I recently had a story published with Radon Journal called “When Gods Walk”, and I thought it might be interesting to detail this story’s journey toward publication. It’s one of those pieces that’s been all over the place and, I think, it’s submission record illustrates the unpredictable nature of the publishing industry and one of the most important concepts for new authors to embrace: good stories get rejected, too.
Let’s start with the raw numbers. Below is a table featuring the date, market tier, time on submission, and result for each submission of “When Gods Walk.”
|Submission||Sub Date||Market Tier||Days Out||Result|
|1||2/19/2021||Pro||22||Final-Round Personal Rejection|
The submission journey for “When Gods Walk” started out with a bang. That first rejection was from Flash Fiction Online, and though it didn’t make the final cut, getting that far gave me the confidence to keep sending the story out. I mean, every time that’s happened with FFO, I went on to sell the story elsewhere in short order. This time, well, that wasn’t the case.
Riding high on my almost from FFO, my next five submissions were all to pro markets. The personal rejection was another close-but-no-cigar, so that convinced me to keep submitting. Unfortunately, none of these submission panned out, and I sent the story to its first semi-pro market soon after . . . which folded after holding my submission for over three months. After that, I let the story sit for a while before sending it to two more semi-pro markets, where it was rejected, and then to another pro market where it was also rejected. I tried one more pro market roughly a year ago, got close, got rejected, and then took it as a sign that the story was probably not gonna sell.
Fast forward to eight months later when I was thinking about stories I could send to Radon Journal that might fit their dystopian/transhumanist/anarchist themes. I dug “When Gods Walk” out of the trunk, found that it’s subject matter might be a good fit, and fired it off. They liked it, and it was lucky number submission thirteen for the win!
So, what can we learn from the submission journey of “When Gods Walk”?
If you’d like to read “When Gods Walk” along with a whole bunch of other excellent stories and poems, check out Radon Journal #4, which is free to read online.
Recently, as I was looking at submissions at Duotrope, it struck me how some of my submission records for various markets paint an interesting picture of how submissions and publications tend to work. Primarily, these records show how important it is to match up the right story with the right editor/market. Not every story, no matter how good, is going to be a good fit for every publisher. I pulled my submission records for one of my favorite flash fiction markets, Factor Four Magazine, to illustrate this point. Below, you can see the 18 submissions I’ve sent to Factor Four, the outcome of each, and if the story was subsequently published elsewhere and with who.
Note, that Factor Four or any publisher is not wrong for rejecting a story, even one that sells elsewhere. That’s extremely common, even with stories rejected and bought by the biggest pro markets. As I said above, publishing a story is about finding the right market for it, and I think the submission record below is clear evidence of that.
|Pieces of Heaven||Factor Four Response||Published|
|Coffee Fiend||Factor Four|
|Pieces of Heaven|
|Reporting for Duty||Flash Point SF|
|When Gods Walk||Radon Journal|
|Hail to the King|
|Mixed Signals||Flash Point SF|
|What You Pay For||The Arcanist|
|Time Waits for One Man||Factor Four|
|Far Shores and Ancient Graves||NewMyths|
|The Inside People||The Molotov Cocktail|
|What Kind of Hero||Ellipsis Zine|
|Your Donation is Greatly Appreciated|
|When the Lights Go On||The Arcanist|
Okay, let’s dive into this and see if there’s anything we can learn. In my experience, one of the best ways to learn what kind of story a publisher likes is to, well, send them stories. Reading the magazine is definitely a good place to start, but after that, paying close attention to your rejections and acceptances can be absolute gold.
