The First 500 Rejections: An Analysis

Earlier this week, I collected my 500th rejection since I’ve been tracking them through Duotrope. It took me almost ten years to amass that many, and, well I’ve certainly learned a fair bit in that time. In this post, I’ll break down what 500 rejections looks like, give you some raw numbers, and then talk a bit about what half a thousand not for us’s and we’re gonna pass’s has taught me.

First, let’s look at how many rejections I received each submission year.

Year Rejections
2012 4
2013 14
2014 31
2015 37
2016 43
2017 65
2018 98
2019 62
2020 69
2021 77*

Clearly, I didn’t start submitting in earnest until 2014. After that, you see a stead rise in the number of rejections, which is commensurate with the number of submissions I sent. My biggest rejection year was 2018, but I did send 120 submissions that year and collect 19 acceptances. *I have received a couple more rejections in 2021, but this post is about the first 500, so 2021 stops at 77 rejections. There will certainly be more before the years ends.

Here are a few other basic numbers.

  • First Rejection: 5/5/2012
  • 500th Rejection: 12/1/21
  • Quickest Rejection: 10 minutes
  • Slowest Rejections: 419 days

Quickest and slowest rejection are two records that have stood for five years now, and I don’t foresee them changing. I generally don’t submit to markets that take over a year to respond anymore and, well, I think it’ll take some serious doing to get a faster rejection than ten minutes (I hope).

So that’s total rejections, but what kind of stories where getting rejected. Here’s some of that info.

  • Unique Stories: 117
  • Flash Fiction: 91
  • Short Story: 25
  • Novella: 1
  • Most Rejected Story: 25
  • Rejected Stories Sold: 55

My 500 rejections constituted 117 unique stories, most of which were flash fiction. Interestingly, though flash fiction stories outnumber short stories by almost four to one, short stories make up almost 44% of the total rejections and average 8.8 rejections per story. Flash fiction, on the other hand, average only 3.1 rejections per story. Long story short (hah!); I’ve found short stories more difficult to sell. My most rejected story received 25 rejections before I retired it. Though I think the story has merit, it will likely work better as a novella. Of the 117 unique stories I’ve had rejected, I’ve managed to sell 55 of them, nearly half. That’s not bad, and I expect that number to improve.

Okay, what about the publishers? How were they represented in my 500 rejections?

  • Unique Markets: 126
  • Most Rejections by a Single Market: 47
  • Most Rejections by a Single Market Without an Acceptance: 32

I submitted stories to 126 unique markets. I did combine imprints and contests held by a parent market into a single listing. For example, I counted The Arcanist and The Arcanist Flash Fiction Contests as a single market. When I was running these numbers, I was surprised at how many of these markets are now defunct or out of business. I counted 30, but there may be one or two more. The market that has rejected me most has also accepted me most, so as gaudy as that 47 rejections looks, it must be weighed against 16 acceptances. That’s not a bad ratio. The other market, however, has rejected me 32 times without an acceptance. That said, I’ve been final round shortlisted a number of times, so I keep trying.

But what have I learned from 500 rejections? What has half a thousand NOs taught me about submitting and publishing? A lot, honestly, but let me give you the three of the most important.

  1. Rejections are usually not an indication of skill or talent. Good authors and good stories get rejected all the time. I know folks who regularly sell to all the big markets, and they still rake in their fair share of rejections. Just about every story I’ve sold, even to pro markets, was rejected, often numerous times, sometimes ten or more times. If you’re getting shortlisted and close-but-no-cigar rejections, then often the rejection is simply a matter of fit with that particular publisher. Send it out again. That said, if you’re ONLY getting form rejections on a story, it might be time to revise the story or let your critique partners give you some feedback before you send it out again.
  2. Rejections get easier. When I first starting submitting my work, every rejection, be it form or personal, felt absolutely crushing. That passes as you develop a thicker skin and start to really understand point number one. Now, I barely notice form rejections, and it takes something special to get under my skin. For example, the day I received five rejections in a space of a couple hours. Also, shortlist, close-but-no-cigar rejections from pro markets still sting a bit. Ultimately, they’re a good sign you’re on the right track, but they do knock the wind out of your sails in the moment.
  3. Rejections are universal. Everyone gets them, from folks sending out their first submission to pros sending out their 1000th. One of the best ways to deal with rejections is to commiserate with other authors. No one is going to understand what it feels like better than another writer. My author friends and I often share rejections and offer mutual support. You don’t have to bear the burden of rejections alone, and if you can find a group of like-minded writers to see you through the tough ones, it’ll help keep you motivated (and sane).

And that’s what 500 rejections look like. Thoughts on rejections? Tell me about it in the comments and share you own rejection total if you like.

I’ll see you again for rejection #600 (or maybe I’ll wait until 750). 🙂

8 Comments on “The First 500 Rejections: An Analysis

  1. Oh boy, I’m so glad to have you’re lead the way through this rejection minefield. I’m gradually growing that thick skin. But in the meantime, thanks for the reminder that rejections aren’t an indication of skill or talent. It all helps me brush myself off and send a story back out there.

    • I’m gonna tweak my submission strategy next year. That may cut down on both submissions and rejections, so, yeah, hopefully it’ll take me a LONG time to get that next 500. 🙂

  2. Aeryn, thank you for normalizing rejection!
    Truly, your blog has helped me realize all writers get rejected and it’s just a normal part of the process. It’s part of what we do and who we are. Your blog has kept me going during dark times when the rejections were piling up and the acceptances were few and far between. Thanks for keeping me going! This writer appreciates it!! It’s time for me to gather some more rejections…

    • Hey, Darius, thanks for the comment. Hearing that the blog helped another writer get through a tough time really means a lot to me. Here’s to more writing, more acceptances, and, yeah, more rejections in 2022. 🙂

  3. Pingback: From the Blogroll: Aeryn Rudel’s Rejectomancy | Words Deferred

  4. Lovely post. I’ve commented on your blog a long time before, and even then I’ve found what you do to be inspiring. This post makes everything even better. Thanks for sharing your knowledge! And yes, when you get on a long/short list then get rejected, it hurts much more, doesn’t it? Anyway, thanks for this post!

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