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.

A Better No: The Higher-Tier Form Rejection

I’ve covered higher-tier form rejections on my blog a few times, but it’s a subject I see in writing circles a fair amount, so I thought I’d dip back into my generous supply of rejection letters and show off some recent examples. Let’s look at a couple common form rejections and higher-tier form rejections from the same markets and see if we can spot the differences.

Publisher #1

Common Form Rejection:

We have read your submission and will have to pass, as it unfortunately does not meet our needs at this time.

Like many common form rejections from big markets this is short and to-the-point. It can be difficult not to read into these letters, but avoid it if you can. Trying to decipher what the editor means when he or she sends a letter like this is an exercise in futility and not a good use of your rejectomantic resources. It’s a no, simple as that. Move on.

Higher-Tier Form Rejection: 

We have read your submission and unfortunately your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. While we regretfully cannot provide detailed feedback due to the volume of submissions, we thank you for your interest in our magazine and hope you continue to consider us in the future.

A bit different, right? The bright spot here is the “consider us in the future” bit. That usually (but not always) means a higher-tier rejection. It’s not as informative as a personal rejection, sure, but the editor probably liked something about the story. Like the common form rejection, you shouldn’t read too much into these letters, but I think you can take the editor at their word. This story was not a good fit and you should send them something else.

Publisher #2

Common Form Rejection:

Thanks for submitting “XXX” but I’m going to pass on it. It didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way.

This common form rejection is pretty similar to the first one. It’s a bit longer, but it says the same thing: this market is not going to publish this story. Again, that’s really the only thing you can take away, so don’t over-analyze. File the rejection away and send the story out again.

Higher-Tier Form Rejection:

Thanks for submitting “XXX,” but I’m going to pass on it. It’s nicely written and I enjoyed reading it, but overall it didn’t quite win me over, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way. I look forward to seeing your next submission.

It’s a little easier to spot the higher-tier form rejection with this publisher. They include the bit about the next submission, but they also mention the quality of the writing. Additionally, the phrase “didn’t quite win me over” as opposed to “didn’t work for me” is, in my experience, more common in higher-tier rejections. (How’s that for some Rejectomancy?) Despite the fact this letter tells you more than the first one, don’t spend any time trying to figure out why the story was rejected. You’ll never know, and that’s okay. The editor liked something about the story, and that should be  enough reason to send that story somewhere else.


If you’d like more info on higher-tier rejection letters, then I strong recommend checking out The Rejection Wiki, “a wiki for recording literary rejections to help in determining whether you have a standard, tiered or personalized rejection.” It’s an invaluable recourse, and if you look real hard, you’ll find the four rejection letters I posted here. 🙂

Do you have any thoughts on higher-tier rejections? Examples from your own collection? Share them in the comments.

Submission Guidelines: Check ’em Twice

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve no doubt heard me go on and on about the process of submitting a story. Well, most of that has to do with one very important factor: following the submission guidelines. I’ve written a bunch of posts on the subject, but I thought I’d put all that basic info together as a checklist. This is essentially the checklist I use when considering if my story will be a good fit for a particular publisher.

Here’s the list:

  1. General Info
  2. Story Length
  3. Sex, Profanity, and Gore
  4. Rights
  5. Payment
  6. Response Time
  7. Multiple and Simultaneous Submissions
  8. Manuscript Format & Submission Method
  9. Other considerations

The content and order of this list is specific to me and how I research markets before I submit a story. Other authors might place more or less importance an any of these factors (or include some I haven’t).  My list breaks down into three tiers, loosely based on how important they are in my research process.

  • The first tier (1-3) tells me if my story is something the market would even publish. Is it the right genre? Is it the right length? Is the content appropriate for the audience? If my answer is no to any of these questions, I move on.
  • The second tier (4-6) are things I consider if the story passes the first tier. That’s not to say the second tier is less important. Not at all. In fact, things like rights and payment are incredibly important, but I probably won’t bother reading about them in a market’s guidelines if my story is off genre or too long.
  • The last tier (7-9) are conditional considerations or considerations that aren’t likely to factor strongly into my decisions to send a story.