So, is there anything similar about the two stories and one close-but-no cigar rejection from Factor Four? There is. One, each of the stories deals with some aspect of Christian/biblical mythology: “Time Waits for One Man” is about well-known biblical figure, “What You Pay For” is about a Faustian deal (with a little Greek mythology thrown in), and “Coffee Fiend” is an urban fantasy piece about angels and demons. Two, each story has a fair amount of dialogue. Three, each is written with a sense of grim humor. And, four, each has kind of a twist ending. Now, it should be noted that writing a supernatural story with lots of dialogue, a little humor, a twist ending, and with Christian mythological themes is not a recipe for instant success with Factor Four. In fact, they rejected my story “Another Path”, which features all those elements. It is entirely possible that these elements are simply coincidental, and the editor just liked each story regardless of their similarities. Keep that in mind before you start writing that grimly hilarious, dialogue-laden story about Moses the vampire. 🙂
As for the stories that Factor Four rejected and were published elsewhere, there’s something to learn there as well. The biggest thing, again, is that a story that doesn’t fit for one market might be a great fit for another. Once more, for the folks in back, this is not about an editor being wrong when they reject a story. It’s about editorial taste and market fit. Interestingly, before The Arcanist sadly went on indefinite hiatus, they published a lot of my supernatural/humorous stories, so it’s not too surprising they picked up “What You Pay For.” The two stories accepted by Radon Journal are fairly bleak dystopian pieces that comment on religion and the value of human life. They’re similar in tone, and I felt like they might be a good fit based on Radon’s guidelines and want list (it’s nice to be right every now and then). The two stories I sold to Flash Point SF are both near future sci-fi pieces, and although somewhat bleak, they have what I’d call hopeful or even uplifting endings. The other sold stories here run the gamut of themes and genres, and I wouldn’t say they give me any strong indication of the publisher’s tastes. Those that haven’t sold yet, well, all but one have been retired after close to or more than double digit rejections.
To sum up, pay close attention to your submission track record with a publisher, even if you haven’t cracked them yet. If you’re getting close-but-no-cigar rejections or if you’re actually getting accepted with the same kinds of stories, you’ve likely hit on the market’s individual tastes, and that, my friend, is damn fine information to have.
Have you identified the specific tastes of any of your favorite markets? I’d love to hear about in the comments.
There are a lot of valid reasons to withdraw a submission, and I’ve covered most of them on this blog. Generally, a submission is withdrawn because the publisher fails to respond in a timely manner or at all or, more commonly, the submission is accepted elsewhere in the process of a sim-sub. You can have a look at my thoughts on those withdrawal situations like those here and here. But, is there ever a time an author might consider pulling a story after it’s been accepted? Unfortunately, there is. Let’s talk about that.
The Rights Reversion Clause
When a publisher accepts a story, they have you sign a contract, and, most of the time, they’ll give you a publication date for your work. That date might be tentative, but in my experience, most publishers get in the ballpark of when they say they’re going to publish. But what if that date comes and goes, and the story is not published? Well, then everything hinges on one important clause in the contract called a rights reversion clause or sometimes a drop dead date.
Here’s what that clause might look like (from the SFWA model contract)
If the Publisher fails to publish the Work by [the date by which first publication must be made], all rights granted hereunder shall immediately revert to the Author. In such event, the Author shall retain any payments made under this Agreement prior to such reversion.
The SFWA model contract suggests a maximum period of one year before rights revert to the author. So, if a publisher has this clause in their contract, and they fail to publish the story within the stated time, the rights immediately return to you, and you can start submitting the story elsewhere. But should you? Let me answer this by saying only once in all my publications has a publisher even gotten close to activating this clause. When they did, I reached out with a status query and got an immediate update and a new publication date. Since they’d already paid me, and they were prompt and professional with the reply, I was happy to wait. I’ve been a magazine editor, and I know shit happens. Stories can fall through the cracks, things get shuffled around, and you’re just trying to do your best to keep the trains running on time. So, if a publisher communicates with me openly and honestly, as the one above did, I’m not gonna pull the story. Your mileage may vary, but I’d give the editor a chance to respond, give me a new date, and proceed from there. If they don’t respond or keep stringing you along, well, then, it might be time to move on.
If you do decide to pull a story in this situation, I think you should do the professional thing and notify the publisher that the rights reversion clause has been activated and you’re moving on. How a publisher might respond to this is anyone’s guess, but, at this point, you’ve been patient, and it’s not fair for a publisher to lock up your story for a year or more without any kind of publication date in sight.
