Are we good? Let’s talk about those little status indicators you see to the right of your submissions list. When you first send your work, you’ll see the stats marked at “received.” A submission marked received is simply one that has made its way through the submission process unscathed. Depending upon the editor’s Submishmash preferences, she may have received an email alerting her that you’ve submitted work. This status is the equivalent of an envelope’s having arrived in an editor’s mailbox; nobody’s opened the envelope yet, but your work has arrived safely.

“In Progress” is the next stage of a submission’s life cycle. As soon as an editor does something–anything–with your submission, your work is marked “in progress.” The editor may not have even opened your work yet–she may have only assigned it to a first reader. Or, perhaps she’s read your work thoroughly. She may have voted (yes, there’s a voting feature in Submishmash; editors can give your work a “yes,” a “no,” or a “maybe” vote as they read) or made notes to other readers about her thoughts on your work. The reading process can take quite a while, and there is no way for you to divine just how much progress your “in progress” submission has made, or how readers have voted on your work. Try not to read too much into this stage of the process. Patience, friends.

Once the editor has made a firm decision about your work, she will use Submishmash’s internal tool to generate either a letter of acceptance or a letter of rejection that Submishmash emails to you immediately. If you see your work marked with the bright green label “accepted” or the red label “declined,” a letter should be awaiting you in your email inbox.

There’s one more status you might see in Submishmash, and that’s “Withdrawn.” Let’s talk about withdrawing work.

There are two good reasons to withdraw work. One is that your material has been accepted elsewhere. If you get an acceptance from a venue, you should immediately withdraw your work from every other editor who’s considering it. The other is that you have realized this piece is horrific, that you have sent it out undercooked, and that you would rather die than have it viewed by the reading public. Hey, it happens. If these events transpire, you should click on the submission’s title in Submishmash to open the view of your file, then click the “Withdraw” link and type in your reason for having withdrawn work. If your writing was accepted elsewhere, it’s nice to tell the editor which publication will be printing it. It’s interesting for us to know, and we’ll be happy for you. If you’ve realized your work is undercooked, you don’t need to say anything at all.

Poetry presents a tricky problem when it comes to withdrawing work. Most journals ask writers to submit multiple poems in one submission file. If one poem among five is picked up for publication elsewhere, then what? When it comes to The Los Angeles Review, I prefer that writers send an email to me to say that work has been accepted elsewhere. I can then put a note in the submission that the reader should disregard the poem that’s no longer under consideration. If you withdraw the entire file, it’s possible that the editor could simply archive your entire submission (archiving submissions removes them from the editor’s view pretty much for good–the archive is a deep and spooky territory much like Limbo) as she would a rejected piece, and you may never see a response notice. Check individual publications’ guidelines before deciding how to withdraw a single poem from among many, but in general, email is your best bet.

It’s worth noting that when you use the withdraw link in Submishmash, the editor of the publication gets an email alerting her of your action. Bear in mind that if you’re a chronic withdawer of submissions, those emails are going to get a little old. The reality of the withdrawal email should also tell you that, once a piece is under consideration, it is not, I repeat, not the time to tinker with and revise your work. In the last submission cycle for LAR, I had a gentleman submit work, withdraw it immediately (I later learned he was revising it each time), then submit it again. He did this up to three times every day for over one week. At first, I thought he was attempting to be rude or to make some sort of bizarre statement with this behavior. Eventually, I emailed him and asked what on earth he was trying to do, and telling him that I’d had enough. He was chagrined to learn that we were alerted to every withdrawal and resubmission, and I was chagrined to learn that he wasn’t trying to be a jerk, as I’d thought, but just had the worst publication strategy of all time. Learn from this comedy of errors, friends.

I hope this public service announcement has been of help, writers. Go forth and submit well, often, and with, I hope, much success.

49 Replies to “Everything You’ve Wanted to Know about Using Submishmash (From this Editor’s Perspective, That Is)”

  1. Glad to be of help! And if there’s something I’ve not covered here that you’d like to know about, ask away…

  2. I find withdrawing a poem from a bundle via Submishmash tricky, too. Some publications give clear instructions – usually 1) send an email withdrawing the poem, or 2) withdraw whole submission and re-submit. Although I prefer the former, any advice is helpful. In the latter case, I spent a whole year withdrawing and re-submitting poems to the same publication because of a poem being accepted elsewhere. If the publication is dealing with submissions as they come in, that meant I went back to the bottom of the pile every time. I finally gave up. I understand some publications need time to read and come to a decision, but making the poet withdraw wholesale and return to the end of the line almost forces her to make exclusive rather than simultaneous submissions. Anyway, just my rant. Otherwise I like the tidiness of Submishmash.