Okay, let’s get into the specifics with some examples.

1) General Info

Most publication have offer a general statement about the type of stories they want, and it’ll often tell you if your story is a good fit. Here’s an example:

We publish flash fiction in the genres of speculative fiction, specifically science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, super hero, or any combination of these.  We are looking for stories that are engaging to our readers in such a short word count.  Please take note of these factors (pun intended) when submitting stories to us.

This is a really thorough general want last, and it tells me a lot. We get general story length (flash), genres (sci-fi and fantasy), and even some sub-genres they’re interested in. This short statement tells me, for example, a 3,000-word horror story is not going to work here. That saves me a lot of time, and I’m sure it cuts down on the number of inappropriate submissions the publisher receives.

2) Story Length

Some publishers put their story length requirements in the general submission info. Others call it out elsewhere, so always look for that extra detail. Here’s an example:

Maximum word length is a firm 7,500 words. Anything more will be auto-rejected.

I find that most genre markets have maximum word lengths of between 5,000 and 7,500 words. Plenty of words for most short stories. Obviously, don’t send stories that are over the market’s maximum word length. This market even tells you what happens if you do. You’ll get auto-rejected, as you should. Don’t screw yourself right out of the gate by not following simple instructions. If you write short-form fiction, like flash or micro, you should check the minimum word length in the guidelines too. Not all markets publish the short stuff, and word count minimums between 1,000 and 2,000 words are not uncommon.

3) Sex, Profanity, and Gore

This one is higher on my list than it may be on yours, largely because I’m a horror writer and profanity and gore often appear in my stories. Sex rarely does, but that’s more personal style than anything else. If your stories tend to contain this kind of material, it’s a good idea to see if the market in question mentions their tolerance levels in the guidelines (most do). In other words, don’t send your F-bomb-laced slasher story to a market like this:

Please note: [publisher] does not publish explicit sex or violence. We are a little quirky about language as well: obscenity is fine in moderation, but profanity is not. (In short: We will not publish the f-word, and if your story invokes divinity, we ask that it actually be invoking divinity…)

Don’t waste their time and yours by sending the aforementioned slasher story to this market. It’s not cool. You’re just gonna get an auto-reject and make the editor question your reading comprehension skills. There’s no reason to do that when the vast majority of genre markets have guidelines that look like this:

Sexual Content & Language: We are okay with foul language and sexual activity within a story, provided it fits the story well. We do not publish erotica.

You’ll see the same kind of guidelines for gore, with “fits the story” being the key phrase. Sure, this is a little vague, mostly because when these elements are overused, it’s just something you feel and it can be hard to quantify. That said, my stories feature a fair amount of profanity and gore, and I’ve been published by markets whose guidelines read like the example above.

4) Rights

Now that you’ve determined the market publishes both the genre and length of story you’re submitting, and they’ll tolerate all your F-bombs, what happens if they do publish your story? Well, they’re going to acquire certain rights to the work that will look something like this:

We require first print and electronic rights for your story. We require exclusive rights for one year from the date of publication.

This is a pretty standard, in that I’ve seen these specific rights requested quite a bit in guidelines. I’m not going to give you any legal advice here, mostly because I’m woefully unqualified to do so. I’ll just say it is very important you understand what these terms mean, so do your research. There are a lot of reputable sites that can break down all the rights a market might request. To get you started, here’s a great article on the subject by Marg Gilks called Rights: What They Mean and Why They’re Important.  

Most publishers put the rights they’re acquiring in the submission guidelines, but not all. Sometimes you’ll only find that out after the story has been accepted. In my experience, those publishers will ask for something pretty similar to my example, but it’s important you understand what you’re giving away before you sign on the dotted line.

It’s rare, but I have passed on a market because the rights they wanted to acquire were not ones I wanted to give up.

5) Payment

I’ve yet to encounter a publisher that doesn’t list the monetary compensation they’re offering in the submission guidelines, even if they’re offering nothing. Here’s an example:

Fiction is paid at a rate of eight (8) U.S. cents per word based on our word processor’s word count and excludes title, author information, etc. The minimum payment for a story is sixty (60) U.S. dollars.  Payment is made no later than the date of publication via PayPal.

