Discussion in 'Publishing' started by deadrats, Aug 19, 2016.
A 29-day form rejection from The Iowa Review.
The odds in the music industry are much lower. But there is a surprising thing to be learnt.
Everybody loves quality. Whether it is from the artist or from the team around them. Everybody fights and rushes head over heels to snap up this quality. There’s a lot, and I mean a lot, an absolutely staggering outstanding number of people out there who lack the requisite edge. Who lack the raw talent, or who lack in the ability to refine it. Sometimes it just takes one person to recognize this quality for the rest to jump onboard. Sometimes the quality sits unnoticed for a head-scratching amount of time.
I started in the music business at 17, getting to work with major labels. Some of it was about networking. Most of it was about networking. Building working relationships with people. I don’t believe it was an odds-game. I believe it had to do with grit, and perseverance.
My point in all of this is I believe the same is true in writing. Take that 1:6000 you floated. Now assume the bell-curve of talent. You only remember the very highest percentile of this bell-curve and a few ranks below it because those are the ones who write the best books that stay with you for years. Decades. Centuries. Now assume all the other published authors rank just slightly below them, edging closer to the 80% mark of the bell-curve.
Now regard the average human. By all rights, in the year of 2020, most average humans are wholly uninspired and unintelligent. Much like always. I wish to channel Carlin’s “Imagine how stupid the average person is then realize half of all people are stupider than that.”
Talent in a field is not a god-given attribute. It is not an incredible gift bestowed upon every human. Most ordinary humans will never write a good book. Much like they cannot sing, or paint wondrous pictures. Average is the 50th percentile, and I don’t believe anybody here is average. Average is something that can be risen above creatively, almost always risen above.
That gives you 50% of the bell-curve left. 1:3000. With 30% to reach above from where the average person who writes a book lands. 1:1800 to charge through and subtract from your final odds. That 30% is reached through a combination of luck, sparks of talent, mass refinement of those sparks, sweat, blood, tears, and most of all — practice. It is not a superhuman feat of willpower to obtain landing in this 80th percentile. It just requires a lot of the things that all humans dislike very much, which is hard work and discipline. Which is why the 50th percentile and below can be discarded. You should have the confidence in your work to be able to say “the average person off the street could not write better.” But also the humility to understand there’s a 30% barrier to work through.
For a further example, I play chess. This calculates rank by ELO, and I can see that after years of practicing every day, I am firmly above the 90th percentile. In reality, compared to everybody who plays chess in the world, I am in the 99.9th percentile. I won’t ever reach the world bests, but it wasn’t talent that got me there, it was hard work and learning. My point is this:
If you write a good book. A truly good book. Your odds are not 1 in 6000. If you’re a good networker and you’re willing to take the odds and trail-blaze ahead, your odds are not 1 in 6000. Just looking at the similarly talented writers in this thread who finger their way above the common percentile and post about finally being published after strings of rejections — neither were their odds 1 in 6000. Rejection will happen because such is life, but so will achieving your goal. Persistence and being better than the humdrum mundanity of the average human will lead you into that 80th percentile. Sometimes it will lead you under, to the 70th, sometimes over. Understanding that getting a good work that you believe in to the right 150 different overworked hands to scan over, one of those overworked hands will say “Hey, this is something I can work with.”
150:1200 (top 20th percentile) gives you a 1 in 8 odds. All of a sudden, the odds are squared. It also makes sense. Some great authors throw a few books into those 1:8 odds before they ever get picked up and their future odds improve. Anybody facing rejection in this thread may be one of those great authors about to take off.
The other 149 might reject you. I got a lot of rejections as a kid until I forced my way into the music industry. I lost tens of thousands of chess games. But you will get there, with tough skin and a spark of talent (which is a rare and wondrous thing), or discipline and intense practice (which is also a rare and wondrous thing), because those odds were never truly stacked 1:6000 against you.
It's kind of silly to talk about this like it's a numbers game. Sure, it takes more tries then we think it should, but our odds don't really increase or decrease our abilities. I do believe perseverance is key. So is being relentless. But it's not always going to work out. The best ten stories among 6k stories are still going to be the best ten stories even among twenty of those stories. And that doesn't mean you have a 50-50 shot at this. You still have to have the best story out of all of them (or at least convince an editor you do).
For fiction, my acceptance rate is 1.1 percent for the last year. On duotrope it says "Congratulations! Your acceptance ratio is higher than the average members who have submitted to the same markets." Now, I do aim high so I know the vast majority of times my stories will be rejected. The majority of places that have bought my fiction have a very low acceptance rate of less than 1 percent. Actually, my story has to better than maybe 6k other stories or something like that every time I submit someplace. Or the timing has to be right and I have to get lucky. Real lucky to make it from the slush pile into print. There are places I've tried over a dozen or so times with stories I thought were better before they bought one. But someone saw something in it and passed it up. Then other people at the publication saw something in my work. If I had sent the story that sold a year earlier or a year later, it might not have had the same outcome. What you send where and when matters, but that can be very hard to figure out.