  3. Sarah, I find that so interesting that there are publications who want you to resubmit the whole group of work. Thinking about it from the publisher’s angle, I cannot see any upside to that arrangement. Usually by the time someone withdraws work from me, I’ve made some progress through the submission already. Making someone jump to the back of the queue would mean I’d have to start all over again (not to mention lose all the notes and comments I’d made on a submission). It seems just as bad for the publisher as the writer.

    But perhaps this is why some journals have year-long wait times. (Personally, I think that if publishers can’t clear the decks or at least have them mostly cleared in three months, they’re most likely using some pretty clunky, redundant process.)

  4. Very helpful! One of my submissions just changed to in-progress so I wanted to do a little research into what that means! I also just submitted to a publisher today, so I am eagerly awaiting their response! Thank you!

  5. I’m so happy to be of help, Ashley! I’m sending you positive thoughts for an acceptance at that publication.

  6. Hi Kelly. This is great. Thank you. My stories seem to be sitting in “In-Progress”
    longer, but apparently that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Just that somehow
    has done something, perhaps even not read it. So really, it just is as useful as
    “Receved.” Oh we’ll…

  7. Happy to be of help, Mark! Yes, there’s truly no way to know what the heck has happened with your story until you get the final verdict. On the writer’s end, it’s pretty frustrating. I, for one, have had submissions that have dragged on for over a year before they were responded to, and it’s made me want to yell “just tell me, for crying in the night!” But, I suppose, it’s less frustrating than wondering if your paper submission ever made it past the post office…

  8. Kelly – true! Submishmash is much better than the old paper submissions. I see that you’re a reader at Fifth Wednesday. I have a short story there right now; it’s “In-Progress.” It feels better to be In-Progress than rejected. Also, I read through your blog last night. I like it! Ciao.

  9. Just received my first rejection, very disappointed but it was for a reason. I’m just confused as I checked my submission status which was on ‘received’, then not 2 hours later the rejection came through. My other story has been ‘In-progress’ for 2 days so I can only assume that my submission was opened, read and rejected.
    Oh dear!
    Never mind though, we want to be writers so it means we have to take the rejections as part of the journey! πŸ™‚

  10. Lorraine, don’t be discouraged! The fact that someone rejected the work within two hours doesn’t mean your work is bad. It just means that one reader didn’t think it was a fit for his or her publication. That’s a far, far cry from meaning that your writing isn’t any good. Now, that’s not to say that’s your best piece. Maybe it would benefit from revision. But I highly encourage writers to celebrate rejection, because it means they’re doing the good and needful work of sending our writing. Now bundle that story up again, and send it elsewhere (I once won a prize for poem that had been rejected by 20-plus publications, so…trust me. I know how you feel!).

  11. While a contest is being judged will declined appear when my story is no longer in the running but the contest has not ended as opposed to in progress?

  12. Good question, M! Each contest is a bit different, but in broad terms, contests usually wait until all decisions have been made before notifying winners. You can’t really divine much from the length of time that an entry has been in progress, I’m afraid.

  13. Hello:

    Do you have any idea what it means if an “In-Progress” status changes from that blue color to an off-white?


  14. Hi, Sara. That’s an interesting question that I don’t entirely know the answer to, as I haven’t seen that happen with my own work. My guess, given the fact that it seems Submishmash doesn’t give the submitter too much info on the editing process, is that this change was simply an update in the Submishmash UI (they’ve been releasing a few updates lately that have changed some of the visuals). But, again, I’m just speculating.

  15. Thank you for your explanation Kelly. That pretty much clears it up for me.
    I’ve got fifteen stories ‘in progress’ currently in the submishmash/submittable

    Now, I’ll just try & be patient…and wait !!!

    At the very least ‘In-Progress’ is making ‘some’ progress…wouldn’t you agree?


  16. Hey Kelly…

    Since I’ve got you on the line…

    On Submishmash:

    I have twenty-five (25) potentials out of twenty-seven submissions to the same
    publisher. All 25 are in the ‘In-Progress’ stage (they seem to be turning them
    over from ‘received’ a lot faster now since I had to withdraw one to enter a
    Xmas Flash Fiction Contest!!!)

    I apologized for the withdrawal as soon as I made it. What do you think my
    chances are of seeing some ‘green acceptance lights’ soon? They are a
    fledgling group just starting out so I don’t want to rattle their cage. They
    seem like two pretty nice (Australian) guys trying to get it right. I’m on a
    first name basis with them, I send them a little story ‘every day’ & they say
    they look forward to my name in the incoming emails!!

    I’ve had my high-hopes dashed before when I thought I had a sure thing

    I know patience is a virtue, but 25 out of 27!? I’d say they are interested

    Your expert opinion/thoughts???