This market is offering a (very good) professional rate of 8 cents per word. They also give you helpful info about how they calculate word count, the minimum you can make for a story, and how they want to pay you. If you don’t have a PayPal account, get one. A lot of publishers prefer to pay this way.

Payment is generally broken down into four tiers. I’m using Duotrope’s definitions here, which seem to be pretty standard across the industry.

  • No Payment: Sometimes called “for the love of it” publishers, these markets do not offer any monetary payment. They might pay you with a subscription to their publication or author copies of the issue in which your story appears.
  • Token: These markets pay under 1 cent per word, and that’s usually a flat fee of some kind. For example, they might offer a flat payment of $10.00 for stories up to 5,000 words, which will work out to less than 1 cent per word in most cases.
  • Semi-Pro: These markets offer at least 1 cent per word, and that minimum of 1 cent is pretty common in my experience. The bigger, more established markets at this tier are usually around 3 cents per word. These markets sometimes offer a flat payment too, something like $100.00 for short stories up to 5,000 words. When you do the math, it’ll usually work out to somewhere between 1 cent and 5 cents per word (usually on the lower end of that scale).
  • Pro: These markets offer 6 cents per word and up. I have seen flat payments offered at this tier but not often.

I do consider payment when I send out a story, but it’s important to understand that payment isn’t always commensurate with a market’s prestige or reach. For example, in the genre market there are semi-pro magazines that are as well-regarded as the pro magazines and a few brand new markets that offer professional pay. On the other end of that spectrum, my lit-fic friends tell me that some of the most prestigious markets in that space sometimes offer no payment.

6) Response Time

How quickly a market responds is a fairly important consideration for me, and, I admit, I tend to shy away from those that take six months to send a form rejection. It may not be as big a consideration for you. Most publishers will list their expected response times in their guidelines, like this:

Response times will vary depending on volume, but may average twenty-four hours (or less!). Query after one month (include title and date submitted). Please do not respond to rejection letters, for any reason, otherwise.

This is from one of my favorite markets, and they mean what they say. They are fast. According to Duotrope, they average 1.7 days for a rejection and 8.3 days for an acceptance. They also tell you when it’s appropriate to query, which is very useful info. Lastly, they ask that you not respond to rejection letters. There’s really no reason to respond to a rejection letter anyway, and that goes double for a market that specifically asks you not to do it.

7) Multiple & Simultaneous Submissions

This is an important one if you’re a writer who likes the shotgun approach to submissions. Some quick definitions. Simultaneous submissions are when you send one story to multiple publishers. Multiple submissions are when you send two or more stories to the same publisher. Generally, a publisher will address both in their guidelines:

We will not consider multiple submissions. Submit once and wait for a response before sending anything else. We will not consider simultaneous submissions. 

Pretty straightforward, right? In my experience, there aren’t many genre publishers that accept multiple submissions, and the ones that do are generally markets for flash fiction. Simultaneous submissions are more common, especially if it’s a market that takes a little longer to get back to you (usually 60 days or more). The market in this example is super-fast, so no sim-subs is a perfectly reasonable position.

8) Manuscript Format & Submission Method

Almost every publisher will tell you how they want you to format your manuscript and which file types they prefer, and that’ll look something like this:

Submittable is our preferred method of submission. We accept most file types as well. Please use standard manuscript format for your story (although headers and footers are not needed). 

In my experience, most publishers want manuscripts prepared in standard manuscript format, sometimes called Shunn standard format. If you’re not familiar with this format, get familiar with it. Occasionally, a publisher will ask for standard manuscript format with some slight alterations. This market, for example, says you can omit the standard header and footer. Other markets might ask for a different font or ask that you not underline words meant to be in italics and simply use italics.

The majority of publishers ask for the most common file types, with .doc, .docx, and .rtf being the most popular. If a publisher asks you for a specific file type, I recommend you send them that file type.

