The Waiting Game Part 2: The Great Theory

Submission wait times are an oft-discussed topic among writers and much rejectomancy is applied to how long a story is pending with a publisher. I’ve covered it before, some four years ago in this post: Submission Protocol: The Waiting Game. When a story is held longer than usual by a publisher, authors begin to prognosticate. Signs are read, the stars are consulted, and the bones cast in an attempt to divine what this delay could possibly mean. The great theory is this: the longer a publication holds your story, the more likely they are to accept it. Along with that theory is the idea that rejections generally arrive faster than acceptances. But is all that true? Let’s dive into the numbers and see if we can’t shed some light on this.

The last time I tackled this issue, I had far less submission data to work with. Now I have lots more, so we’re gonna approach things from a more data-driven angle. I currently have 449 submissions tracked on Duotrope. When we subtract pending subs and those I’ve withdrawn, we’re left with 423 submissions. Unfortunately, I need more info than many of these subs provide. I need to know the average return time (how long it actually takes) for the publisher AND the estimated return time (how long the publisher says it will take). When I sort for subs that meet both criteria I’m left with an even 200. Of those 200 submissions, 182 resulted in a rejection and 18 resulted in an acceptance.

That’s a sample size, but a pretty good one, so let’s look deeper at the numbers.

Acceptances

If the great theory holds, then all my acceptances should exceed the average return time and probably the publisher’s estimated return time. But did they?

Out of the 18 acceptances, only 5 were held longer than the average return time and only 3 were held longer than the publisher estimated return time. Now, take these numbers with a grain of salt, as this is a pretty small sampling of acceptances. The markets that held stories past average and/or estimated return times are pro markets, where that might be more expected. So, no conclusive evidence here, but let’s see if the rejections and their much larger sample size tell us something different.

Rejections 

Again, the theory states that rejections should come quicker than acceptances and be within or under the average and estimated response times. So let’s look at the 182 rejections I have and see what we see.

Of the 182 rejections, 130 of them arrived before the average return time and a whopping 166 arrived before the estimated return time. That’s 71% and 91% respectively. So, it looks like responses to rejections do typically arrive faster. But what about the rejections that took longer than the average and estimated return times? Anything special about them? Well, sort of. The percentage of personal rejections, further considerations, and shortlists was definitely higher, about 31%, as opposed to about 15% in the rejections that arrived quicker. So it does seem like you’re more likely to get a “better” rejection when your story is held longer, but it’s important to understand that a lot of top-tier markets only send form rejections, even if your story is held quite a while.


Does the great theory–that a story held longer is more likely to be accepted–hold water? I wish I had more conclusive evidence that it does, but I don’t. That likely has a lot to do with the markets that accepted my pieces that also had all the data I needed. So I’d say the jury is out. As for rejections, I think I have enough of those to state it does seem like a story held longer is more likely to receive a “good” rejection, a personal note, a further consideration, etc. I had a much larger group of submissions and publisher there, so it’s possible those results do support the idea that acceptances take longer too.

Of course, all this is classic rejectomancy and should be viewed as such. In other words, don’t get too hung up on how long your story is being held. It might mean something, and it might not, but you can definitely increase your anxiety level by obsessing over it. (This is absolutely a “do as I say and not as I do” moment.)

Thoughts on this? Evidence of your own? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Submission Top 10: Most Subbed Stories

Time for more submission greatest hits and another top ten list. This time we’re looking at the short stories I’ve submitted the most and what has become of them: submissions, rejections, acceptances, etcetera.

Yeah, I know there are actually twelve stories on the list below. That’s because of the ties (look at all those elevens), and, hey, I’ve already done some posts in this series, and top ten looks better in a headline. 🙂 Okay, let’s take a look.