No Rights Reversion Clause
Let me start all this by saying that I am not an attorney, and what follows is simply my layman’s interpretations of publisher contract language based on personal experience. So, this is not legal advice or anything of the sort.
So, what happens if all the things mentioned above come to pass but the publisher does NOT have a rights reversion clause in their contract? Well, then things get more complicated. First, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask a publisher to amend a contract and add a rights reversion clause before you sign it. Some might do it, some might not, but at least you can then make the determination to sign the contract or not and avoid any issues with an accepted story languishing in publication limbo. But let’s say you signed a contract that doesn’t include a rights reversion clause and the months start to pass, no publication date is forthcoming, or the one you were originally given comes and goes without publication. What do you do then? As always, I believe communication is key. Send the publisher a status query asking for a new publication date. If you get one, then I’d say give the publisher a chance to make good. If you get crickets or a nebulous response, then you’re kind of in a tough spot.
As far as I understand it, without the rights reversion clause, there isn’t a simple way for you to pull your story if a publisher fails to publish it in a timely manner. The best you can do is contact the publisher and request that they let you out of the contract. That said and again, as I understand it, the publisher is under no obligation to release the story back to you. If you go ahead and publish it elsewhere anyway, you’re might be in breach of contract. Anyone with a background in contract law, please correct me in the comments if I’m off-base here.
Failure to Publish Best Practices
In short, this is a shitty situation no author wants to find themselves in. Luckily, out of some 700 submissions, I’ve only run into a situation like this once, so I don’t think it’s particularly common, especially with publishers who have a rights reversion clause in their contracts. The best thing you can do to avoid situations like the ones above is make sure you cover your bases with a rights reversion clause before you sign on the dotted line. Then, if you are forced to pull a story, you’re covered from a legal standpoint, which makes the whole shitty process a little less shitty. 🙂
Thoughts on rights reversion clauses and failure to launch? If you have any legal insight into this situation, I’d definitely love to hear about it in the comments.
Well, the first year of 2023 is in the books, and it wasn’t exactly a barn-burner. More on that in a bit.
I didn’t exactly hit the ground running in 2023, and six submissions is somewhat disappointing. I need around nine per month to reach my annual goal of one-hundred submissions. To tell you the truth, I took a bit of a break in January, and I needed it. Burnout is a real thing, and sometimes you gotta step back and take a breath. With that done, I’m feeling better and ready to get back to work in February. Interesting thing about these submissions is that all six are for two stories. Quick rejections and resubs plus sim-subs can boost your numbers quickly. 🙂
Five rejections in January.
So, four of the five rejections were just standard form letters. The wait on a few of those was mildly irritating, but that’s part of the gig. The one personal rejection, though, is a tough one. You see, it’s not for a short story; it’s for a novel.
Thank you so much for letting me read your manuscript, [title], and please excuse the regrettable delay in getting back to you.
It’s an interesting manuscript, and there’s a lot to like in it, including some fine writing. You have a very good style. Unfortunately, due to the high volume of submissions that [publisher] receives, I’m forced to be extremely selective when it comes to acquisitions. And so I won’t be able to make an offer for your work.
I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you, but I wish you the best of luck in placing your work with the right house.
If you write something else in the future, I’d be glad to see it. In the meantime, thanks again for thinking of [publisher].
It’s a nice, thoughtful rejection, but needless to say, there’s a difference between getting a rejection for a 1,000-word flash piece and a 90,000-word novel. One you barely notice, and the other can be a bit of gut punch. Still, like any rejection, you have to roll up your sleeves and get back to work. In this case, I’ll be reading through the novel again to see of there’s anything I want or need to change, and then I’ll send it out again.
January was a pretty good month for publications, and I published two piece of flash and one bit of freelance fiction. The two flash pieces are some of my favorite I’ve written, and I think “Coffee Fiend”, published at Factor Four Magazine, is up there with my best. Anyway, you can check out both flash pieces by clicking the links below.
