I was perusing my Twitter feed recently, and I happened upon a tweet asking about the maximum number of rejections authors have received before they sold a story. My personal record is sixteen, and while I think that’s a bit of a fluke, I rarely have one-and-done submissions either. I find this subject fascinating because, for me, it’s one of the core principles in my submission philosophy. What I mean is, yes, you have to write a good story, but you also have to send that story to the right market at the right time.
To illustrate my point–and because I love charts and data and stuff–let’s take a look at my acceptances this year and see how many rejection each story racked up before it was accepted.
|Luck Be a Bullet||2|
|The Food Bank||3|
|The Inside People||2|
|Do Me a Favor||0|
|What Kind of Hero||8|
|Far Shores and Ancient Graves||2|
|Old as the Trees||2|
|Time Waits for One Man||0|
|When the Lights Go On||9|
That’s an average of about three and a half rejections per story. Not too bad. One of the stories “Scare Tactics” is interesting because it’s a reprint, and I’ve now sold it twice after it’s initial six rejections. Another interesting one is “Far Shores and Ancient Graves” because it’s my first acceptance from a market that has rejected me ten times prior. (I could write a whole blog post about not giving up on a market just because they’ve rejected you before, but I’ll save that for another time.) But let’s look at two stories at the extreme ends of my chart, “When the Lights Go On” and “Time Waits for One Man.” They were both ultimately accepted, but “Time Waits for One Man” sold on its first submission while it took ten submissions to find a home for “When the Lights Go On.” Why is that?
Could it be simple quality that determined the fates of these two stories? Though I’m hardly unbiased, I think these two stories represent some of the best flash pieces I’ve written, and “When the Lights Go On” was short listed three times by pro markets and received very positive feedback. Was it submission targeting that made the difference? That’s always a bit of a gamble, but I sent “When the Lights Go On” to markets with which I’m very familiar. Which leads me to genre. Could that be a factor? Maybe. “When the Lights Go On” is sci-fi with a strong horror element and “Time Waits for One Man” is firmly urban fantasy. Admittedly, horror can be a tough sell for some markets, even if the story is within the primary genres they publish, so that could have played a role.
Taking all the above into account, why was “Time Waits for One Man” accepted on its first submission while nine publishers passed on “When the Lights Go On?” Well, with the possible exception of the horror element, I’d chalk it up to two things. Editorial taste and dumb luck. Though a number of publishers liked “When the Lights Go On” and said as much, it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Whereas “Time Waits for One Man” happened to be more or less exactly what one market (and editor) wanted. I just lucked out and sent the story to them first. I think that easily might have happened with “When the Lights Go On.”
To sum up, remember, good stories get rejected all the time, and nearly every story on my list was rejected by a market that ultimately accepted another story on my list. So don’t get discouraged because your story receives a couple of rejections (or nine). It might mean you just haven’t sent to the right market yet.
What’s your record for number of rejections before you sold a story? Tell me about it in the comments.