From first submission to glorious acceptance, how long, on average, does it take to sell a short story? The answer, of course, is dependent on a lot of factors, not the least of which is the author submitting the story. Since the only author I have hard data on is, uh, this one, let’s take a look at my submission records and see how long it takes me to sell a story.
Below are two tables with ten stories each. The first ten are short stories I’ve sold, which are generally 3,000 words or more. The second table are flash fiction stories I’ve sold, which are always under 1,000 words (mine tend to be right at that limit). A quick explanation of the table. The data points are when the story was first subbed, when it was accepted, and then how many days it spent under consideration with the various publishers I sent it to. Okay, let’s look at short stories first.
|Short Story||First Subbed||Accepted||Days Subbed|
|A Point of Honor||12/17/2017||11/20/2018||264|
|The Past, History||8/28/2018||6/10/2020||261|
|Reading the Room||6/6/2019||3/4/2020||146|
As you can see, it takes me a while to sell a short story, an average of 303 submission days. Note the actual days differ from the submission days because I may not submit a story for a bit while I revise it, lick my wounds, weep in despair, etc. All the stories above received at least five rejections before acceptance, and four of them hit double digits. That said, every one of these stories eventually sold at semi-pro or pro rates rates in its initial acceptance or as a reprint. “Paper Cut” has the most rejections before an acceptance at 16, but “Bites” took me a lot longer to sell because it was shortlisted twice and held over six months both times, then rejected.
A few of these stories represent how a revision can make all the difference. Take “Paint Eater,” for example. I submitted it pretty steadily in the first year and it racked up eight rejections in that time. Then, I got some good feedback and let it set for another year and half before making a lengthy revision. I sold it on the first try after the revision.
Okay now let’s look at flash fiction and see how I do there.
|Flash Story||First Subbed||Accepted||Days Subbed|
|A Small Evil||5/19/2017||9/30/2019||343|
|What Kind of Hero||11/19/2017||7/13/2018||171|
|When the Lights Go On||12/6/2017||9/29/2018||294|
|Do Me a Favor||6/8/2018||7/6/2018||28|
|Far Shores and Ancient Graves||6/24/2018||8/29/2018||55|
|Time Waits for One Man||8/23/2018||4/19/2020||90|
|His Favorite Tune||3/24/2020||5/12/2020||28|
As you can see, I sell flash fiction quicker than short stories, and all but two of these sold for semi-pro or professional rates. The average number of days these stories spent under consideration is 118 days. Now, that comes with a caveat. I initially tried selling “Small Evil” as a 2,000-word short story. It racked up eight rejections at that length. Then, for a contest, I cut it down to flash length and sold it on the first try in eleven days. So, if we only look at my attempts to sell “Small Evil” as flash, my average drops down to 85 days.
“When the Lights Go On” is a bit of an anomaly because I subbed it to a lot of pro markets that generally publish short stories and only a small amount of flash. I actually think it’s one of the best flash pieces I’ve written, and one of the reasons it took so long to sell is that, like “Bites,” it was shortlisted and held twice and held over five months before receiving a rejection.
So, why the disparity between how long it takes me to sell short stories versus flash fiction? Well, I have some rejecotmantic theories. 🙂
In conclusion, selling a story isn’t generally a fast process, and for me, selling a short story is downright snail-paced. I’m fine with that, but as I continue to write, submit, and develop my craft, I hope to sell short stories before they rack of ten-plus rejections and two years in submission. 🙂
Thoughts on how long it takes to sell a story? Tell me about it in the comments.
Keeping a submission for 6 months is taking the piss.
What I’m getting from your post is that these publishers are very poorly organised.
Oh, no, that is definitely not my point. It can take a publisher a while to respond for a number of very valid reasons. The big publishers receive hundreds and hundreds of submissions per month and even with three our four first readers that’s a lot to read and it takes time. On top of that, many publishers are small outfits with only a couple of people doing the heavy lifting.
Also, as I mentioned in the post, getting rejected and resubmitting ten-plus times will definitely add months and even years to your submission time. 🙂
This is a really interesting look into the numbers behind submission, rejection and acceptance. I love your theory on why flash markets might not take as long. It’s definitely got me thinking about my own numbers now. Thanks!
It is just a theory, but your chances of getting a story accepted at a market that needs to publish 300+ stories a year has to be somewhat better than a market that only publishes 36, right?
It’s a sound theory. Somewhere publishing weekly needs a lot more material than somewhere publishing monthly or quarterly.
Right, and again, they’re not just taking anything. They still want quality, and I think most editors at markets that publish bi-monthly or quarterly or even monthly will tell you they have to turn away good stories because there are only so many spots. A market publishing weekly or daily doesn’t have to do that as much.