Okay so actually this happened several weeks ago, and I just forgot to post about it until now. It’s my tradition to post whenever I hit another rejection century, but my short story submission volume is wayyyy down this year, so it’s taken quite awhile. Looking back, I see my last post like this (for my 1400th) was more than a year ago! That’s a major slowdown. For awhile I was getting 100 rejections every 200 days.
As always, previous rejection milestones are listed below:
The truth is that I write far fewer short stories nowadays. My last major spurt of short story writing was when I was at Burning Man last year, where I wrote six stories (none of which have sold! So much for the inspirational effects of the playa!) This summer I wrote 2-3, only one of which is any good. That one’s been out for two months at a market well known for its short response times, so we’ll see. Would be nice to sell it, as I think it’s the most psychologically complex piece I’ve ever written (it’s about an alien child, an immigrant to the Earth, that develops a sexual fixation on a human military hero).
Looking at my submissions log, I see that it hasn’t just been rejections. Since my 1400th, I’ve also gotten acceptances from IGMS (my 3rd), Nightmare (my 1st), Interzone (also a 1st), Daily SF (my 5th), and a few other semi-pro magazines. Two of those stories, “Empty Planets” in Interzone” and “The Girl Who Escaped From Hell” in Nightmare, are amongst my favorite from those I’ve published. Both of them were written in the years since my graduation from my MFA. Which is nice. It’s good to know that I can still turn a short story on occasion.
Yep, reached the big 1.4k a few days ago. These milestones haven’t felt as large since I hit 1,000. In fact, I didn’t notice this one until a few days after it happened.
My submission volume is way, way down. I’ve gone from writing 20-30 stories in a year to writing, well, fewer than that. Although this year I’m already up to ten, so who knows?
1400 is the close of a decent century. I sold a story to Lightspeed, “Here Is My Thinking On A Matter That Concerns Us All” is going to be in their November issue. And I sold a story to Nature: not sure when “Corridors” is going to appear, but I think it’ll be before the end of the year.
As always, previous rejection milestones are listed below:
That’s nice. This blog has been around for so long! And I’e been submitting stories for sooooooo long. I’m sure nobody will do this other than me, but it’s interesting to go back through the milestone posts and see the change in mood over time. There are some pretty major variations in my level of optimism re: my writing prospects. Nowadays that anxiety has simmered down a little bit, especially with regards to my short fiction. I’ve certainly had better years, in terms of selling stories, than this one. But it also hasn’t been terrible. I feel like nowadays I’m in it for the long haul.
I normally keep very close tabs on how many short story rejections I have, but this one slipped past me. I just happened to notice it when I was glancing at my spreadsheet. Mostly, this is because I’m not really focused on short stories anymore. I have so many unrevised stories left over from my MFA program that it almost seems pointless to write new ones. And, at the same time, I’ve been finding that novel-writing is taking much longer and using much more of my brain than it used to. And, finally, I’ve been having a bear of a time writing anything science-fictional and, actually, have not been able to complete a work of SF since this time last year.
But I do still go through submission sprees (I currently have 47 submissions out), and I am still happy when I sell a story.
Since my last rejection centennial, I have (I believe) sold three stories. One to Clarkesworld. One to the literary magazine Birkensnake. And another, still forthcoming, to the Indiana Review. All told, I am pleased with all of these, but I am probably most pleased with the Indiana Review, since that’s not only my most formally atypical story (it’s told in the form of a time-usage chart) but it’s also fulfills my long-standing desire to have a story in a [Place Name] Review.
As always, previous rejection milestones are listed below:
As you can see, this represents a severe slackening of rejection pace. One that’s due, almost entirely, to a smaller submissions volume. A large part of that is because I trunked about twenty stories that I’d been submitting for awhile (some of them as old as four years ago) which I could no longer really stand behind.