Story Subs Reject Accept Other
Set in Stone 27 24 0 3
Paper Cut 18 17 (2) 1 0
Caroline 17 15 (4) 1 1
The Scars You Keep 16 4 0 2
After Birth 12 11 0 1
Bites 12 11 1 0
A Point of Honor 11 10 1 0
Teeth of the Lion Man 11 11 0 0
The Back-Off 11 10 1 0
What Kind of Hero 11 10 1 0
When the Lights Go On 11 10 1 0
Paint-Eater 10 8 (1) 1 1

So that’s a total of 167 submissions, 141 rejections, and 8 acceptances. The rejections in parentheses represent the number of reprint rejections a story has received. All this works out to a 5% acceptance rate (rounding up), which is way, way down from my average of about 15%. Here’s the weird thing, though; I think some of these stories represent my best work (some clearly don’t, and we’ll get to that). If that’s the case, why did they rack up all those rejections? Let’s apply some rejectomancy and see what we can see.

  1. Tough Markets. Like I said, I think some of these stories represent my best work, and as such, I sent them to top-tier professional markets with acceptance rates around or below 2%. Some of these stories received personal rejections or were even shortlisted at those markets, and a couple did eventually sell to a pro publisher. In other words, this may be an example of something I say a lot on this blog: even good stories get rejected.
  2. Weird Genre. Stories like “Bites” and “The Back-Off” have elements of horror, urban fantasy, and crime all rolled into one, but they don’t really live comfortably in any of them, and I found them difficult to place at markets that specialized in specific genres. When I dialed in my submission targeting and submitted these stories to markets that published a wide range of speculative fiction, I did better and eventually sold them. This is, of course, rejectomancy at its finest, but I have anecdotal data in the form of personal rejections that lead me to believe my theory is at least in the ballpark for some of the markets I sent these stories to.
  3. They’re Not Ready. The truth is that the four stories up there with zeo acceptances have racked up all those rejections for a reason: they’re not good enough yet. Most of them suffer from an acute case of premise-itis, which is where I’ve come up with a good concept, fallen in love with it, and then failed to build a good story around it. I believe three of the stories can be fixed with a strong revision, but “Set in Stone” needs a complete rewrite or possibly just exile to the trunk (I mean, 24 rejections is A LOT).

So that’s my twelve most subbed stories. Tell me about some of your well-travelled tales in the comments.

10 Top-Tier Markets: My New & Improved New Story Gauntlet

Back in 2016 I put together a list of markets I submit to first with new short stories (not flash; that’s a different list), dubbing it my new story gauntlet. I published that list in a post titled 7 Top-Tier Horror Markets: My New Story Gauntlet. As you might guess a lot can change in four years, and the list of markets I send stories to first looks a little different these days.

For reference, here’s my list from 2016, presented in no particular order:

Now the savvy submitters among you will certainly notice that, sadly, Apex and Darkfuse are no more. I’ve also dropped Nightmare Magazine simply because they aren’t open for submissions that often. When they are, I definitely give them priority.

Okay, so that’s three of seven markets above dropped from my original list, so who do I submit to first now? Take a look.

You’ve likely noticed a few things with my new list. One, there are more markets on it (ten now), and two, the markets are more diverse. So why is that? Well, the main reason is I’ve moved away from writing primarily horror, and I’m writing more sci-fi, urban fantasy, and stuff that mashes those two genres with crime and mystery. I’ve added markets that publish more sci-fi and fantasy and markets like Pulp Literature, On Spec, and the various Flame Tree anthologies who accept a wide range of speculative fiction.

Now the big question. How have I fared with the markets on my new list? Not bad, actually. I have four acceptances and six short-lists. I also have a ton of rejections, of course, but a fair amount of them are personal or higher-tier. Obviously, there are some very tough markets on this list, but I want to aim high with my work, and hopefully, one day, I’ll crack one or more of the heavy hitters on my list.

So why submit to these markets first? Let me break it down. The first four reasons are lifted from my first post in 2016, but I’ve added a few.

