One of the toughest questions writers sometimes ask themselves is if a particular publisher is a good market for their work. When the form rejections pile up, you begin to wonder if maybe they just aren’t into your style, voice, tone, etc. That’s entirely possible, but make sure you’re not jumping the gun. To illustrate what I’m talking about, let’s take a look at a couple of markets I’ve sent a bunch of stories to without a single acceptance. Let’s see if it’s a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” or if I need to keep trying. I won’t use the names of these markets because this isn’t about calling out a publisher that has rejected my work (because that’s silly and counterproductive). It’s about examining my work, looking for ways to improve, and more importantly, looking for ways to be a more efficient and ultimately successful short story writer.
Market A is a well known SFF market, and I’ve submitted there a total of twenty times, each submissions ending in a rejection. Now you might look at that number and think, well, here’s one market that just doesn’t like his work at all. Based solely on the number of rejections, I might agree with you. If you look closer, though, you’d see a lot of those rejections are higher-tier, and three of them are final-round, you-almost-made-the-cut types. So, what does that tell me? Couple things.
Market B is another prestigious SFF market to which I have submitted many times, to the tune of thirteen total rejections. In contrast to Market A, however, I’ve received mostly form rejections with one hold, which was then rejected with another form letter. Let me reiterate, this post is not about trying to prove Market A is right and Market B is wrong (this isn’t a wrong or right situation to begin with). It’s about reading between the lines, taking a good hard look at your work, and possible redirecting your meager writing resources. Now, if I look deeper at the rejections from Market B, what might I learn? Three things.
So when the form rejections keep rolling in, it’s only natural to ask yourself, “Is this market for me?” The answer to that question could be, no, they aren’t a good fit for you, but make sure to do your research. You don’t want to give up on a Market A scenario. Remember, not all nos are created equal, and some, like the ones I’ve been getting from Market A, are what I’d call good nos. In my experience, good nos can and do sometimes lead to a yes in the end.
As usual, this post is drawn entirely from my own experience, which informs the opinions you see here. I’m sure there are folks who went on to publish at a prestigious market after many, many form rejections, and there is definitely merit to that kind of tenacity. Ultimately, every author needs to decide how best to utilize their writerly resources, and it’s never a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.
A little over a month ago, I published a post called How Long Does It Take to Sell a Story? In that post I charted out how long it took me in days to sell some of my published flash fiction and short stories. The results were interesting, and I want to revisit that topic today. Instead of looking at the number of days before acceptance, though, I want to look at the number of rejections before acceptance. Like that first article, I’ll split my findings into flash fiction and short stories.
We’ll use mostly the same stories in that last article (one new addition) and start with short stories.
|A Point of Honor||10|
|The Past, History||8|
|Reading the Room||5|
Some big numbers there, huh? The average number of rejections for these ten stories is almost nine. But before we start trying to figure out why, let’s look at flash fiction and see how much of a difference a change in story length makes.
|What Kind of Hero||10|
|When the Lights Go On||10|
|Do Me a Favor||0|
|Far Shores and Ancient Graves||2|
|Time Waits for One Man||0|
|His Favorite Tune||0|
|The Night, Forever, and Us||2|
Well, that looks a little different, doesn’t it? The average number of rejections before I sold these flash pieces is three, and as you can see, four of them sold on the first try (I’ve never done that with a short story, by the way). There are two ten spots up there, but those really are anomalies in my flash submission archive.
If you were to look at all the stories I’ve published, you’d see the numbers I’ve presented for flash fiction and short stories are not just sample sizes. The average number of rejection for all the flash fiction I’ve published is just over two, and the average number for short stories is just over seven. But why? Let me briefly reiterate my theories from the last article, which also apply here, and add one more.
Thanks for indulging me in another bit of rejectomancy, and I hope the whys and wherefores I presented held some small bit of wisdom. Probably not, but a guy can hope. 🙂
Way, way behind on these, but here are my writing endeavors for the past three weeks.
This week’s quote is from Stephen King. I’ve used this one before, but it’s one of my favorites, so I’m using it again. 🙂
“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”
I’ve been feeling the quote pretty hard lately. Though I finished the first draft of the novel, I feel like I limped across the finish line rather than triumphantly sprinted over it. The last two or three chapters definitely felt like the aforementioned shoveling of shit from a sitting position. I’ve felt like this before, of course, and when that happens, the best solution is to get so some distance from whatever it is I’m working on. Invariably, when I go back and start proofing things won’t look or feel so terrible, and I’ll find at least some of that shit-shoveling was the good work Stephen King mentioned above.
I finished the first draft of Hell to Play on July 14th, and I’ve let the manuscript “rest” for the last couple of weeks. I always need a little distance from a big project before I start revising, and two weeks is usually sufficient, though I might let this one go another week. A lot of authors do this, of course, but I do it because while I’m writing the first draft, the levels of self doubt and plain old fashioned fear of failure build up to toxic levels in my brain. In order to tackle the revision, I have to let those levels come down again, usually by not thinking about the manuscript at all for as long as necessary. I’m definitely feeling a lot less toxic this week, so I might jump in and at least read through the draft and make notes about what I need to fix.