This is due almost entirely to all my submissions to literary journals, which’ve increased my submissions volume 2-fold. Nowadays, it’s rare for me to have fewer than 80 submissions out, and I frequently have more than 100.
I’ve gotten three acceptances along with the 100 rejections. I’ve sold stories to Daily Science Fiction, Nature, and a chapbook whose distribution channel I’m unsure of (I think it has something to do with a convention?) All sales were at pro rates.
I feel as if I’ve exhausted my stockpile of rejection-related wisdom. I feel as if I’m past the place where there’s any pride to be had from rejection volume. I’m only posting this entry because I’ve turned this into a tradition.
Since my first story submission went out on 12/20/03, this fruit of just almost ten whole years of submissions! That is a lot of rejections.
This was not even close to being my most successful century. Since getting my 1000th rejection, I’ve only sold one story: “The Days When Papa Takes Me To War” to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Whereas I’d previously been averaging around 3-5 acceptances per 100 submissions. Part of it is that I started intensively submitting to literary magazines, where I think my odds are lower. But part of it is just the natural vicissitudes of a writing career. As you write, you go through flapping phases and gliding phases. When you flap, you gain altitude (i.e. you become a better writer), but you look extremely ungainly (i.e. there’s a certain roughness to your stories). When you glide, you’re not getting any better, but you look pretty smooth (i.e. your stories come out more polish). Hmm, this metaphor might’ve been more trouble than it’s worth.
Sometimes, though, I encounter people who are surprised that I still get rejected so often. To them, I say…yes, it actually is a bit surprising. Most writers who’ve sold 15 or 20 stories at professional rates are not getting rejected as of often as I do. Actually, most writers–even those who’ve been publishing and submitting for decades–don’t have as many rejections as I do. What can I say? Different people go about things in different ways. And sometimes different people go about things in the same way, but they get different results.
Actually, I don’t really get disappointed by short story rejections. Instead, I tend to just forget that it’s even possible to get an acceptance. Whenever one comes, it’s actually a bit shocking to me.
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 #
Abyss and Apex
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.
Yep, just got it half an hour ago, from West Branch (it looks like at least a few literary magazines will reject you in less than a month). Not sure if I have too much commentary on this one. I actually got three rejections today*, so that makes 901 rejections from 190 markets on 136 stories. Since getting my eight hundredth rejection, I’ve sold four stories, so that’s not bad. As you can see from looking at the dates of my previous milestones, I’ve finally reached an inflection point in terms of rejection milestones.
For the first time in my submissions career, it’s taken longer to get to the current hundred than it took me to get the previous hundred. My submissions volume has remained fairly constant over this time (if anything, it’s increased), but my stories do seem to be getting held longer for consideration nowadays. But, in any case, it still amounted to one short story rejection every two days.
I think it’s no secret that I’m proud of these numbers. There’s no way to control whether stuff gets accepted or not, but these numbers tell me that I’m still upholding my part of the bargain. After almost nine years (I sent out my first submission on or around December 20th, 2003), I’m still assiduous in my submissions: I still revise stories and send them out; I still keep submitting them even after they get rejected; and I still don’t let rejection bother me too much.
However, I will say, to all the aspiring writers out there, that my rejection count is alot higher than most peoples’. I think this is because I submitted the first story I ever wrote and I’ve rarely written a story that I did not submit. Basically, over the years I’ve been the source of a substantial amount of the really bad stuff in the slush. If you’ve already been writing seriously for a few years, then it’s likely that you’ll start above that. It seems to me like it’s more typical for writers who’ve reached my career-stage to have something more like 100-300 total rejections.
*Actually, it was two rejections and one story that I’ve been meaning to write off as a non-response, since it’s been well over a year since I sent it out.
Last Friday, I got a form rejection from Nature. That rejection was my 800th short story rejection. That number is so impossibly high. It is 123 stories that have been rejected from 175 markets. Since I sent out my first submissions on December 20th, 2003, I’ve gotten, on average, a rejection every four days. For a long time, the only things that I got were rejections, so I looked to my rejection count as a primary writing indicator. More submissions meant more chances at success, but it also meant more rejections. Since rejections were directly correlated with submissions, rejections were good. It meant that I was making progress.