    Thanks so much for your help,

  17. You say that the “in-progress” stage takes “quite a while”. Could you be more specific? For example, would you say that the status of my submission will probably remain at “in-progress” longer than it was at “received” (a bit over seven weeks)? I’m generally a patient person, but this is one of the few things in my life that I’ve become anxious (and therefore excited) about.

  18. Hey, Kristina. You may not love this as an answer, but the answer is, “it varies.” At Los Angeles Review, we usually respond within 90 days. As a writer, I’ve received responses as quick as 3 hours. On the other side of the spectrum, one of my submissions has been out for four year. (Yes, you read that correctly!)

    As a general rule, a legitimate journal won’t regularly take more than a few months.

  19. Doug, you have sent 25 submissions to one venue? If I were that editor, I would, to be totally honest with you, be put off. It’s generally considered good form to wait for a response to one submission before sending another. If it were me, I would wait until I hear back from them to send any more work!

  20. Is there any way a submission can be read without the status changing from received to in progress? In two instances, winners were announced for contests I submitted to and my status still read received.

  21. David, I’m sorry to say that I think you’ve been ill treated; if there’s a way a submission can be opened without a status change, it is certainly not known to me. While I can’t say with 100% certainty that there wasn’t some technological bug in those two situations, I have the strong suspicion that your work was not actually considered in those contests.

  22. I have submitted a story to a writing contest, but have since realized it’s not my best and have revised it. I really like the revision and thinks it’s worth submitting and letting that be the end of it. It’s tricky with contests because you have to pay. Is it possible for me to withdraw my first piece and submit my revision without having to pay another fee?

  23. A great question! It would really depend upon the contest. I’d suggest emailing the publication and asking how they feel about a resubmission. They might ask you to refrain from resubmitting, or they might be very open to receiving a new document over email, but there’s not standard line on this…

  24. Kelly, Thanks for a helpful blog. Just a question, is anyone else able to see the number of submissions made/ withdrawn/ rejected/ approved? Or is it only visible to me the submitter?

  25. Great question. No, we can’t see how many submissions you’ve made elsewhere, or what your statistics are (such as acceptance rate, withdrawal rate, etc.). If we really wanted to, we could cull through our submissions records to see how many times you’ve submitted to our own venue, but really, who has time for that? πŸ™‚

  26. Thank you Kelly,
    Sometimes I think perhaps my stories are just too out there. But I’m sure someone somewhere will some day decide that it’s worth publishing πŸ™‚

  27. Kelly,
    Do editors see a writer’s control panel once they submit work through submittable/submishmash? Meaning, can they see whether you’ve simultaneously submitted somewhere else, or how many times the story has been rejected?

  28. Sandi–nope, we can’t see any of those bits of data. We can only see your cover letter, any information you’ve provided in your form (such as a mailing address), and your submission.

  29. Hi Kelly,

    If I submitted a piece two days ago — it’s in “received” mode, so no one has touched it — is it bad form to withdraw and resubmit. I made a couple of small changes — nothing earth-shatterings, but minor improvements. Would it be cleaner, and better all around to just leave it? FWIW: it’s a big mag that gets a lot of submissions. IF they haven’t touched it, will they care? Thanks!

  30. Hi, CEG. Good question. I can’t speak for everybody, but if I were in your position, I’d just leave it. Even if nobody’s touched it yet, someone will be getting email about its being withdrawn, and that email can get, for me, anyhow, kind of irritating. I’d leave well enough alone and just make the edits later after it’s (hopefully) accepted. πŸ™‚

  31. I have a question. I submitted a story on 7/26/12. The standard review period is 4 – 8 months. It has now been over 14 months. I’ve contacted the editors twice. They told me that they’ve had some delays, but that my story is still under consideration. I take that to mean that they just haven’t read it yet. But do you think they have read it and are considering it? You probably have no idea…

  32. Without my crystal ball, it’s hard to know, Mark. I would speculate that they’ve probably not read it, though, if they’ve not told you anything like “it’s passed the first several rounds of readings.” Generally, if I took a long time with a submission and I was genuinely interested in it, I tried to signal my good intentions toward the piece to the author (I didn’t want the author to give it to another publication).

  33. Dear Kelly:

    Thanks for writing this blog. It’s very helpful to a new user of submittable – that would be I. I am a bit distressed, though, to learn that unless it indicates “in progress” the piece has never been opened. I submitted two entries to a pay-to-be-read contest and neither ever were moved to “in progress” status. Both were declined. I have read elsewhere on the web that something could be being read even if it just says “received.” As an editor user, you indicated that this is not possible absent a technical glitch. I hate to be disillusioned right out of the writer’s gate. Do you think there’s any possibility of it being read while marked “received”?

