200 Rejections: An Analysis

I recently found myself wondering how many rejections I’ve received since I started using Duotrope (religiously) to track my submissions. So, uh, I went and looked . . .

I’ve received 218 rejections. Is that a lot? Maybe, but to me it (usually) just feels like my fair share. The inevitable result of nearly 300 submissions. It’s important to note I received rejections before Duotrope came into my life. Sadly, many of these literary fossils are lost to the ether in a now-defunct Hotmail account or were honest-to-god paper rejection letters (I really wish I’d kept some of those). So, today, I’m just going to talk about the 218 rejections I’ve logged in Duotrope. Stats ahead.

  • First Rejection: I logged my first rejection (again, into Duotrope) on May 5th, 2012. Interestingly, this rejection was from a market that would go on to reject me a lot in the years ahead. They set the tone, you might say. I didn’t submit a lot of short fiction in those first couple of years. My submission (and rejection) volume really picked up in 2014.
  • Last Rejection: My most recent rejection . . . Hang on, let me check my email. As I was saying, my most recent rejection came yesterday on April 17th, 2018. This was my twelfth (12) rejection from this particular market.
  • Distinct Stories: I have submitted 56 distinct stories since May of 2012. That number surprised me. It feels like a lot more. Eighteen (18) of those stories are short stories of 2,000 words or more, and the remaining thirty-six (36) are flash stories of 1,000 words or fewer.
  • Distinct Markets: Now the reason it might feel like I sent more distinct stories is I sent those stories to a bunch of different markets. According to Duotrope, I have submitted stories to seventy-five (75) distinct markets. Most of them are still alive and kicking, but seventeen (17) are now defunct or on indefinite hiatus.
  • Most Rejections (Market): The most rejections I have received from a single market is nineteen (19). Now, let me qualify that by saying I have also received eleven (11) acceptances from the same market. Since that’s kind of unusual, there are three runners-up tied for most rejections without an acceptance at twelve (12).
  • Most Rejected (Story): My most-rejected story currently sits at eighteen (18) rejections and is out for submission yet again. Why do I keep sending this one out? Well, it’s been shortlisted a number of times and the rejections are generally positive. In addition, my second most rejected story was accepted and published after sixteen (16) rejections.

What’s the point of this little trip down memory lane? Mostly this. If you submit a lot of fiction, well, you’re gonna get a lot of rejections. It sounds grim, but it’s actually not a bad thing. I am absolutely not the same writer I was on May 5th, 2012 when I logged that first Duotrope rejection. In the 200-plus rejections that followed, I learned a whole bunch about writing and submitting, and, if I may be so bold, I got a lot better at both.

So embrace your rejections. Count them up each time you submit a story. Cherish those battle scars that prove you can take a hit, learn a thing or two, and come back for more.

Let’s talk again when I hit 300. 🙂

Submission Statement: March 2018

I often start these submission statements with a subtle (or not-so subtle) complaint about my production for the month. Well, not this time. March was a really good month, one of the best of my short story submittin’ career.

March 2018 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 8
  • Rejections: 7
  • Acceptances: 3
  • Publications: 0
  • Withdrawal: 1

Eight submissions is good volume, and that puts me at a total of 35 submissions for the first three months of 2018. I’m also on a good pace for my goal of 100 submission for the year. Of course, the big news for the month is the three acceptances. I think that’s the most I’ve received in a single month.

Rejections

I’d say 7 rejections is about average for me, especially with how many submissions I’ve been sending out lately.

  • Standard Form Rejection: 6
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejection: 1
  • Personal Rejections: 0

All form rejections for the month, and nothing too special. I’ll share a couple from markets that are new to me.

Highlight Rejection 1: Sent 3/13/2018; Rejected 3/25/2018

Thank you so much for sending us [story title]. This time, however, we’re saying no, but we wish you the best of luck with your piece. 

This is a pretty standard form rejection, but I’m highlighting it because it is a) a new market for me and b) it’s a literary market. Yep, I’ve branched out a tad, and I’ve been submitting stories to a couple of lit-fic markets. I’ve even had some success there (more on that below).

