A popular topic in writerly circles is if and when a writer should give up on a market after multiple rejections. The idea being that if an editor rejects you a certain number of times, it’s likely they are not interested in your work because of style, taste, etc., and you should stop submitting to that publisher. Of course, opinions vary on how many rejections indicate you should wave the white flag, and some writers believe you should NEVER give up on a publisher, no matter how many rejections you receive. I tend to fall into the latter camp, but with a few caveats. I think I can best explain my thoughts on this issue with an examination of my submission records for three publishers.
As always, I will not be disclosing the names of the publishers or the titles of the stories I’ve sent them. This post is not about “calling out” editors for sending rejections; it’s about what we might learn from those rejection to improve our chances of getting accepted. Okay, let’s dive in.
Publisher #1 – Surrender
The first publisher is one I have given up on. The reason is simple: I have made zero progress after nearly two dozen submissions. All 23 of my submissions have resulted in basic form letters. Now, could it be that I’m just sending them bad stories? I mean, maybe, but I have gone on to sell over a dozen of the stories they rejected, some to pro markets. That tells me it might be that my style, voice, and even the things I tend to write about are just not a good fit for this editor/market. Now, I don’t have a single molecule of animosity toward this market, but I have come to the conclusion my work is probably not what they’re looking for. Honestly, I had my doubts around submission 15 or so, but I stubbornly pressed on. Again–and I can’t stress this enough–I have zero negative feelings toward this publisher. They’re an excellent market. The truth is simply that not every every writer is a good fit for every market.
Publisher #2 – Submit
Now this might look worse than the first publisher, but I don’t believe it is. Yes, I have sent this publisher a ton of submissions and received a ton of rejections, but it’s the type of rejections I’ve received that keep me submitting. Instead of an avalanche of boilerplate form rejections, this publisher has sent me rejections that indicate I might be on the right track. Four times, I’ve made it to their final round of deliberations, which means the story was close to publication (how close is difficult to determine). In other words, I think they liked these stories, even if they ultimately didn’t make the final cut. That tells me my work might have a place with this publisher if I send them the right piece. So I keep trying, and as you can see my the number of stories I’ve sent that I’ve sold elsewhere, I try to send them my absolute best.
Publisher #3 – Success
The last publisher is one I have actually sold a story to. That said, it took me eleven tries before I did. In those eleven tries, I received encouraging rejections, and I eventually sent the right piece. Now, I’ve gone on to submit here ten more times, and in those ten attempts, there have been four personal rejections and two shortlists. So, even thought I haven’t sold them another story, I like to think my chances of another acceptance are pretty good. I included this publisher because I think they demonstrate that not giving up on a publisher when you’re receiving “good” rejections, even a bunch of them, can be the right decision. Keep in mind, though, just because you sell a piece to a publisher, especially one with a low acceptance rate, you still might struggle to sell them another (though, as in this case, you might continue to receive encouragement to keep submitting). Again, you see that a large number of the stories rejected by this publisher were accepted elsewhere. Please don’t misunderstand my reasons for including this number. It’s not that the publisher was wrong for rejecting those stories; it’s that the stories where just a better fit for another editor/publisher.
So, to sum up, giving up on a publisher after a ton of submissions is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, as is continuing to submit to that publisher. You just have to look a deeper at the numbers and ask yourself some potentially difficult questions. Also, as you can see by my numbers, a story that is wrong for one publisher may very well be exactly what another publisher is looking for. So, keep writing, keep submitting, and keep trying.
Thoughts on this issue? Have you given up on a publisher or stuck with one despite a ton of rejections? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.