1) Reach and prestige. All of these markets are well read and/or have considerable clout in the speculative fiction world. They’re also the kind markets that look good in a bio or a list of publications. I’m not saying that publication at Pseudopod or F&SF guarantees an editor will buy your story, but it is something an editor might notice, and it says your work is good enough to make the cut at some tough publications.

2) Group memberships. Most of the markets above are qualifying markets for membership in various professional author organizations. I personally think joining those can be a good thing, and since I posted the original list in 2016, I’ve joined the SFWA as an active member. Recent sales I’ve made to some of the markets in the list above now qualify me for membership in the HWA (I’m looking into that). So if a membership in these organizations is something you want, then these (and a number of others) are good markets to target.

3) Awards. If you’re a spec-fic writer who dreams of winning awards like the Hugo Award or the Bram Stoker Award, then publishing at some of these markets (and others like them) is a good step toward that goal. Stories nominated for both awards and a few others are often drawn from the pages of some of the publications on my list.

4) Pro rates. Nearly all of the markets above pay a pro rate of .08/word, and some pay more. The money is less important to me, but it is often indicative of a market that meets the first three criteria. Markets that can afford to pay pro rates are generally well established and well respected, and publishing with them can be good for your career and resume. 

The four reasons above are really about how a publication at one of these markets can help your career. The three that follow are more pragmatic and deal with the endless grind of the submissions process and how these markets make that process a little more bearable. 

5) Quick Response. Most of the markets above respond quickly to submissions, and those that don’t have other mitigating factors I’ll discuss in a second. Eight of the ten markets I listed will get back to you within 30 days and some of them will get back to you a lot sooner. That turn time is for a rejection. Acceptances take longer, but they’ll generally let you know via a further consideration letter if your story is moving onto the next stage of review.

6) Simultaneous Submissions. I’ve started sending more sim-subs of late, and six of the markets above allow them. Those that don’t allow simsubs respond so quickly that no sim-subs is hardly an issue.

7) Reprints. I’m a big fan of the reprint, and most of the markets on my list are okay with them. Those that don’t accept them, either take sim-subs or respond quickly, and, hey, two out of three ain’t bad.

Now, obviously, I submit to more top-tier markets than these ten, and if I haven’t included one or more [super huge famous spec-fic] markets in my list it’s for one of the three pretty straightforward reasons .

  • Bad fit. Over the last four years my style has evolved, and I’d say I have a pretty specific voice at this point. That voice and style just aren’t a good fit for some markets, so I don’t waste their time or mine submitting to them. That’s not to say that what they publish is wrong or bad or anything, far from it. I admire the hell out of many markets I don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell at ever appearing in. 🙂
  • Long wait. A market that does not allow sim-subs and takes more than 90 days to respond (for a rejection) will generally not be a priority market for a new story. The exception is if I have a piece that is seemingly a perfect fit for the market’s theme, style, etc.
  • Narrow submission windows. There are some markets, like Diabolical Plots and the aforementioned Nightmare, that open for submissions infrequently or even just once a year. These are great markets, and when they’re open, they move right to the top of my list.

So, there’s my new gauntlet run and the reasons new stories typically go to these markets first. Got a gauntlet run of your own? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Reprints: Easy or Hard Sell?

Reprints are a great way to get extra mileage (and maybe a little extra cash) out of your stories, and there are a lot of markets that take them, even some that prefer them. But are they easier or more difficult to sell/place than standard story submissions? I think a lot of that depends on the publisher, but let’s see if we can’t dig a little a deeper and put some numbers on the question.

What follows is a list of all my reprints submissions and their outcome. I send out a reasonable amount of reprint submissions, though it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to my normal subs. So, this is the very definition of sample size, but let’s see if the numbers show us anything.