And now I have soooooo many! I am absurdly proud of my rejection count. Awhile back, Jay Lake had a thread on how many rejections people had gotten before making their first pro sale (you can even see me comment on it; back then I had only a puny 312 rejections), and my number was so much higher than most people’s. Until then, I’d simply assumed that almost everyone had to garner a few hundred rejections before making any decent sales. But that is actually not the case.
In any case, here is a list of my other rejection milestone posts. As you can see, I am actually getting rejected much more often now than I was at the beginning of my career. This is a little surprising, since my stories tend to get held longer than they used to and they’re more likely to sell (both of which tend to reduce rejection-count). I think that my increased productivity and diligence in submitting have, for now, more than made up for any increase in writing skill.
In the comments to one of these posts, someone wrote in praise of my tenacity, and I wrote back saying that tenacity was all well and good, but sooner or later one has to take the hint. I wrote that if I wasn’t seeing much success by the time of my eight hundredth rejection, I might consider quitting. Luckily, my success has come fast enough (for now), to forestall weariness. In terms of sales, this last century has been the best one yet. I’ve sold six stories, all at pro rates, to Daily SF, Clarkesworld, Apex, IGMS, Redstone, and a theme anthology whose editor will hopefully get back to me soon on whether it’s okay to announce the sale to y’all. That is some pretty good selling right there, and it includes two markets–Apex and IGMS–which had rejected me 21 and 22 times (respectively) before finally accepting something of mine.
I was going to talk about some more about noir novels today, but instead I am going to post about getting my seven hundredth rejection (yesterday, from Lightspeed). Long-time readers might recall my previous rejection milestones:
Clearly, this is an accelerating pace (which is due, mostly, to increased submissions volume). At this rate, I can expect 800 to come in around 5-6 months.
Saleswise, this has been my best century so far. From rejections 501-600, I sold exactly nothing, but from 601-700, I’ve made 5 short story sales (3 of them at professional rates), so that’s definitely something.
Every time I make this post, I am somewhat astonished at these ever-growing statistics: 105 stories of mine have gotten at least one rejection, and 165 markets have rejected at least one story of mine.
I feel pretty good about where I’m at, and I have reason to believe that my next century will be even more successful than the last one. However, I am looking forward to the day when my rejection rate slows down, not because my productivity has decreased, but because editors are buying my stories at a rate sufficient to slow my submissions volume (since frequently-rejected stories are better for submissions volume than quickly-accepted ones). It will be nice to reach a day when years–multiple years–pass between rejection centuries.
In keeping with the general acceleration of my writing career, it took me four and a half years of submitting to get my first three hundred rejections, but only two and a half to get me my next three hundred. Some readers might also remember that my sale to Clarkesworld occurred right after my 500th rejection, meaning that 100 rejections have gone by since then without any positive news.
But that’s okay. I read only already-published and largely already-canonized books, but even amongst that selection, I find that some books speak to me and some do not. Some books, just because I was forced to read them in high school, or because I read them during a lunch break when I was particularly anxious and distracted, will never appeal to me in the way they would have if I had read them on the beach, or during a long plane trip. I assume that this problem is much worse for editors, who read stories under immense constraints in terms of time and speed, and who read the rawest, least pre-selected stories possible, and who, hence, cannot help but assume that any given story they’ll read is going to be kind of mediocre. I know that I’m getting better, and that I’ve written many stories much superior to the ones I’ve sold, and I feel confident that eventually some editor’s mind will click at the same time as he or she is reading one of my stories, and I will succeed once again.
But in the meantime, it’s fun to have 600 rejections. At this rate, I will reach my goal of 1,000 in only 36 months, or March 2014.