Highlight Rejection 2: Sent 1/30/2018; Rejected 3/29/2018

Thanks for giving us the chance to read [story title]. After careful consideration, we are unfortunately going to pass at this time. 

If you have other works that you think might be a good fit for [publisher], we encourage you to submit them through our Google form.

We look forward to reading more of your work in the future and hope that this piece finds a home as well. 

I would call this a higher-tier rejection, and it’s from a market that has accepted three stories of mine in the past (bless them). I include it here to demonstrate simply that even with a market that really likes your stuff, not every story is a good fit.

Acceptances

Well, this was a hell of a month for acceptances. I received three in March, and they all came within the span of about seven days. That’s a pretty good week. 🙂

Acceptance 1: Sent 1/6/2018; Accepted 3/2/2018

Thanks for letting us read [story title]. We would love to publish it in [publisher]!

The first acceptance for March came form a publisher that’s published me twice before. It’s always great when you find a market and an editor that dig your work. This story will go live in a couple of days, and I’ll be sure to post a link to it then.

Acceptance 2: Sent 3/3/2018; Accepted 3/6/2018

Thank you for taking the time to submit your story [story title]. I’d be delighted to publish it on [publisher].

I’ve scheduled it for publication on 4 May. If this date changes, I will let you know.

Thanks again for submitting your work.

The second acceptance for March comes from market I’ve never submitted to before, mostly because they’re primarily a literary market. The story I sent them straddles the line between genre and literary, and they liked it enough to publish it. As you can see, the story will (most likely) be published on May 4th, and I’ll be sure to alert all of you so you can run over to the publisher’s website and read it.

Acceptance 3: Sent 12/30/2017; Accepted 3/8/2018

Loved this story. Buying for [publisher], most likely the online edition. 

There’s more to this acceptance letter, but this is the important bit. The real kicker here is this represents my first sale of a mystery/crime story. That’s pretty cool, and I might have to write a few more. As much as I like being published in print, an online publication allows me to send folks directly to the story to read, which I will most certainly do when this is published.


And that’s my March. How was yours?

A Week of Writing: 3/26/18 to 4/1/18

One more week in the trenches working on various writing projects. Here’s how it all shook out, complete with word count goals, short story sundries, and submission shenanigans.

The Novel

As I said last week, my big project for the moment is a horror novel called “Late Risers.” I’m making pretty good progress, with a weekly goal of 15,000 words, which I often fall short of. Still, I have a minimum do-or-die goal of 10,000 words I can hit pretty routinely. Here’s how I did this week.

Date Day Words Written
3/26/2018 Monday 0
3/27/2018 Tuesday 2516
3/28/2018 Wednesday 0
3/29/2018 Thursday 0
3/30/2018 Friday 2553
3/31/2018 Saturday 2091
4/1/2018 Sunday 2852

As you can see, I struggled early in the week to get going but managed to turn it on for the weekend. I ended up with 10,012 words for the week, which put me at 53,500 words in total. That’s a bit over half-way to a first draft, so I’m pretty happy with that. If I can keep this up, I expect to have a first draft by the end of the month.

Short Stories

No new short stories this week, but I did outline an urban fantasy story tentatively called “Deep Water.” I like the idea, and we’ll see if I can get some real work done on it this week.

Submissions

An average week for submission volume.

  • Submissions Sent: 2
  • Rejections: 1
  • Submission Status Query: 1
  • Shortlist: 0
  • Withdrawal: 0

I currently have eleven submissions in rotation at the moment.