And that was January. How was your month?
Well, 2022 is in the books, and, as usual, I’ve put together a quick roundup of my writing endeavors and results for the past year.
My goal is always 100 submissions per year, and I clearly fell short of that. I just kind of ran out of steam in late November. I also ran out of good stories to submit, which is something I need to address very soon. Still, overall, I’m satisfied with my numbers. My acceptance percentage is solid at over 15% (the second, higher number is the percentage if you don’t count the withdrawals and no responses). I wish I’d sent more subs, of course, and if you just go by the numbers, I might have netted another acceptance or two if I had.
So, I had a total of 93,716 words published or accepted to be published in 2022. That’s a novel’s-worth of words, so not too shabby. The Total Words Written is really a guess, as it includes things like blog posts, microfiction, unfinished projects, and finished but unaccepted/unpublished projects. It’s probably a bit more than that 150k, but I’m being conservative. I’m a little disappointed with this output, as I think I should have published a bit more. There are lots of reasons why that didn’t happen, and ones I hope to rectify in the new year.
I had some good publications in 2023, but the best of the bunch is my baseball horror novella Effectively Wild. You can be a pal, click the cover below, and get yourself a copy. 🙂
In addition to the novella, I published a fair amount of flash fiction, much of it free to read on the interwebs. Here are three of my favorites and the links to check them out.
Well, you can’t have a year-end writing review without talking about goals for the coming year, but I’ll be brief. Here are a few of the things I’d like to get done in 2023.
Those last two WILL happen, and the other three are certainly doable. Of course, there are other things I’d like to get done, but most of that is marketing related and, frankly, pretty boring, so I’ll end here and say I’m optimistic about 2023. 🙂
And that, friends, was my 2022. I’d love to here how your writing year went. Tell me all about it in the comments.
Recently, I sent my 700th short story submission. That number spans a period of ten years since I started tracking them religiously (hah!) on Duotrope. Whenever I hit a big milestone like this, I like to break down all numbers, get WAY too analytical and then inflict the result on my readers. So, here we go. 🙂
First, here are the basic stats for the 703 submission I’ve sent since April 16, 2012.
I’m closing in on 100 acceptances, which is pretty good. The rejections numbers are about what you’d figure for that many submissions, and my acceptance percentage comes out to just over 17% (not counting non-responses, withdrawals, and pending subs). I can live with that.
Lets get a little more granular and look at the number of markets I’ve submitted to and the number of stories I’ve sent.
That’s a lot of stories and a lot of publishers. Most of those stories have either been accepted or retired, though there’s still a few crusty old tales making the rounds. I’ve sent a ton of stories to The Molotov Cocktail, but they’ve accepted a ton of stories. They even published my collection of flash fiction Night Walk, which, if you’re so inclined, you can buy here. “Set in Stone” is my number one loser. It’s racked up plenty of close-but-no-cigar rejections but never quite made the cut. It has been put out to pasture now where it can live out the remainder of its days in peace and quiet with the all my other also-rans.
Now let’s dig even further and examine how the numbers reveal the trials and tribulations of being a short fiction writer.
Here are the top five markets I’ve subbed most to where I’ve had at least ONE acceptance.
Clearly, The Molotov Cocktail and The Arcanist dig my work, and my hit rate is 26% and 32% respectively. Flame Tree Press and Factor Four Magazine are in that 10% to 15% range of pro markets that I’ve actually cracked. I’ve only managed to sell a single piece to New Myths, though I’ve gotten close a couple of other times. I guess I should go back to that one story and see what I did right.
Okay, now the bad news. Here are the top five markets I’ve subbed most to WITHOUT an acceptance. Read ’em and weep.