Like I said, most publishers want something resembling standard manuscript formatting, but not all. Some will ask you to paste the story directly into an email or a submission form through one of the submission management programs, like Submittable or Moksha. (It’s not a terrible idea to create a (free) author’s account for these two services. I’m seeing them a lot more in submission guidelines.)

Should the requested manuscript format and file type be a consideration when you send out a story? In my opinion, no, unless you simply cannot comply for technical reasons. I’ll admit, some manuscript formatting guidelines can be a little, uh, unique, and that can be time consuming, but it’s never kept me from sending a story to a market I thought might publish it.

9) Other Considerations

This is kind of a grab-bag of miscellaneous considerations that are largely conditional. Here are some I might look for.

  1. Reprints: I do on occasion submit reprints, which are stories I’ve sold and the rights have reverted back to me. Not all publishers accept them, and if they do, I generally start at the top of my checklist and see if everything else is a fit.
  2. Publication format: Are they publishing in print or digital? Will the story be available to read on their site for free? Most of the time this is a marketing consideration for me. If the story is online and available as a free read, I can use my blog and social media to send folks directly to it. This doesn’t always appear in submission guidelines, and I’ve yet to come across anything that would keep me from submitting a story.
  3. Submission method: The overwhelming majority of publishers want work submitted through email or through a submission manager (Submittable, Moksha, etc.). I might balk a little at a publisher that only accepts snail-mail submissions, but, honestly, I can’t think of one that does that.

That’s my general submission guidelines checklist. Did I leave something off that you always take into consideration? Let me know in the comments.

Submission Statement: December 2017

December was another good month for submissions. I didn’t think I’d match November’s output, but I did, and I had more than just rejections to tally in the final month of the year.

December 2017 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 13
  • Rejections: 8
  • Other: 0
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 2

I sent a lot of submissions in December because I finished three new stories, which are currently running the submission gamut. Like I said last month, 13 is a lot of submissions and that pace might be difficult to sustain, but I’d like do somewhere between 8 and 10 a month in 2018 (more on that in my 2017 wrap-up post). As you can see, a lot of submissions last month and this month (26 total) resulted in more rejections, which I expected, but there’s some good news too with an acceptance and two publications.

Rejections

Eight rejections this month for four stories. You’ll likely recognize a lot of these.

Rejection 1: Submitted 11/29/17; Rejected 12/2/17

Thank you for allowing me to consider XXX but I’m going to pass on this one. This is not necessarily a reflection of your writing ability. The story just didn’t fit the anthology as it’s beginning to take shape. Due to an overwhelming response for this anthology, I’m unable to provide feedback. I wish you luck in finding a home for the story elsewhere.

This is a rejection from the fifth volume of a popular horror anthology. I submitted to the fourth volume last year and was short-listed but eventually rejected. I entered pretty late in the submission window this time, and that may have been a factor in the story’s rejection, as the editor indicated. I really dig this particular anthology, and I’m sure I’ll submit to the eventual sixth volume in 2018.

Rejection 2: Submitted 11/24/17; Rejected 12/9/17

Thank you for submitting your story, XXX, to XXX. 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.

PS Nice surprise at the end.

This is a form rejection with an editor’s note attached, which I guess makes it a personal rejection. Anyway, it’s from a top-tier market I’ve been trying to crack for a long time with little success. They’re primarily a sci-fi and fantasy market, and I tend to send them stuff that is either sci-fi/horror or fantasy/horror. Well, this submission was pretty much pure sci-fi (with a darker tone, natch), and it looks like I may have gotten closer to an acceptance than I have before. That’s not to say I got close, just closer than usual. I need to write more sci-fi.

Rejection 3: Submitted 11/14/17; Rejected 12/18/17

Thanks for sending this my way. I’m sorry I won’t be using it for XXX.

This is a rejection for my one and only mystery short story. It’s brief and to the point, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. If I were to write more mystery, I’d submit here again.

