Swings & Misses IV: Revenge of the Rejection Streak

Submitting short stories to genre and lit magazines is a process that can be, uh, well, let’s just say discouraging. Why? Because rejections are inevitable, multiple rejections for the same story are expected, and even two or three rejections in the same day are not out of the ordinary. Most writers have a thick enough skin to withstand the fusillade of NOs, but what about when the rejections pile up and there’s not an acceptance in sight? Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that the dreaded rejection streak is also not that uncommon. I have endured three that crossed the twenty-rejection threshold. In fact, one just ended a few days ago. As I have done before with rejection streaks, I’m going to break down the latest one and see how it compares to the others. Then we’ll talk about why these streaks happen and what you can do about it.

First, data! Stat for my three rejection streaks in the table below.

2017-2018 2020-2021 2022
Rejections 27 21 22
Duration 12/9/17 to 2/18/18 12/27/20 to 4/1/21 4/12/22 to 6/4/22
Duration (Days) 74 96 54
Unique Stories 13 13 13
-Flash Fiction 8 9 7
-Short Stories 5 4 3
-Novellas 0 0 1
-Other 0 0 2
Markets 17 14 15
-Pro 12 10 9
-Semi-Pro 5 4 5
-Token 1 0 1

The key difference in the three rejections streaks is duration. The other numbers are eerily similar. I mean, look at the unique stories line. That isn’t a mistake. Those with triskaidekaphobia would be understandably horrified. The rest of the data–number of markets, types of markets, and lengths of stories–are all pretty much the same. So what’s happening here? I’m a modestly successful short story writer with lots of publications. Why am I running afoul of these long streaks not-for-us’s? Now that I have a lot of data, some of my answers to that questions have changed, while some are evergreen and immutable. Let’s discuss.

  • Bad Luck: Let me start with this a sports analogy. (Sorry.) In baseball, when a player goes on an extended hitless streak at the plate, his coaches will often turn to the analytics to figure out why. Sometimes, they can see that his exit velocity off the bat is consistently high, i.e., he’s hitting the ball hard, but by sheer luck he’s hitting the ball right at the defense and his hitless streak continues. My rejection streaks are similar. Hard hit baseballs translate to close-but-no-cigar rejections, and each of these streaks tends to feature more than usual. In other words, I’m making good contact, but the hits just aren’t dropping in. There is absolutely nothing you can do about that. You just have to keep stepping up to the plate and telling yourself this time it’s going over the fence.
  • Tough Markets: I tend to submit primarily to pro and semi-pro markets. Often the acceptance rates at these markets are vanishingly small, so even a good story is likely to get rejected and require multiple submissions before it finds a home. Nearly all the short stories I’ve sold to pro markets were rejected upwards of ten times. You get a couple of those out there at the same time, and hello streak-ville.
  • Long-Form: Unlike previous rejection streaks, this current one included a novella. Long-form fiction can be tougher to sell because there are fewer markets, and many of those markets are short story publishers that might occasionally publish a novella. In other words, the odds are stacked against you even more with pieces over 10,000 words or so. A fair number of rejections in this streak were for the novella I’ve been shopping around, but I’m happy to report there’s some good news on that front. 🙂
  • Stuck in a Rut: We all have our go-to tropes and themes and narrative styles, and even if they are generally successful, you can find yourself churning out the same story over and over again. If you submit to a lot of the same publishers, they might get tired of reading ANOTHER tale about two people talking in a bar and one of them is a zombie/vampire/demon. I mean, who would write such a thing? 🙂 Anyway, I definitely needed to break out of a certain mold and get a little more creative with my work. It’s not that I’m not still writing about demons and vampires and weird psychic phenomenon. I’m just trying to stretch a little in terms of character and narrative structure. Too soon to tell if I’ll be successful, but I feel pretty good about the latest crop of stories.

So what’s the takeaway here? Essentially, the more you submit work, the more rejections you get, and occasionally, through bad luck and a few other factors, those rejections pile up. You honestly can’t avoid it, in my opinion. The thing to remember though,  is that streaks, by their very nature, must end. You just have to be patient, try to take an objective look at your work, and see if there’s anything you can adjust. Often times, there isn’t, and it’s really about getting the right story in front of the right editor at the right time. So, hang in there, keep writing, keep submitting, and keep going.

2 Comments on “Swings & Misses IV: Revenge of the Rejection Streak

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