Some thoughts (and additional statistics) re: my thousandth short story rejections

If I had a nickel for every rejection I've gotten, I'd have...$50 (and fifteen cents)
If I had a nickel for every rejection I’ve gotten, I’d have…$50 (and fifteen cents)

Well, it finally happened. I got my one thousandth rejection! And then I got three more. And now I have 1,003. And I’m too lazy to temporarily delete the last three, so all of the below will be the numbers for 1,003 rejections.

I started submitting on Dec. 20th, 2003 (meaning I’ve gotten approximately 2 rejections a week for nine years). These rejections arise from submitting 142 stories to 255 publications (and contests).  However, the vast majority of those publications only saw 1-4 submissions from me. Actually, over half my rejections are accounted for by just 20 publications (as shown by the table below).

#

Name of Magazine

# of Rejections It Gave Me

Cumulative Rejections by Magazines 1 to #

1

Lightspeed

73

73

2

Clarkesworld

46

119

3

Shimmer

43

162

4

Asimov’s

36

198

5

F&SF

35

233

6

Strange Horizons

35

268

7

Daily SF

32

300

8

Apex Magazine

31

331

9

Medicine Show

26

357

10

Analog

25

382

11

Ideomancer

24

406

12

ASIM

21

427

13

Abyss and Apex

18

445

14

Fictitious Force

17

462

15

WotF

14

476

16

Ceaseless Skies

13

489

17

Flash Online

13

502

18

Baen’s Universe

12

514

19

Aeon Specfic

11

525

20

Pedestal

10

535

As you can see, just four publications have given me a fifth of my total rejections. Eleven publications are responsible for 40% of my rejections.  Out of these top twenty publications, I’ve only sold stories to five of them. For many of these publications, I’m probably amongst their top 20 or 30 most prolific submitters.

Although I submit to both literary and SF publications, only 87 of these rejections are from literary journals. The rest are all from SF magazines.

My pace of submission has increased significantly over time. My first 500 rejections took me 6.5 years to accumulate. Receiving the last 500 took only 3 years. And that’s not even counting rejections from novel agents, publishers, and nonfiction publications (all of which are types of submissions that I only began sending out in the last two years). And, as you can see, my pace of rejection is still only increasing (I attribute this to my increasing numbers of submissions to lit-mags, which allows me to have an extra 20-30 submissions out at a time).

I have to say, I am proud of the record of determination and tenacity that this represents. But…I have to say, I once polled authors on how many rejections they’d gotten in their lives and I learned that it doesn’t usually take 1,003 rejections to get to where I am today. I’m not quite sure why it’s taken me so many more stories and so many more submissions to get my double-handful of publications. Furthermore, it’s not like it’s smooth sailing for me. I don’t see any slowdown in the pace of rejection. In 5-6 months, I fully expect to be posting about my 1,100th rejection. And I’m not sure how happy I am about that. I kind of feel like, at this point in my writing life, I should be past getting 25 rejections for every acceptance, but that’s where I’ve been for roughly the last 2.5 years.

The obvious answer is that I should be writing less and putting more time and care into my work. But I’m honestly not really sure whether I do put less time into each story than other writers. Earlier in my career, I didn’t do much revising, but nowadays I spend quite a lot of time on my stories. My short stories are usually the result of 12-25 hours of labor and a number of redrafts. I’m not sure how much harder I could be working on them. I think that my increased prolificity is just because I work longer hours than most writers. For instance, many writers say that they work two hours a day, but I know that their estimates are soft. They’re not counting the days when they did nothing. Or the days when they intended to work two hours but only worked an hour. They’re not counting the month of vacation they took. I count all those things. Even inclusive of everything, I work about 100 minutes a day. Which is not where I want to be, but it’s pretty good.

But, at the same time, I feel like I’m not getting quite the results that I want. I don’t know. In everything, there’s always a tension between refining your method and trying something new. And right now, I really don’t see any obvious improvements to make in my method other than engaging in more and more redrafts. I really think at this point, the answer is to just keep writing stories. I am still learning things, and I do think that the stories I’m writing nowadays are better than the ones I wrote at this time last year. Oh well, we’ll see.