Three weeks and only three submissions. Not great.
Yep, three subs in three weeks. If I want to have any hope of meeting my goal of 100 subs for the year, I’m gonna have to do a little better than a submission per week. I’m sitting on 51 submissions for the year, which averages out to like seven and change per month, putting me on pace for something in the neighborhood of 84 subs. That’s not bad, but I need to step it up. Five rejections, but only one of them was what I’d call a tough no. I thought I had a pretty good shot at one market, and they held the story for quite a while, but it was not to be. Such is the gig.
This week I want to highlight another pro SFF market returning from hiatus. I’m sure most folks who read my blog are aware that Apex Magazine is bak and open for submissions, but for those who might be unfamiliar with this market, here are the highlights from their submission guidelines.
*In my experience, with some thirteen submissions, the editors only exceeded 30 days one time. That one time was when my story was held for further consideration, so, you know, I didn’t mind. 🙂
Here are my writing goals for this week.
And that’s the last three weeks. How’ve you been?
I’ve been submitting short stories pretty regularly for the last seven years, and my acceptance percentage is usually between fifteen and twenty percent, except for one strange, terrible year. In 2017 I managed only a measly 7% acceptance rate. But why? Well, first some context. Let’s take a look at my overall submission numbers for 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Okay, as you can see, 2016 was a pretty good year, and I was fully expecting 2017 to be even better. Things had started to turn for me in 2016, and I’d even scored my first pro sales. So I ramped up my submission output, expecting to see a corresponding rise in the number of acceptances. That didn’t happen. Why is that? I have some theories. Let’s discuss.
To sum up, 2017 was a tough year, but I look back on it now with some fondness. It absolutely taught me lessons that made the years to follow more successful. I’m better at recognizing when a story isn’t ready or when it needs a revision before it goes back out again, and my numbers have improved as a result. That year also toughened me up–a six month acceptance slump will do that–and I earned a bunch of Rejectomancer XP. 🙂
The subject of unearthing forgotten stories from your hard drive came up on Twitter yesterday (Thanks, Marcus!), and it prompted me to go to my hard drive (and an external one I use as backup) and see what might be lurking there. Well, in addition to discovering a few forgotten tales, I started wondering just how many stories, either finished or unfinished, I’ve written over the years and what became of them. So I started cataloguing and spreadsheeting, and here are the results.
|Finished||Unfinished||Subbed||Published||% Pubbed||Finished Word Count|
As you can see, I’ve broken this down into flash fiction and short stories. I’ve left out microfiction (too many) and any of my writing that is media tie-in or game-related (not relevant). So this is only works that are wholly my own IP. Obviously, this does not include novels, which is a completely different beast. Okay, let me give you a little more detail on the various columns.
Well, if you’ve read this far, thank you for your patience with my obsession for cataloguing and organizing my writing. I fear there’s not much to learn here other than keep writing, keep submitting, and, hey, maybe dig into that hard drive every now and then. You never know what might be lurking there. 🙂
Yeah, I know. Rejectance isn’t a word (well not a proper one, anyway), but as you might have suspected, it’s a portmanteau of rejection and acceptance. So, how do you get a rejection and an acceptance at the same time? Let me show you.
Back in March, I received the following response to a submission. As usual, I’ve removed the name of the editor, the market, and the title of the story. I’ve also removed other information not pertinent to the point I want to make but that might identify the publisher. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know that’s just how I roll. Let’s take a look.
Many thanks for your [anthology] submission [story title]. We received an overwhelming amount of stories for our submissions call for this book, which made the selection process especially tough as [editor] was only able to choose [small number of] stories for publication.
[Your story] came very close in the selections but unfortunately didn’t make the very final cut of stories. We really liked your story though so were wondering if you would allow us to publish it in one of our other anthologies? I’m currently working on an anthology on the theme [second anthology] and think your story could work really well for that.
If you’d be happy for this story to appear in [second anthology] instead, we’d be delighted to accept your story! Please let me know as soon as you can if you’d like to go ahead, and I’ll send a license to confirm the terms.
Pretty cool, huh? Both anthologies pay pro rates, and I’m frankly thrilled to have a story included in either one. The other little piece of validation is I’d been shopping this story for a LONG time, almost two years and some twelve rejections, so this was a very welcome acceptance.
But how does a rejectance happen? Well, it has to be a situation where an editor is running multiple anthologies, like in the letter above, or is associated with multiple magazines. Basically, they have to have a another, more appropriate venue for a story they like but isn’t quite a fit for the market to which it was submitted. For example, check out this tidbit from the guidelines of Black Static, which is a sister magazine to Interzone and Crimewave.
Don’t submit a rejected story to another of our magazines, as we will already have considered that option.