Story Date Sent Days Out Avg Response
Caroline1 6/24/2017 282 261
A Small Evil 11/9/2017 144 65
The Scars You Keep 1/7/2018 85 123
Scare Tactics1 1/18/2018 74
When the Lights Go On2 1/25/2018 67 40
Bites 2/8/2018 53
A Point of Honor 2/18/2018 43 10
Old as the Trees 2/28/2018 33 24
What Kind of Hero 3/24/2018 9 119
Two Legs 3/26/2018 7 32
Scar 3/29/2018 4 40
  1. Reprint
  2. Shortlisted

As I said last time, a few of these stories are beyond the average response time, so I should hear back soon. I did send a submission status query to one of these publishers, mostly because the wait time is much longer than what I’ve previously experienced with the market. That could simply mean they’ve had a lot more submission than usual, or it could mean a lost submission. I sent a polite query letter basically to rule out the latter.

Goals

Again, I’d very much like to hit 15,000 words on the novel this week, but, as usual, I’ll settle for 10,000. I accepted a contract for game design project, and I need to get the outline for that going. It’s not due for a couple of weeks, but I’d like to get ahead of the deadline. As always, I have a whole bunch of short stories just crying out to be finished, revised, submitted, and so on, and I’ll try to get to a few of those as well.

Story Spotlight

This week, since baseball season is in full swing, I’ll ask you to head on over to Pseudopod and listen to my vampire baseball story “Night Games.” The narration by Rish Outfield is simply superb, and I think the story is pretty okay too. 🙂

Listen to “Night Games


And that was my week. Tell me about yours in the comments.

Even Good Stories Get Rejected

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. You finish a story, and you know it’s just the best damn thing you’ve ever written. Proud of your shiny new word baby, you send it out to a publisher you’re pretty sure will dig it. You wait with breathless anticipation for a few weeks, and then, BAM! The form rejection drops like a ten-ton weight into your inbox. Now what?

Well, sometimes I see authors want to overhaul a story based on that single rejection. A lot of the time, I think that’s a mistake. In my experience, most stories rack up at least one rejection before they sell. To illustrate this point, here are ten of my acceptances and the number of rejections they received before the blessed event.

Story Rejections
Paper Cut 16
Caroline 7
Scare Tactics 7
Night Games 6
Reunion 3
Little Sister 2
Luck Be a Bullet 2
New Arrivals 2
The Food Bank 2
Where They Belong 0

This list includes my story with the most rejections before publication and one of my few stories I sold on the first try. The only story on the list I revised was “Paper Cut” after about nine rejections. It still went on to collect seven more before I sold it. The rest of these stories I kept sending out until they found an editor that liked them.

Two of the stories on this list, “Night Games” and “Scare Tactics,” I’ve sold again to audio markets. I consider “Night Games” the best story I’ve published to date (YMMV), and it still racked up six rejections before someone liked it as much I do.

What am I trying to say with all this? It’s all in the title of the post. Even good stories get rejected. One, or two, or hell, half a dozen rejections doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve written a bad story or even a story that needs (major) revision. It can mean you’ve written a story that doesn’t quite fit the market you sent it to (might be time to dial in your submission targeting). It can mean you wrote a story about ghosts and sent it to an editor who just doesn’t like ghost stories that much. It can mean you wrote a story that’s very similar to a story the market just published or is planning to publish. In other words, it can mean a lot of things that have nothing to do with the quality of your story. Some editors are even good enough to tell you these things in the rejection letter.

This all leads to the next question. How many rejections should a story receive before you revise it or even scrap it? That’s gonna come down to a gut check. Obviously, I fall into the “keep sending it out until it finds a home” camp, but I generally start thinking about revision after six or seven rejections, especially if I’m only getting form rejections. Now, all this “advice” doesn’t mean squat if you get a rejection with specific feedback that resonates with you. In that case, revise away and thank your lucky stars you received such useful feedback right off the bat.

To sum up, consider letting your submissions stretch their legs a bit before you drag them back into the shop for an overhaul.  A couple of rejections probably doesn’t mean much.


How many rejection do you let a story rack up before you think about revision? Tell me about it in the comments.

Story Acceptance Prep Kit

Hey, you got an acceptance letter. Awesome. Now what? Well, the editor is likely going to ask you for a few things, and I think it’s a great idea to have these items ready to go and at your fingertips. So consider the following like a story acceptance prep kit and get busy.