Story Submissions Rejections Acceptances Pending
Beyond the Block 2 2
Big Problems 2 1 1
Caroline 4 4
Masks 1 1
Night Games 1 1
Night Walk 2 1 1
One Last Spell, My Love 4 4
Paint-Eater 1 1
Paper Cut 2 2
Scare Tactics 2 2
Shadow Can 2 1 1
The Father of Terror 3 2 1
The Food Bank 1 1
The Rarest Cut 1 1
The Sitting Room 1 1
Time Waits for One Man 2 1 1
Where They Belong 2 1 1
Total 33 21 9 3

I’ve sent 33 reprint submissions over the last eight years or so, and I received 9 acceptances. That’s an acceptance rate of around 27%, which is higher than my overall acceptance rate of 16%. Again, this is a small sample of my overall submissions, but I do seem to have fairly good luck with reprints. Why is that? I can think of two possible reasons.

  1. Publisher confidence. A reprint says something that a standard submission doesn’t. It says another editor/publisher liked this story enough to publish it. That might hold some small weight with some editors, especially if the reprint’s original publisher is one the current market recognizes and has similar taste/style. I said small weight because the reprint story still has to be a good fit for the new publisher, and, in fact, some publishers might give less consideration to reprints simply out of a desire to publish more original work.
  2. Reprint-friendly markets. There are certain publishers, primarily audio markets and anthologies, that seem to be more disposed to the reprint or even prefer them. Five of my reprint acceptances are with publishers I’d consider reprint-friendly, and I generally try to target these markets with my reprint submissions.

Reprints still live and die by two unwavering truths of submissions and publishing. One, you have to put the right story in front of the right editor at the right time, and, two, good stories (and reprints can likely lay claim to that title more than general submissions) still get rejected all the time. That said, in my experience, they are a bit easier to sell, and a reprint acceptance can be a welcome infusion of confidence and allow you to crack new markets and reach new readers. So get ’em out there.


What are your experience with reprints? Easier to sell? Harder? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Spotlight: Payday

On this installment of Submission Spotlight we’re going to talk about what happens after the blessed event of an acceptance and it’s time for you to get paid. Sounds simple, right? It usually is, but there are some things to be aware of before the money hits your bank account. As always, you should read all the guidelines before you submit a story, and how a market will pay you is part of those guidelines. (If you’re looking for a breakdown on the levels of payment–from token to pro–I cover that in another post.)

1) Have the right account. The method by which a market will pay you is, uh, pretty important, and you need to have the right type of account set up so the publisher can quickly and effortlessly transfer the money to you. That’ll usually look like this:

We pay a flat $50 USD rate for stories. We use PayPal to process all of our payments.

Whatever your feelings are about PayPal, if you want to get paid for your work, you’re gonna need an account. I’m not saying all publishers only pay through PayPal. Some will happily send you a check if you like, but a large majority either only pay or prefer to pay with PayPal. So, set up that account, friends.

2) Dollars: Not just for Americans! If you live in the United States, and you send out a lot of submissions, at some point you’re likely to send them to markets outside of your home country. I send a fair amount of subs to Canadian and Australian publishers, for example, and I’ll often see this in the submission guidelines:

Pay rates are as follows and in Canadian dollars:

Yep, Canadian dollars. But it might also be:

[Publisher] pays between A$20 and A$60 per 1000 words.

Right, that’s Australian dollars. You might also see these two currencies as CAD or AUD. Of course, if you submit to publishers in the UK, you might see GBP offered for payment. So what do all these currency differences mean to your submission? Not much, really, until it comes time to be paid. You need to understand that when a publisher says they’re going to pay you $200.00 CAD what shows up in your PayPal account is going to be $152.00 USD (based on current exchange rates). If you’re lucky enough to get paid in GBP, then you’d end up with $264.00 USD. PayPal will make the currency conversion for you (and charge you a small fee for the service), but just be aware of the those exchange rates so you’re not surprised on payday.

Yes, there are other countries that use dollars, and besides the two I listed above, you might see the New Zealand dollar (NZD), but it’s not nearly as common in my experience. But, hey, if you’ve been paid in Fijian or Hong Kong dollars for stories, let me know. 🙂

3) When do I get paid? Okay, so you’ve scored an acceptance, and you’re already doing the per-word multiplication, but when do you actually get the money? That can vary by publisher, and unlike many of the things I talk about in these articles, that information isn’t always in the submission guidelines. It’s often in the contract a publisher sends after an acceptance. That said, it is likely to be one of the following:

Payment is 8-12 cents per word on acceptance.

