Submission Journal: The Bad Year

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.

Year Subs Reject Withdrawn Accept Acc %
2016 53 43 2 10 20%
2017 73 64 4 5 7%
2018 120 100 4 19 16%

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.

  1. Bad luck. As you’ve heard many, many times on this blog, I believe a large part of selling a story is putting the right story, in front of the right editor, at the right time. Well, in 2017 I failed miserably to do that. Now, you might be thinking I just submitted a bunch of clunkers that year. Hey, I thought so too. Then I actually went and looked. Not counting reprint submissions, I sent out twenty-four unique stories in 2017. I sold five that year, and I’ve gone on to sell another ten, some at pro rates. So there were ten stories that year that were good enough to eventually sell but gained zero traction in 2017. Some of that is luck of the draw, and, well, some of it is other things. Read on.
  2. Not good enough. Of the nine stories I submitted that year that have not yet sold, most of them are never going to. They’re just not good enough. I sent out some of those stories A LOT that year, and, yeah, that explains the numbers to some extent.
  3. Not good enough . . . yet. Three of the ten stories I went on to sell in 2018 and 2019 were in heavy rotation in 2017 and together they accounted for something like twenty rejections. As I said, I did go on to sell those pieces, but each one received an extensive revision before I made the sale. I remember those stories receiving good feedback and even scoring a couple of shortlists in 2017, but they weren’t quite ready.

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. 🙂

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