1) Short Author Bio. Most markets will ask you for a short bio of around 50 words to run alongside your story. Here’s my current bio to give you an idea of what’s usually expected.

Aeryn Rudel is a freelance writer from Seattle, Washington. His second novel, Aftershock, was recently published by Privateer Press. Aeryn occasionally offers dubious advice on the subjects of writing and rejection (mostly rejection) on his blog at www.rejectomancy.com or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.

That bio is right around 40 words and tells folks who I am, what I do, and where they can learn more about me and my writing. I’ve written two blog posts about creating author bios, which you can find here: Submission Protocol: Short Author Bio and Evolution of a Short Author Bio.

2) PayPal Account. One of the best parts of getting published is getting paid for getting published. The vast majority of publishers I’ve worked with prefer to pay via PayPal and some won’t pay any other way. So set up an account if you haven’t already.

3) Author Photo. This one is sometimes optional, and some publishers will also give you the option of not using one. That said, if you don’t mind having your picture appear on the web or in print, then have one ready to go. Here’s my mug shot as an example:

I like black and white, but color is usually fine too. Generally, an author photo should be a head-shot, high resolution (at least 300 dpi), and a JPEG or TIF file. If you’d like more info about creating an author photo, I wrote a blog post about that too, which you can find right here: Picture Me: Some Thoughts/Advice on Author Photos.


These are three things I find editors commonly ask for after an acceptance, and as I stated earlier, I recommend having them ready to go. This is not to say an editor won’t give you time to put these together–editors are generally reasonable folks–but if you can provide them quickly, you look like a professional and prepared author. That’s always a good look. 🙂

Anything else that should be included in the story acceptance prep kit? Let me know in the comments.

Submission Statement: February 2018

February is in the rearview, and despite a significant drop in the number of submissions sent, it was a pretty good month. I broke the longest rejections streak of my career at 27, so that alone makes February a-okay in my book.

February 2018 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 5
  • Rejections: 7
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 0

I sent only a quarter of the submissions I sent in January, but I’m still on pace to hit 100 submissions for the year, with an average of 12.5 per month for the first two months. The main culprits for the lower submission count are a lack of new stories and some markets taking a little longer than usual to get back to me (keeping me from submitting the story elsewhere). Both of those factors should change in March.

Rejections

A fair amount of rejections this month, mostly from older submissions sent in January.

  • Standard Form Rejection: 7
  • Upper-Tier Form Rejection: 0
  • Personal Rejections: 0

All the rejections I received were garden-variety form rejections, but I’ll show you a couple just because I think they contain some solid advice.

Highlight Rejection 1: Sent 1/31/2017; Rejected 2/5/2018

We appreciate you taking the time to send us your story, [story title]. After careful consideration we’ve decided to pass on this story. There are many reasons a story is not accepted, most of which are subjective in nature, so don’t let our denial deter your from sending your story to other publications. We wish you the best of luck on finding a publication for this story. 

This is a standard form rejection from a new pro-paying market. I like this rejection because it mentions the subjective nature of getting a story published. Good stories are rejected all the time for all kinds of reasons. The editor’s reminder not to let that deter you from sending the story elsewhere is good advice and appreciated, even in a form letter.

Highlight Rejection 2: Sent 1/25/2018; Rejected 2/9/2018

Thank you for submitting your story, [story title], to [publisher]. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half dozen other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

You’ve certainly seen this rejection on my blog before (I’ll crack this market one of these days), but I’m including it here because of this sentence: To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. I don’t believe this is a hollow platitude, and, as the letter says, I’m sure this publisher has turned down strong stories for fit or similar themes or many other reasons.

I’ve published four stories this market rejected, and I don’t bring that up because this market was wrong for rejecting my work (they were right to do so for the reasons they listed and probably a few they didn’t). I bring it up to demonstrate those stories were simply a better fit for another market, and continuing to submit them was the right move. So, when you get a rejection, don’t jump to “I wrote a bad story.” Instead, remember, “To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take.”