Rejection 4: Submitted 12/6/17; Rejected 12/19/17

We appreciate you taking the time to send us your story, XXX.  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 rejection from a brand new pro-paying fantasy and sci-fi market. I was so thrilled to see a new pro market in this space that I immediately sent them a story. Luckily, I happened to have something that was appropriate (one of the new ones I finished this month). This is a nice form rejection. It might be higher tier, but it’s hard to tell with a new market. I always like it when a publisher reminds authors that this is a subjective business. It’s something every author needs to take to heart. Anyway, I’ve already sent them another piece.

Rejection 5: Submitted 12/17/17; Rejected 12/20/17

Thank you for giving me a chance to read “XXX.” Unfortunately, this story didn’t quite win me over and I’m going to pass on it for XXX. I wish you best of luck finding the right market for it and hope that you’ll keep us in mind in the future. 

So, normally, when I say a form rejection is higher-tier, I’m applying a bit of rejectomancy because there’s no way to know for certain. Well, that’s true for every publisher but this one. The editor of this top-tier pro market has said in blog posts and Twitter posts what his various form templates actually mean. So I know this one is a higher-tier rejection. That is handy info to have, for sure. This was the first submission of a new story I think is one of the better pieces I’ve written, so even though this is a rejection, it’s nice to know I might be on the right track.

Rejection 6: Submitted 12/20/17; Rejected 12/21/17

We have read your submission and unfortunately your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. While we regretfully cannot provide detailed feedback due to the volume of submissions, we thank you for your interest in our magazine and hope you continue to consider us in the future.

This is a higher-tier rejection from one of my bucket-list horror markets. My last four submissions have gotten higher tier rejections, so maybe I’m getting somewhere. I will definitely keep trying.

Rejection 7: Submitted 12/19/17; Rejected 12/27/17

Thank you for submitting your story, XXX, to XXX. 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’ll notice this is the same form rejection from rejection #2, sans editor note. I tried this market again with a story I thought was more sci-fi, but the horror element is also quite strong. I’m not saying that’s why it was rejected, though. Like the rejections says, there are lots of reasons stories get rejected.

Rejection 8: Submitted 12/19/17; Rejected 12/27/17

Many thanks for sending “XXX”, but I’m sorry to say that it isn’t quite right for XXX. I wish you luck placing it elsewhere, and hope that you’ll send me something new soon. 

A standard form rejection from another of my bucket-list horror markets. Like some of the other rejections here, you’ve likely seen this one a lot in my posts. Still, gotta keep trying.

Acceptances 

One acceptance this month. It comes from one of my favorite purveyors of flash fiction.

Acceptance 1: Submitted 11/15/17;  Accepted 12/5/17

Thanks for submitting work to The Molotov Cocktail. Great to see this one again, as it was actually the last piece to miss the cut in the Flash Monster contest. Weird premise, which resonates with us, and vividly written. We’d like to run “Little Sister” in our upcoming issue (to be published within the week). Nice work. 

Thanks again for allowing us to feature your story. 

The Molotov Cocktail is one of the few markets I’ll name in these lists because I know they don’t mind (I asked). Anyway, this is a cool acceptance because of how close the story got to publication in one of their contests. They always state in those rejections to resubmit the “close-but-no-cigar” stories because they sometimes publish them in the regular issues. Well, this is The Molotov putting their money where their mouth is (not that I ever doubted), and I’m thrilled to have placed another story with them.

Publications 

Two publications this month, and you can read both stories by clicking the links below.

Publication 1: “Reunion” published by The Arcanist on 12/1/2017.

Publication 2: “Little Sister” published by The Molotov Cocktail on 12/11/2017. 

Though these stories were written years apart, they both feature two somewhat similar characters (and kind of similar themes). I think that’s largely because they both originate from one-hour flash challenge writing exercises with very similar prompts. It’s kind of neat they were published so close together.


And that was my very busy December. How was yours?

Hook, Line & Sinker: Fine-Tuning the First Sentence

Last year, I wrote a blog post inspired by one of my favorite essays by Stephen King, “Great Hookers I Have Known,” from his collection Secret Windows. The title of the essay is, of course, not what it sounds like. It’s about crafting a first sentence for a novel (or short story) that grabs the reader, the “hooker,” as it was apparently called by publishers back in the day.