Although I don’t have any actual data on this, I assume a rejectance is possible from Black Static, wherein a story is not suitable for them but might be a good fit for Crimewave or Interzone. If they go so far as to mention it in their guidelines, I’ll bet it’s happened at least once or twice (or they’ve at least seriously entertained the possibility). There are other markets that are part of a pair or trio of zines where a rejectance could happen as well. That said, if each zine has a different editors, they might just recommend you submit your story to a sister zine, which is a recommendation rejection and a slightly different beast. 🙂
The submission landscape can be a little strange at times, and the rejectance is just one of the weird (and wonderful) things you might run into if you do this long enough. If you’ve ever received a rejectance, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
A week behind, but here are my writing endeavors for the past fortnight.
This week’s quote is from Stephen King.
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”
This quote is one that I wholeheartedly agree with. I don’t want any outside input while I’m writing the first draft. I know it would seriously fuck up my rhythm, and I don’t know if I’d ever finish. After the first draft, I am more than happy to throw the manuscript to the wolves and brace for impact. You see, for me, the first draft is an an intimate and lonely process. I gotta work shit out in my own head before I grant anyone else access to the grand mess. Now, my first drafts have problems, as all first draft do, but I need that first attempt to be mine and mine alone. I think it establishes my voice and my vision for the book. Again, after that, I want and need outside input to make the book something other humans might want to read. Now, if you’re an author that does like input while you write the first draft, you’re not wrong. I’m not saying that. I wouldn’t question another writer’s process. It just does not work for me.
I had a solid couple of weeks of writing on the first draft of Hell to Play. I managed just over 16,000 words, pushing the manuscript total just shy of 80,000. I should finish the draft this week and end up around 90,000 words, maybe a tad more. I don’t mind going over, especially for the climax of the book. There are definitely parts earlier in the novel that will get cut back, so my final total will end up closer to my 90k target. The writing has been getting a little easier, mostly because the end is in sight.
Pretty abysmal couple weeks for submissions, with one bright spot.
In two weeks, I sent exactly one submission. The good news is that submission was accepted. Still, I gotta get my ass in gear if I want to hit 100 subs by the end of the year. The rejection was a personal rejection from a market I’ve published with before, and the feedback was pretty spot on. That’s always nice.
The acceptance I received was from Love Letters to Poe, a new market that publishes original gothic stories up to 1,500 words. Gothic really isn’t my forte, but I had a story I wrote a couple of years ago that checked a number of gothic boxes, so I cleaned it up and sent it in. Well, lo and behold, the editor liked it, and I got my tenth acceptance of the year. This is definitely one of those cases where I could have easily self-rejected because I don’t generally write gothic. As authors, we really have to avoid that. Often times it’s best to just send a story in and let the editor decide if it’s what they’re looking for. Sometimes it is. 🙂
This week, I want to highlight a pro market that’s relaunching. Fantasy Magazine is part of a trio of sister magazines that includes Lightspeed and Nightmare. Obviously, Fantasy Magazine focuses on fantasy, while the other two cater to science fiction and horror respectively. Nice to see another pro market out there.
Here are some of the highlights from their submission guidelines. Fantasy Magazine is open to submissions on the first week of every month (1st to the 7th).
*I just want to call out the anonymous submissions portion of the guidelines. This means remove all identifying information from the manuscript (that stuff is okay in the cover letter, though). If you submit a lot, like I do, you probably have a standard manuscript template, which includes all your contact info at the top. This is the kind of thing that can be easy to miss if you slip into auto-pilot mode, so always, always, always read those submission guidelines carefully.
Here are my writing goals for this week.
Yep, that’s it. Anything else is gravy. 🙂
That how my weeks went. How were yours?
Another month come and gone. Here’s a breakdown of my short story endeavors for June.
June 2020 Report Card
A lackluster month, unfortunately. I needed to get 8 submissions to stay on track for 100 subs for the year, and I got half that. This just means I’ll have to pick up the pace in July. I really need to finish some of the short stories I’ve got in various stages of completion. More stories always means more submissions . . . and rejections, of course.
Five rejections this month.
Pretty much ran the gamut as far as rejection go. The standard form rejections were all from pro markets, while the upper-tier and personal were from a pair of semi-pro markets. The quickest rejection came in a single day, and the longest took 90 days.
The spotlight rejection is from a semi-pro market I’ve published with before:
I sold this particular story on the next submission. Now, this absolutely does not mean the publisher above is wrong and the one that accepted the story is right. This is a subjective business, and wrong and right are, well, dubious concepts. I bring this up only to again point out that selling a story is often about putting the right story in front of the right editor at the right time. Almost every story I’ve sold has racked up three or four rejections and sometimes A LOT more before it sold (this one scored seven). In other words, not every story, no matter how good, is going to work for every market and every editor, so you have to keep trying and keep submitting.
One acceptance this month, and a pretty exciting one. I sold my story “The Past, History,” to Dark Matter Magazine, a new pro-paying science-fiction market. I’d been shopping that story for a while, and it had racked up good number of rejections and a couple of revisions before Dark Matter accepted it. I was hoping to continue my streak of two acceptances per month in June, but it was not to be. I’ll just have to shoot for three in July. 🙂
And that was June. Tell me about your month.