Acceptances

Stop the presses; I get to talk about an acceptance this month. 🙂

Acceptance: Sent 1/4/2018; Rejected 2/20/2018

Thanks for your submission, [story title].  I’m happy to say that I’ve acquired it for [publisher] [themed] issue!

There’s more to this letter, of course, but it’s all the usual stuff about contracts and edits and whatnot. I’ll announce the market and the story soon. This will be my second publication with this market, and I’m thrilled to add another repeat customer to my resume.


That’s it for my February. How was your month?

Ranks of the Rejected: Andrew Bourelle

This time on Ranks of the Rejected I spoke with an author who directly inspired me to get off my ass and start submitting stories on a regular basis. I met Andrew Bourelle through his brother Ed Bourelle, a friend and colleague, and we started trading stories about six years ago. Not only did Andrew give me great feedback on my work, his dogged persistence in the face of rejection is part of what inspired me to start this blog. In fact, whenever I tell a story about a “writer friend” to demonstrate some point about not letting rejections get to you, half the time I’m talking about Andrew.

Folks, this guy is the poster child for sticking to your guns, working on your craft, and not letting rejections slow you down. His perseverance (and oodles of talent) have resulted in some well deserved success over the last couple of years, and I couldn’t be happier for him. So check out the interview below, absorb the wisdom therein, and then go read Andrew’s stuff.


1) What genres do you typically write? Do you have a favorite? If so, what about that genre draws you to it?

 My writing tends to be pretty varied, I think. I’ve published stories in literary journals, and I’ve published genre stories as well: mystery, horror, science fiction, etc. I’ve never really been able to confine myself to one genre. I don’t stop myself and say, “Wait, you’re a literary writer—you can’t write a post-apocalyptic monster story.” If I have an idea, I write it. And if I think the story is halfway decent, I make some attempt to find a place to publish it.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of mystery/thriller fiction. I love to be surprised by what I read, and mysteries and thrillers are built to surprise readers. I like to put my foot on the gas and take readers for a fun ride. I’m working on mystery/thriller novel that’s giving me a chance to do that.

2) You recently published your first novel, Heavy Metal. Tell us a little about how that book came together and how you went about the business of getting it published.

I wrote Heavy Metal as an experiment to see if I could write a novel. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the late 1980s. The main character is contemplating suicide, and in many ways the book is a character study. But I also wanted the narrative to pull readers in and keep them engaged. The novel has been described as suspenseful, intense, heartbreaking—which are all adjectives I’m happy with.

As I wrote it, I didn’t really think about how it could be labeled or marketed. I just wrote the story that was coming out of me. However, when it came time to find an agent or publisher, no one really seemed to know what to do with it. Is it a literary novel? A Young Adult novel? I didn’t care how it was categorized. I just wanted to write a book that might resonate with readers. But I imagine most agents took one look at the query letter and said, “Eh, I don’t know how to sell this.”

After a few years of failing to find an agent to represent the book, I pretty much gave up hope of ever seeing the book in print. Then it occurred to me that literary publishers often hold contests and publish the winning manuscripts. It’s one way that story collections and literary books that don’t seem to fit into easy commercial categories find a publisher. I figured I’d give it a shot. It ended up winning one of the first contests I entered—the Autumn House Fiction Prize. I’ve read past winners of the prize and am honored and humbled to be in their company. I think my editor told me there were more than 500 submissions. Somehow, from that pool, Heavy Metal was selected to be one of a dozen or so finalists, and the final judge, William Lychack (the author of a wonderful coming-of-age novel called The Wasp Eater), picked it as the winner. I always thought if the right person would just read the book, they would want to publish it. That’s essentially what happened; it just took longer than I thought to find the right person to read it.

3) Your story “Y Is for Yangchuan Lizard” was recently chosen for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018. This is your second go-around in the anthology, and I know your last story led to something pretty cool. Tell us a bit about that.