In the blog post from last year, I looked at the “hookers” in six of my published stories and tried to ascertain if a good one resulted in the story being published quicker (fewer rejections). Well, I’ve published some new stories since that last post, so let’s look at the first lines from six of them, count the rejections, and see if I’ve improved my skills.

1) Let’s start with the mediocre first. This is from a short story called “Paper Cut.”

“I got no outs this time, Jimmy,” Ronald said.

Not exactly a knock-your-socks-off opening line, huh? I like opening a story with dialogue, but this is just too vague and too bland to grab the reader. Now, the opening paragraph is stronger, but the first line could use some work. Did the opening line affect this story’s publication chances? Well, it was rejected sixteen times before publication. I don’t think the first line is the only reason for all those rejection, but it probably didn’t help.

2) This one is from a sci-fi flash story called “An Incident on Dover Street.” 

“What is it, Vince?” Dale said. “A wormhole or something?”

I think this is better than the opener of “Paper Cut,” but it doesn’t do much. The question and the mention of a wormhole is sort of interesting, but it’s still a little flat. The opening paragraphs are better, so I’m grateful the editors read a bit further. This one racked up five rejections before I sold it.

3) This next one is a bit better, and it’s from a flash fiction story called “Masks.”

He has worked for Finco Novelties for as long as anyone can remember, a gaunt man with a slack, forgettable face and mud-brown eyes.

I give you a fair amount of detail here with the description of the protagonist, and I think it sets the tone for the story pretty well. Still, it’s not that “Holy shit what happens NEXT?!” line that can help a story sell. But, hey, what do I know? This one sold on its first submission, though it has picked up one rejection as a reprint.

4) Up next is a line that is pretty solid, I think. It’s from a flash piece called “Reunion.”

“Does it hurt them, Daddy?” Evelyn asked.

So this is pretty simple, but I think the question posed in this first line and the fact that it’s obviously coming from a child makes for a fairly intriguing opening. I also think it’s kind of creepy, which is appropriate for this Lovecraftian horror story. This story was rejected three times before I sold it, and that’s not bad.

5) Moving on, this one is from a story called “Where they Belong.”

Daddy always says to put things where they belong. Toys have to go back in the chest. Milk has to go back in the fridge. Dead people have to go in the ground.

Okay, I’m cheating here, I know. This is not the first line; it’s the first paragraph. It’s still really short, and I think it’s one of the better openers I’ve written. I think it gets the reader asking questions, which, in my opinion, is the best thing an opening line can do. I sold this one on the first submission to a pro market (sadly, now defunct). Like “Masks,” the story has since picked up a rejection as a reprint.

6) Last one, and this is my favorite of the bunch. This is from a story called “Cowtown.”

“Dude, again, chupacabras eat goats not cows,” Miguel said and stepped over the barbed-wire fence, being careful not to snag his crotch.

I love that opening bit of dialogue here, and it still makes me giggle when I read it. I think it creates a solid image in the reader’s mind and kind of a funny one. It also tells you the story might be horror and might be humorous (it’s both). Though I think this is the best opening line of the bunch, this story picked up two rejections before I published it. Still, that’s not too shabby.


So what’s the verdict? Does a good opening line help sell a story? If we look at the last time I posted about this subject, I listed opening lines to six published stories, and only one of them sold on the first attempt. Here I hit two out of six on the first attempt. The first six stories amassed 31 total rejections, for an average of about 5.2 each. This batch of six received 28 rejections, for an average of 4.6. Of course, you have to take into account that “Paper Cut” received 16 all by itself, and I wrote that one before I started working on my opening sentence game. If you remove the rejections from “Paper Cut,” then the other five stories averaged only 2.4 rejections before they sold. Yeah, yeah, this is rejectomancy at its finest, but I do think I’ve gotten better at writing opening lines (I’ve actively worked on it).

Look, I know a good opening line is not the only thing that sells a story. The rest of it has to be good too, and my quicker sales in this batch could be the result of a whole bunch of other factors. Still, I’m a firm believer that a good opening line can only help your chances.