This sounds like you get an acceptance and you get paid, right? Not quite. In my experience, it means you get an acceptance, you get and sign the contract, and then you get paid (often immediately after the publisher receives the signed contract). I find about half the publishers I submit to do it this way. The others do something like this:

We pay 6 cents/word for original fiction up to 6,000 words on publication.

In this case, payment is made after the story is published. How long after the story is published depends on the publisher. Sometimes it’s right away, and sometimes publishers may include additional language such as “payment will be made within 90 days of publication.” Again, this information might not be in the guidelines but in the contract. It’s fairly common for a publisher to make payment this way, and it’s just something to be aware of, especially if you’re expecting a quick cash infusion to your PayPal account after an acceptance.


These are some of the issues you might run into with regards to payment in publisher guidelines. As with everything else, there shouldn’t be any surprised come payday because you read the guidelines carefully and completely, right? Of course, this one does come with the caveat that pertinent payment info isn’t always in the guidelines. So, if you’d like to be surprised when the contract states payment will be made within six months of publication, I’ll allow it. 🙂

Seen anything else of note in the guidelines when it comes to getting paid? Tell me about in the comments.

If you’d like to check out the other posts in the Submission Spotlight series, just click the links below.

Submission Spotlight: Regional Preferences

Today we’re talking once again about potentially unexpected elements of submission guidelines. As always, you should read the guidelines completely and carefully every time you submit a story. These articles simply highlight the many reasons why. This Submission Spotlight focuses on regional preferences and how they could affect you if you live outside a market’s targeted region.

1) If you live there, you can submit here. Sometimes a regional preferences is so focused, a publisher will not accept ANY submission outside of that region.

[Publisher] is looking for original science fiction and speculative fiction from New Zealand, Australian, and Pacific writers. This means that (for now) you can only submit to [publisher] if you are a citizen of New Zealand, Australia, or the Pacific, or if you are a resident of these areas.

Pretty straightforward, right? If you don’t live in that part of the world, don’t send them a story. Markets with these restrictions are generally pretty easy to spot and usually have this part of the guidelines right at the very top (but not always). In addition, market databases like Duotrope will mark a publisher like this with a limited demographic warning at the top of their entry.

2) Limited seating. Some publishers that focus on a specific region might allow submission from outside that region, but can only publish a small percentage of them. There’s often a very good reason for this, such as:

Our mandate is to give our readers the best SF we can find, regardless of the author’s nationality, and we have published authors from Canada, the U.S., Britain, New Zealand, South America, and more. In order to qualify for grants, we do have to maintain 80% Canadian content.

This market must publish mostly Canadian authors to qualify for grants, which no doubt keeps them in business and publishing (a good thing). They’re open and upfront about the restriction, and if you live outside of Canada, it’s something to take into consideration. Should you submit to a market like this if you’re outside of their region? Absolutely. If you’re story is good enough, you always have a chance.

3) Small window. Other markets with a regional preference may choose to publish authors from outside their region but might give them a shorter window to submit. Like this:

Submissions from Australian and New Zealand writers: 1 February – 30 September

Submissions from anyone anywhere: 1 August – 30 September

This market gives authors from their part of the world a big window in which to submit (eight months) and authors outside of that region a much smaller window (two months). This seems to me a pretty equitable way to do things. If you’re not from Australian and New Zealand, you simply treat this publisher like any other with a short annual submission window.


As I said in the opening, always read the guidelines completely and carefully. There’s no good reason to miss something like a regional preference (or anything else, for that matter). Most publishers are going to put something like this right at the top of the guidelines, and, as previously mentioned, market databases like Duotrope often note a market’s preferences in their entry.