A story of mine called “Cowboy Justice” was picked to be in The Best American Mystery Stories 2015, which by itself is one of the highlights of my writing career. But it also opened up a really interesting door for me. James Patterson was the guest editor that year and picked the final selection of stories. Around the time the anthology was coming out, his people contacted me and said he was getting ready to launch a new series of short thrillers, called BookShots, and wanted to know if I was interested in coauthoring something with him.

We worked on a short thriller called The Pretender, which was published in 2016 in Triple Threat, a collection of three of his BookShots. The Pretender is also available as a downloadable audio book. It’s a fun story about a retired diamond thief who can’t outrun his past. It was an extraordinary experience to work with James Patterson, and I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity.

4) Okay, this blog is called Rejectomancy, so tell us about your first rejection letter or the first one that had a significant impact on you as a writer.

I think my first rejection came in high school. My teacher knew I liked to write and passed along information about a “short short story” competition. (I wish I could remember what journal held the contest, but I’ve forgotten.) I think the stories had to be 250 words or fewer. I wrote something and sent it in, knowing 100-percent that I wouldn’t win. But the act of sending something out seemed really important to me, like I was telling the universe that I wanted to be a writer.

In some ways, receiving the form rejection was validating to me. No one laughed at me. No one said, “Are you crazy, kid? You’re out of your league!” I got the same form rejection all the other real writers got. I have no idea if they took my story all that seriously, but it at least felt like they had.

 5) Got a favorite rejection? Memorable, funny, just straight-up weird?

The worst rejections are the personal ones where an editor’s critique of the story is unhelpful. I recently received a rejection where the editor said that the “tense shifts were distracting.” I thought, “Oh, there are tense shifts in there? What a rookie mistake.” I carefully reread the story and there weren’t any tense problems. I thought, “Did you copy the text from your last rejection into my rejection by mistake? Did you even read my story?”

On the other hand, there have been times where editors have made editorial suggestions that turned out to be valuable. I remember my short story “Little Healers” was rejected by Pseudopod, and the editor made a note about a problem he had with the story. I hadn’t noticed the issue before, but once it had been pointed out to me, I agreed with the assessment. I revised the story and sent it elsewhere. It was published in the anthology Swords & Steam Short Stories and was listed as an honorable mention for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. If it wasn’t for the rejection, I might never have seen the problem.

6) What’s the toughest part of rejection for you? Pro tips for dealing with it?

I think one of the keys to not letting rejections get to you is to have plenty of stuff out there under consideration. If you only have one or two stories that you have under consideration at one time, then a rejection can feel like a real setback. But if you’ve got 10 or 12 stories under consideration at 15 to 20 different publications, then you always have stuff in circulation. A single rejection doesn’t hurt much because you have other stories under consideration at the same time.

When I was submitting stories early on, I would only have one or two that I believed in, and I’d submit those to one publication each, even if simultaneous submissions were allowed. Then I’d wait however many months for a response and be bummed when a rejection rolled in. The key for me was writing more stories, getting more out there under consideration, and not putting too much hope in any one submission.

7) Plug away. Tells us about some of your recent projects and why we should run out and buy them.

You mentioned my story “Y Is for Yangchuan Lizard” is coming out in this year’s volume of The Best American Mystery Stories, which will be published in October. I was unbelievably excited when I got the news. The table of contents includes authors like T.C. Boyle, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Joyce Carol Oates—writers I’ve read, admired, and learned from.

Another big publication on the horizon is a second project with James Patterson. Texas Ranger, a novel he and I coauthored, is scheduled to be released in August. It was a lot of fun to work on. I recently received an ARC, and it was a real thrill to see my name on the cover with James Patterson. I can’t wait to see the novel in bookstores!

  


Andrew Bourelle is the author of the novel Heavy Metal. His short stories, poems, and comics (illustrated by his brother Ed Bourelle) have been published in journals and anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories, D Is for Dinosaur, Equus, Florida Review, Heavy Feather Review, Prime Number Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Weirdbook Magazine, and Whitefish Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewBourelle.