Bring the Pain: The March to 100 Rejections

Today I’m excited to present a guest post from my writer pal Sarah Beaudette, who has recently completed a harrowing yearlong journey to 100 rejections. You might ask why someone would aim to compile 100 rejections in a single year, and I’ll let Sarah answer that in a moment. I’ll just say that such an endeavor is absolutely legit and takes both perseverance and real dedication to the craft. I mean, hell, I run a blog called Rejectomancy, and I didn’t even come close to 100 rejections this year. In addition to possessing the submission bravery of a screaming berserker, Sarah is a hell of a writer whose stories run the gamut between literary and genre, and I strongly urge you to check out some of her work at the end of this post. So without further delay, here’s Sarah and her tale of rejection mastery


Bring the Pain: The March to 100 Rejections 

by Sarah Beaudette 

Why Aim for 100 Rejections?

To tell you the unflattering truth, I wanted to aim for 100 rejections in a year because I’d heard of other authors doing it and snagging a bunch of acceptances. To a tenderfoot like myself, it sounded great. Surely if I attacked writing with the battering ram of volume, I would splinter a few holes in the door? Snag a few prestigious acceptances for myself?

Looking back, I pat my past self on the head. What an adorable thought! Now I know 100 rejections is no guarantee of acceptance. As it turned out, aiming for 100 rejections did jump-start my writing career–just for different reasons than I thought.

Here are some vague goals of mine from the beginning of 2017. I’d been lucky enough to sell a couple of short stories in 2016, and I wanted to sell more in 2017. I wanted to build a bibliography I could send to agents when I actually had a novel to pitch. I thought it would be, you know, cool, to get paid.

Aiming for 100 rejections in a year was one way to map these vague goals to a concrete measurement. If I racked up 100 rejections, it would mean I’d written a lot of new stuff. It would mean I’d learned about Duotrope, about payment tiers, acceptance rates, “good” and “bad” rejections. In short, it would give me a place to start–find out what I was good at and who, if anyone, liked what I wrote. To find out what I wasn’t as good at, and who, if anyone, would be kind enough to tell me.  

Primary Benefits of 100 Rejections

A rejection goal is more rigorous in terms of volume than a straight submission goal. It inures a novice writer to the inevitable rejections, those stones heaped one by one onto your sugary pink unicorn soul until your heart grows a black crust and your lungs flatten into paper cutouts that draw no air. Actually meeting this 100 rejection goal convinced me I had definite areas in need of improvement. I also learned I have a high tolerance for ego-pulverization. I will happily eat up rejections for as long as I live, if it means I’m writing every day. 

A rejection goal of 100 requires you produce new material on a fairly regular basis. It requires you to familiarize yourself with scores of markets. Don’t get me wrong, if I have a story I’m really excited about, I’m still submitting first to places like F&SF and Apex, magazines that I read, love, and have admired for a long time. While those giant markets are on my bucket list, I’d been remiss not to submit to the plethora of other great markets out there. The big markets not only have a style and tone they’re looking for, but they turn down enough good stories to fill volumes. There are markets who will love what you have to say and how you say it. You’ve got to take the time to find them, and a rejection goal will incentivize you to take that time. Publishing a story exorcises it from my psyche, neatly ties it into a bow and lets me move on–to improve. 

Other Benefits of 100 Rejections

Personal and upper-tier rejections: If you’re aiming for 100 rejections and are tracking your personal feedback, trends start to appear. Out of the 40 pieces of personalized feedback I received from editors, it became clear my prose is at or near the level it needs to be, but that I could work on structure and pacing. This is hands down the best reason, for me, to aim for 100 rejections in a year. This is as close as it gets to objective, professional feedback at little or no cost.

Not to mention, if your publication stats aren’t improving but your upper tier rejections are, it’s a balm. A few kind editors took a moment to check you out, chuck you on the chin, and tell you to try again next time.  

Best rejection: “Your story generated some conversation, so I thought I’d include it here. [two paragraphs of thoughtful feedback follow]” That generous feedback from a pro-market helped me fix a story I’d been working on for two years and get it accepted somewhere else. 

Worst rejection: “Your ending was a flop.” The silver lining here is the rejection also taught me the importance of trusting your gut about feedback. I read the story two more times and still felt the ending was the best fit for the story. The story was accepted without edits by another goal market of mine.

A Few Things I Learned

  • There aren’t as many dark fiction and horror publishers as literary fiction, SF, and fantasy. If that’s what you write, don’t feel too bad about low acceptance rates. You might not be doing anything wrong.
  • In general, editors and first readers are kind. They really don’t want to crush your soul, and many put a lot of time into crafting a form letter that encourages rather than discourages. The worst rejection above was preceded by compliments about other aspects of the story.

Overall Stats

General

  • Submissions in 2017: 116
  • Rejections in 2017: 111
  • Acceptances: 5
  • Acceptance rate: 4.3%
  • Paid acceptances: 3
  • No pay bibliography builders: 1

Acceptances by Genre

  • Lit-fic: 2
  • Genre: 3
  • Poetry: 0

Rejection Types by Percentage

  • Overall upper tier rejections: 36.5%
  • Lit-fic upper tier: 15%
  • Genre upper tier: 26%
  • Poetry upper tier: 9%

Production

  • Unique stories: 34
  • Lit-fic subs: 39
  • Genre subs: 61
  • Poetry subs: 11 

Will I try it again?

In 2018, my goal is five acceptances from markets on my goal list. I’d love to tally 100 rejections in 2018, but if 2017 was about getting my feet wet and gathering the data, 2018 is about putting it to use. I’ll aim to get those five acceptances in 50 submissions instead of 100. My list of goal markets is more definite. My areas of improvement (vs. refinement) are clear. This profane, battle-scarred unicorn now understands the kinds of stories she wants to write and the markets who might be persuaded to publish them. All that’s left now is to scrape 2017’s crusty buildup from my soul and spend 2018 amassing the rejection and growth again.


Sarah Beaudette is a nomadic writer living in Mexico. When she’s not writing or reading dark fiction, she’s drinking high-octane coffee, side-eyeing the cats who follow her in the alleys, and trying to raise two charmingly weird kids. Her short fiction is published and forthcoming in places like NewMyths.com, The Masters Review Micro Fiction Contest Series, and Monkeybicycle. You can find her bibliography at http://theluxpats.com/about/ or sporadic tweets on @sarahbeaudette on Twitter.