If you’d like to read some of these stories, you can find links to most them in my Short Fiction Page.

What are your thoughts on writing opening lines? Tell me about it in the comments or share one you’re proud of.

Acceptance Rates: What are the Chances?

We all know that top-tier short story markets receive tons of submissions, likely hundreds every submission period, but how many of those submissions are actually accepted? Excellent question, and we have some data that can at least get us in the ballpark.

Since I’m primarily a horror writer, I’m going to give you stats on five markets (three pro and two semi-pro) that accept horror: Apex Magazine, Black Static, The Dark Magazine, Pseudopod, and Red Room Magazine. I’ve listed the acceptance rates for these markets below, pulling the data from Duotrope and The Submission Grinder and then taking an average. The numbers are fairly close between the two submission tracking services, but not always. Check out the disparity between the two for The Dark.

Market Tier Duotrope  Acceptance % Submission Grinder Acceptance % Average
Apex Magazine Pro 0.22% 0.28% 0.25%
Black Static Pro 1.36% 1.88% 1.62%
Pseudopod Pro 3.23% 3.42% 3.33%
The Dark Semi-Pro 0.90% 2.52% 1.71%
Red Room Magazine Semi-Pro 1.52%
*Please note these are ballpark figures based on the data at hand. Each market’s actual acceptance rate may be (and probably is) a bit higher or a bit lower than what I have here.

Apex Magazine is by far the toughest market to crack, with an acceptance rate somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 out of every 400 submissions. The others aren’t exactly a walk in the park, though your chances are slightly better. One other thing to consider is that Duotrope states the acceptance rates may actually be lower than what they have listed. That’s because folks are very good about reporting acceptances and, uh, less good about reporting rejections.

The only complete data I have is for Red Room Magazine. They actually published how many submissions they received (and accepted) during their last submission window (four months). The numbers look like this: 575 submissions received, 8 submissions accepted. That works out to a 1.52% acceptance rate, which puts Red Room Magazine in line with most pro and semi-pro markets. Other markets on my list, like Apex Magazine and The Dark Magazine, must receive at least this many submissions in the same period, and if I were a betting man, I’d wager they get a lot more. I have no data to back that up, just gut instinct based on their longevity and prestige in the spec-fic marketplace.

Of course, you can’t look at this as only a numbers game. If you had all the time in the world, you could send 400 submissions to Apex Magazine and still not get that one acceptance the numbers indicate. At the end of the day, this is still about putting a good story in front of the right editor at the right time.

But what can the numbers tell us? Well, it’s not all bad news. With acceptance rates this low, these magazines are certainly turning away some good stories, stories that might go on to publication elsewhere, even another pro market. The reasons for this are many: bad fit for the market, they just published a similar story, not quite up to snuff in the craft department, and so on. In other words, a rejection from one of these markets doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve written a bad story. Case in point, my story “Night Games” was rejected by three top-tier markets (one on this list) and eventually published by Pseudopod. So, when it comes to the low, low acceptance rates of these top-tier publishers, I’d offer you the same advice I tell myself: keep writing, keep working on your craft, and keep submitting.

[Edit] Just a quick note. I originally had only Duotrope statistics in this post, primarily because that’s the service I use. But a lot of folks use The Submission Grinder, and it was pointed out to me by a top-tier science fiction and fantasy magazine that there can be quite a disparity between the two services (their own numbers were very different). So I’ve gone back and added The Submission Grinder stats to the chart and taken an average. It’s not perfect, but it’s likely a bit closer than what I had.


Thoughts on acceptance rates? Experience with any of the markets I listed here? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Statement: November 2017

November was my most productive month of the year for short stories, maybe my most productive month ever. The reason? I finished some new stories and started sending them out, which led to a record number of submissions and a fair number of rejections. Let’s have a look.