If you write and submit short genre fiction, you’re gonna be familiar with these markets. Of the five, I’ve gotten closest with Flash Fiction Online, making their final round of deliberations three times. I’ve made it out of the slush pile at Apex a handful of times but no further. I’ve received some nice personal rejections from F&SF, but I don’t think I’ve come very close to publication based on Duotrope stats for acceptance response times. I’ve only received form rejections from The Dark and Daily Science Fiction. I’m going to keep trying with all these markets except Daily Science Fiction, as they are, sadly, going on indefinite hiatus. I think I have a good chance of cracking Flash Fiction Online one of these days. The others? Who knows. I’ll just have to keep submitting and find out.
Now lets look at number for individual stories. First, here are my most subbed stories that I eventually sold.
Although “Paper Cut” and “The Scars You Keep” have the same number of submissions, the latter was accepted on its 19th submission and the former on its 16th. I’ve sent “Paper Cut” out as a reprint a few times. The same goes for “Caroline”, which I sold on the 13th attempt and then sold again as a reprint on the 18th. Both “The Downer” and “Hell to Pay – Installment Plans Available!” are recent sales, and what you see is the actual number of submissions it took me to sell each piece. One thing I should point out is that all these are short stories in the 3,000 to 5,000 word range, and they all received multiple final-round rejections before I eventually sold them. It always takes me longer (more subs) to sell short stories, whereas I sell flash fiction in the first three to five attempts. I have no idea why. Regardless of how many submissions were needed, I was happy to find a home for these pieces.
And now for the list of luckless losers. Here are the stories with the most submissions WITHOUT an acceptance.
I mentioned “Set in Stone” earlier, but it is the king of not for us’s and we’re gonna pass’s in my list of stories. It and “After Birth” have been retired. The latter was never ready for prime time, and I think the idea is one I no longer want to explore. The other three stories are of more recent vintage, and two of them, “Coffin Shopping” and “Time Has No Memory” are currently out on submission. I’ll submit “When Gods Walk” again at some point when another suitable market appears. Of the five, “Time Has No Memory” is the best, in my opinion, and it’s come close with a number of pro markets. I have a lot of faith in that one, and I think I’ll sell it eventually. Maybe even to the market it’s currently under consideration with. 🙂
Well, that’s a quick look 700 submissions. There’s a lot more data I could dump on you, but I think I’ll refrain for the moment. 🙂
Have you hit any major submission or publishing milestones lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
November was a very slow month in submission land, but it wasn’t a total bust.
Pretty terrible submission numbers despite the acceptance. November was a rough month in a lot of ways, and I got a little off track with submissions, focusing more on other aspects of my writing. Anyway, I’m sitting at 79 total submissions for the year, and it is highly unlikely I hit 100 for 2022. That’s okay, though. A dozen acceptances has made the year a decent one, and if I can hit 90 subs with another acceptance or two, I’ll call 2022 a marginal victory. Here are more overall yearly statistics via Duotrope.
That acceptance percentage is right where I want it to be. I’ve always said that if you can hit a 10% acceptance rate, you’re doing okay. Anything over that is gravy. Now, this graphic illustrates a problem, and it’s a simple one. If I were to submit more, I’d get more acceptances. Let’s say I doubled the number of subs, but my acceptance percentage stayed the same (which I think it would), I’d be looking at 25 acceptances for the year. That’s pretty damn good, and it’s doable I think. Oh, one quick note. It’s actually 79 subs because one of my submissions in 2022 is to a market, Diabolical Plots, that is not in the Duotrope database.
Just two rejections in November.
Just a couple of garden-variety form rejections last month. Absolutely nothing interesting to show you.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, then you know that Twitter is experiencing some, uh, difficulties. As such, I am expanding my social media presence to other platforms. If you’d like to follow me elsewhere, here are the best places to do it.
FB Author Page: I’ve started a Facebook author page where I post about my writing. It’s different than what you’d find on the blog here, but I do update daily with microfiction and discussions about writing in general.
Instagram: I’m learning how to use IG as an effective tool for writers. It’s a work in progress, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.
I may look into some other social media platforms like Mastodon and Hive, but the two above plus whatever Twitter is at the moment are sufficient.
And that was November. How was your month?