Know of any other way publishers handle regional preferences? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Spotlight: Reprints

This is the first in a new series of posts that will, highlight or, uh, spotlight parts of submission guidelines that might be unexpected if you’ve just started submitting your work. Even if you’re an old hand at the submission game, these are an excellent reminder of why you must always read the guidelines completely and thoroughly. So, let’s kick things off with one of my favorite submission subjects: reprints.

Reprints are a great way to get extra mileage, dollars, and exposure out of your published works, but you don’t want to simply trust that your reprint story is appropriate for a market just because, for example, Duotrope or The Submission Grinder says the publisher accepts them. In my experience reprints come with a lot of caveats and exceptions that range from what a market actually considers a reprint to what kinds of reprints they want or prioritize. Here are some things to be aware of when considered a market for a reprint (or making sure your story isn’t an accidental reprint).

1) What is a reprint? Generally it’s a story you’ve previously published, to which the rights have returned to you, and which you can submit again to a publisher that accepts reprints. Where things get tricky is how a market defines “published.” For example:

No reprints unless specifically requested by us. Keep in mind that this includes publishing a story on your website or blog. 

It’s that last sentence that’s the issue and what can create something I call the accidental reprint. Many editors consider a story published on a personal blog, website, or even something with an exclusive membership like a Patreon, to be a reprint. That can get you into trouble with a market like the one above that doesn’t accept reprints. So, if you plan to publish your work on your blog or for your Patreon supporters, just remember it’ll reduce your ability to submit that story as an original.

2) Some markets love reprints. If you plan to send out reprints, look for and remember markets that encourage them. These are generally going to be audio markets who don’t see a story previously published in print as an issue since they’re doing a completely different medium for what is often a completely different audience. So you might see this:

Reprints are welcome and strongly encouraged. We are happy to consider stories previously released on Patreon as reprints.

This audio market even welcomes Patreon reprints. So if you’re planning on submitting reprints, start with the audio markets. Many, like the one above, not only accept them but actively encourage them.

3) Sometimes publishers take reprints only if the story has been published by certain types of markets. This one is rare, but when I’ve seen it the market is usually looking for reprints stories originally published in professional-level markets. Like this:

Only stories from established print markets, including magazines, short story collections, and anthologies, from the past two years, which would cover January 2017 onwards, will be considered.

I’d take this to mean pro markets that also publish in print (there might be a few semi-pro that this bill, though) and have been around for at least a couple of years. The time frame of publication is an extra requirement and another good example of why you should always, always, always read the guidelines thoroughly.

4) Some markets prioritize or de-prioritize reprints published in certain mediums. This is one isn’t super common, and it’s likely to be part of audio market submission guidelines. It might look like this:

Stories can appear elsewhere. Previously published or performed stories are fine, as long as you hold the rights to grant usage to [publisher]. However, stories which have not already previously appeared in audio form will have priority.

This is one that can crop up if you sell a story first to an audio market and then want to sell it as a reprint. Not that that shouldn’t discourage you from submitting your originals to great audio markets like PseudoPod, EscapePod, and others, but it’s something to be aware of.

5) Reprints pay less. If you’re going to submit reprints, this is just a fact of life. Even markets that encourage reprints will often pay less for them, and you’re bound to see something like the following in the guidelines:

We pay $.08/word USD for original fiction 6,000 words or less, $100 flat rate for reprints over 1,500 words, and $20 flat rate for flash fiction reprints (stories below 1,500 words).

You might be asking are there markets that pay the same for reprints and originals? There are, but it’s rare, and in my experience these will be anthologies rather than magazines or online zines.


These are some of the wrinkles and unexpected hitches you might find in reprint guidelines. There are certainly others, but these are the ones I’ve encountered the most. It’s important to remember, though, that submission guidelines often come with little exceptions and caveats, which is why I implore you to read them completely and carefully before EVERY submission.

Know of any other reprint guidelines to keep an eye out for? Tell me about them in the comments.