November 2017 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 13
  • Rejections: 7
  • Other: 0
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0

In 2018 I’d like to get closer to this month’s submission numbers on a regular basis. Thirteen submissions is a lot, but a monthly total of eight to ten seems doable. I’d also, you know, like a few more acceptances in 2018, but, hey, while I’m wishing for stuff, I’d like a pony, and a Red Ryder BB gun, and a million dollars. 🙂

Rejections

Seven rejections this month, three of which are for the same story.

Rejection 1: Submitted 10/15/17; Rejected 11/3/17

Thanks for considering XXX for your Reprint submission, “XXX.” 

Unfortunately we have decided not to accept it. 

We wish you the best of luck with your writing career and hope to see your name often (new stories, too!) in our slush pile. 

A higher-tier rejection from a pro flash fiction market. I’ve sent them eight pieces, both new works and reprints, but no dice yet. They’re one of the few markets open to reprints, and they also accept multiple submissions. That’s a winning combo, and I’ll definitely send them more stories in the future.

Rejection 2: Submitted 11/1/17; Rejected 11/7/17

Thank you for giving me a chance to read “XXX.” Unfortunately, this story didn’t quite grab me and I’m going to pass on it for XXX. I wish you best of luck finding the right market for it and hope that you’ll keep us in mind in the future. 

This was my first ever submission to one of the biggest science fiction and fantasy markets on the planet. I think this is a higher-tier rejection, but I’m not one-hundred-percent on that. The “keep us in mind in the future” or language like it is usually an indicator of a higher-tier for big markets, but some publishers include something like that in every rejection. Either way, it’s a nice form rejection.

Rejection 3: Submitted 10/30/17; Rejected 11/15/17

Thank you for submitting your story, “XXX”, to XXX. 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.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve seen this rejection plenty. This is from a top-tier sci-fi market, and my lack of success here might have something to do with the type of stories I send them. Sure, I follow the guidelines and send what can be considered science fiction, but it’s usually horror/sci-fi, and the sci-fi elements are often secondary to the horror. This is, of course, rejectomancy at it’s finest, and like their letter states, my stories might have been (and probably were) rejected for “half a dozen other reasons.” I currently have a story under consideration here that is absolutely more sci-fi than horror, so we’ll see if I fare better with this submission. Tune in next month to find out.

Rejection 4: Submitted 11/17/17; Rejected 11/18/17

We have read your submission and unfortunately your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. While we regretfully cannot provide detailed feedback due to the volume of submissions, we thank you for your interest in our magazine and hope you continue to consider us in the future.

This is the first rejection for a brand new story from one of the more prestigious horror markets. I’ve sent this market a lot of my work, and they’re definitely one of my bucket-list publishers. I am somewhat heartened by the fact that my last three submissions, including this one, have resulted in higher-tier rejections. So, I might be getting closer. Have to keep trying to find out.

Rejection 5: Submitted 11/18/17; Rejected 11/20/17

Many thanks for sending “XXX”, but I’m sorry to say that it isn’t right for XXX. I wish you luck placing it elsewhere, and hope that you’ll send me something new soon. 

The second rejection for that new story I mentioned in the last rejection. I have a short list of top-tier horror markets I send every new story (if appropriate), and this is one of the publishers on that list. Despite the “hope you’ll send me something new” line, this is not a higher-tier rejection; it’s their standard form rejection. That’s not to say they don’t mean what they say, just that in this case, that language is not an indicator of a higher-tier rejection.

Rejection 6: Submitted 11/19/17; Rejected 11/24/17

Thank you for considering XXX for your story, “XXX.” 

Unfortunately, we have decided not to accept it. We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere. 

This is the standard form rejection for the publisher in rejection two (that one was a higher-tier). This is the first rejection for another new story, a flash piece. It’s currently under consideration with the publisher from rejection four.

Rejection 7: Submitted 11/20/17; Rejected 11/29/17

Thank you for submitting “XXX” to XXX. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, we don’t feel it is a good fit for us and we’re going to have to pass on it at this time.

This is the third rejection for that new story I mentioned in rejections four and five. This is another of my go-to publishers for new stories, and this is their standard form rejection. The story is out again for consideration with another market.


And that’s all I’ve got for November. How was your month?