    Many thanks,
    Beth Tillman

  34. Hi, Beth! I do want to say that I’m not 100% up on all things Submittable, and the interface does go through revamps from time to time, but in my personal experience, any piece that has been assigned, opened, or voted on is marked “in progress.”

    Now, is it possible that the two contests screwed you over? Unfortunately, yes. And there are unscrupulous contests out there who do take your fees and don’t give you a fair reading. But it’s also possible that the statuses were changed to “in progress” between the time you last checked a status to the time you got a response. (Unless you were checking your submissions page super frequently, which, as we know, is a great way to aggravate ourselves!)

  35. Dear Kelly:

    Thanks for swift response. I knew the contest winners (it was one publication, two entries to the same contest) were going to announced so I checked daily. I don’t believe it’s possible that they could have read it if its status would have changed. Checking too frequently is kind of like looking at the FB page of an old lover – you’re compelled even though it’s bad for you.

    Disillusionedly yours,

  36. Beth, I hope this experience doesn’t turn you off from submitting too much. There are many wonderful journals and contests that operate with integrity, so don’t let this one jerky journal keep you from sharing your voice!

  37. Thanks Kelly
    between your post and your responses to the ensuing queries, you have pretty well covered the few questions that concerned me relative to submissions. Thanks again.

  38. Hi,
    I was wondering if a status of “hold” is the same as “in progress”. I submitted to Calyx! thanks for any insight.

  39. Hi, Ksenia. The Hold status isn’t one I’m familiar with from my editing experience. I’ve been off Submittable for a little while, and perhaps a change to the UI has rolled out in the meantime. When I am back in full editing mode with the launch of Tahoma Literary Review shortly, I will look for this and report back!

  40. Just seconding Beth’s concern above (and David’s) that there is a certain large publisher that charges to enter poetry journal and manuscript contests (their journal submissions are fee-based only), and then announces the contest winners, all while my submission is never marked other than “received.” (I also never receive a response after the winners are announced. The submission just stays on my Submittable Dashboard in limbo.) It appears the manuscripts are never opened. I will certainly no longer submit to that publisher. Thanks for your insightful article.

  41. Hi, everyone. Here’s a new, fun wrinkle in the Submittable UI; I find that, in today’s version of Submittable (as opposed to earlier versions), it’s now technically possible to have opened a submission without the status changing. When I say “opened,” I mean that the editor can view the text of the submission without a change to the status if the editor uses the browser’s “back” button to return to the main submission list instead of using the return-to-list function in Submittable itself. I don’t know that there’s any reason an editor would want to do that, because it’s unhelpful, in my view, not to have a clear record of what I’ve opened or not opened, but it is, in this latest iteration of the system, possible. If an editor makes notes, votes, or assigns the work to someone else, the status will change to in-progress.

  42. Hi Kelly,

    Thank you for offering this thread and the rare opportunity to get the inside scoop on submitting. This is slightly off the topic, but hopefully not too far off. My question concerns timing. A lot of journals have a May 31 deadline, and here it is the 20th of May, and I wonder is this a BAD time to send work out? Is everybody burnt out and would it be better to just hold off until September? Put another way, will my work get as fair a reading now as it would at other times of the year? I know you can’t speak for all editors at all journals, but I wonder if you have thoughts about this. Thank you!!


  43. Hi Kelly,

    Thanks for this thread and for giving a bit of inside info on a process that is mysterious to many of us. My question is a bit off topic, but hopefully not too far off. Many journals have a May 31 deadline, after which they close up shop for the summer. Here it is May 20, and I’m wondering if this is a particularly BAD time to send out work. I wonder if readers and editors are burnt out by this point, and whether it would be better to simply wait until September. Put another way, if I send my work out now, will it get as fair a reading as it would at other times of the year? I know you can’t speak for all editors at all magazines, but I wonder if you have any thoughts on this. Many thanks!!


  44. Cheers for this thread. I’m pretty green and yr insights/ observations/experience have really helped. Obviously nothing takes away the pain of having submitted a novel (to McSweeneys) and relentlessly/ sadistically reminding yrself just how many days is it since you submitted the bloody thing, 65 – for the curious. When “In-progress” changes, whatever the result, I think I’ll feel a bit lost.

  45. Sorry for a slow reply to your comment, ghiglica–the summer does tend to be a bit slow, that’s true. Many journals in academia shut their doors for the summer. I personally tend to wait for fall with academic journals, since I know readers will be back from vacation and feeling enthusiastic. Having said that, many great, non-academic journals read year-round, and those are great places to approach in the slower summer months.

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