I’ve stopped expecting to be that person who gets suddenly discovered and has this meteoric rise. Maybe I didn’t work my cards right for that. Maybe if I’d held off on submitting for ten years…maybe if I’d relentlessly honed one story until it was perfect…maybe if I’d gone about things a bit differently…I don’t know.

I all the time hear people say that they’re not willing to do something because it somehow doesn’t fit into their psychology. For instance, people say they’re not willing to network or to use social media because they’re too shy / anxious / awkward / introverted. And, I always think, “Well, yeah, that’s definitely a choice that you can make…but it’s going to hurt you. It’d be way better to just gather your courage and do what you know you have to do.”

So I am suspicious of myself when I say that I don’t feel psychologically equipped to take that laid-back, aristocratic way of doing things–submitting only one story every three months and trusting that it’ll get picked up, because people won’t have acclimatized themselves to the essence of you-ness. But that’s just not what comes naturally to me. I think it’s hard to find a method that allows you to produce work that you’re happy with. And mine has brought me a lot of success and has allowed me to springboard past a lot of rough patches that would’ve brought down other people.

The main argument against my method is that it seems to involve a lot more work per unit of success than many other methods do. But if that’s how it is, then that’s how it is.

6 thoughts on “Some thoughts (and additional statistics) re: my thousandth short story rejections

  1. Gabriel Murray

    Damn, 73 from Lightspeed alone. I definitely haven’t written 73 short stories. I’m not even sure I’ve had 73 different ideas for short stories, to be frank. Hearing other people’s numbers always reminds me that the ways writers do things are about as variegated as the stories they write.

    I all the time hear people say that they’re not willing to do something because it somehow doesn’t fit into their psychology. For instance, people say they’re not willing to network or to use social media because they’re too shy / anxious / awkward / introverted. And, I always think, “Well, yeah, that’s definitely a choice that you can make…but it’s going to hurt you. It’d be way better to just gather your courage and do what you know you have to do.”

    I have kind of mixed feelings on advice like this; I’m not really introverted myself, but I think to some degree you have to also work with what you’ve got when it comes to your career, not with what you want or what you think you should have. If you have social anxiety and you realize that networking and social media harm your work more than they help it because they cause you to be freaked-out and distracted, there’s no sin in marking that down as an acceptable loss, I think, and not playing the social media game. I know a lot of writers (and people in general) who spin their wheels trying to follow conventional advice when they’re people the conventional advice just isn’t very useful to. I’m not really disagreeing with you, as I think your point also is quite salient with people who just have a mild distaste for social media or find it tedious or whatever, but I think to some degree in a career in the arts you have to figure out how best you play the game and play that, not someone else’s. Not even for any sentimental reasons, but because people who loathe networking tend to make mediocre networkers.

    For the record, I think I’ve actually heard more industrious, write-very-day people talk about writing than people who subscribe to more of that “laid-back, aristocratic” method–maybe because it’s hard to say “haha actually I don’t really work that hard, I just have enough confidence in my own awesomeness to take risks” without sounding like a douche. There’s a ton of “writing is a tedious, hard-working, pragmatic business, do it when you don’t feel like it and always keep the business in mind!” advice out there, but I have a suspicion a lot of people don’t actually follow it. If nothing else, people who are sensible enough to follow that tend to choose a different aspiration, like something with a saner risk profile. /ramble

  2. debs

    Thanks, Rahul. You know that I love all kinds of writing stats. I must be over 1000 rejections by now. Last time I counted I was at 800, and that was a while ago.

    I’d be interested to know how many prolific subbers there are out there. I know quite a few, and I don’t know that many people. Maybe 20% of the writers are responsible for 80% of all submissions?

  3. six blocks east of mars

    I would very much like to be as prolific as you are someday soon. I truly aspire to 1,000 rejections because I know that means I’m writing more and faster than I do now. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Haha, hopefully you see success much sooner than 1,000 rejections! Most people do =) But if it takes a thousand, then I hope you have the fortitude to get there!

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