Not too long ago, I had a different story finally published that I had been trying with forever. That story alone brought in 85 rejections before it was accepted. I believe it is my most rejected story, but now it's in print. This is perseverance and often necessary when it comes to publishing. At least that's the way it's worked for me. The story didn't turn into a different or better story, but it did find the right editor. That can be tricky, and it can involve some (or a lot of) luck.
I received over 400 rejections before selling my first short story. But then I broke in at the top. It was unreal and one of the best feelings you can imagine. I mean 400-plus rejections, come on. And that's nothing but rejections. I had no fiction published anywhere at the time. I wondered if I was being ridiculous to keep trying so hard and failing hard as well. I still submit a lot and get rejected a lot, and I don't see either of those things changing.
As the founder of this thread, it would have been easier to think of this as a numbers game, but it's really not. I would have gladly tried a million times if I knew it would end well for me. But, for a long time, writing and attempting to sell my fiction just wasn't going anywhere. So, I started this thread shortly after finding this writing community. I thought it would be all rejection and for a few years it was for me. I still post my rejections here because it doesn't really get easier. I do try those so-called impossible places all the time. Let me tell you, with the right story they're not so impossible.
If this is any sort of numbers game, I would say your odds increase with the more stories you write. I mean your 100th story is probably going to be better than your 5th story. If the odds are 1 in 6k, then I would say you're better off writing 6k stories than making 6k submissions. Although, it never hurts to have a lot of submissions active and to regularly send more out. Still, I say go out and buy a rabbit's foot, work harder, and write better. It's all part of it. The number involved mean very little other than that people know how hard this is.
Got to figure 80% of those are probably dog shit dead on arrival. Unless the odds are scaled for competency like a Vegas Sports Book.
Screw the odds, says I. Ain't nothing but bad juju if you play the numbers.
Man, I wouldn't even know of 400 places to submit a manuscript. Hats off to you, sir
I had a story accepted this morning. However, I’m not sure how to feel about it. Their website says they would accept the 12 best submissions. However, Duotrope listed two 1-day acceptances before the deadline had even been reached. Now there are three submissions and three acceptances, including mine. The submission grinder has one submission, one acceptance. I’m wondering if they only had 12 submissions so they accepted them all?! It’s also out next month as it’s a Christmas anthology, which isn’t a lot of time to get it ready.
They do pay $70, though... which is more than I’ve received for a story ever.
New England Review
All today? Hey, it's great that you're putting yourself and your work out there. Rejections from those places just means now you can try them again with different stories. I've never had a publication accept the first short story I sent them. But I tried them again and again, and persistence does seem to pay off.
These are from the last few weeks. Cheers! I tend to do a load of submissions and then get overwhelmed by the rejection and give up for months. Will try to submit more this week.
I tend to just submit a new story to the same place that just rejected me. I do it quick so I don't overthink it. If you've got a list of publications you want to land a story with, always try to have something else ready to go. That's sort of my method. But I do understand the discouragement that comes along with a bunch of rejections hitting you at once. Just don't stay out of the game for too long.
When I get a rejection, the feeling is palpable. It's like a hollow, echoey sensation... Does anyone else get that? It always makes me question my abilities. And I ask myself: are you actually good enough?
BUT, I shake it off after a day or so and soldier on. Rejections happen. They're not nice. But... Don't. Give. Up.
Yeah I am not very diligent. I submitted a lot in May, June and August but gaps in between. Usually I am trying to write another story and if an older story gets rejected by like 2-3 places I imagine it just isn't what they are looking for.
I disagree with your previous post that the 'best' stories get published though. I think the stories the editors of those magazines are looking for get published. I should spend more time figuring out what that is.
deadrats, I’m a bit different to you. My Duotrope acceptance rate for fiction is about 11% but that doesn’t mean I’m better than you, quite the opposite. I don’t tend to try the big prestigious places because I don’t think I’m anywhere near good enough. I’m pretty sure if I’d just submitted to those I’d be looking at a 0% rating. I admire you, I really do. I Study the weekly Duotrope emails and write for a lot of anthologies I like the sound of. If I’m rejected, I often try that story somewhere else that takes similar stories. Sometimes I’ll write something for a different market I really like the sound of or I’ll write something just for myself and then look for a good fit.
You've got to give your stories more of a chance than that. Of course, if you have doubts about a story, go through it again, but also send it out again. Or just keep it out. None of my stories have ever been accepted after two or three tries.
What I like to do is try and keep all my stories on submission at about five places at a time (sometimes more). If that story gets rejected from one place, it goes to another so it's still out at five. I've mentioned my 85-times-rejected story that finally got published. And it eventually got published someplace good. My last story that was accepted I wrote and started submitting maybe a year and a half ago. I don't know how many times it was rejected, but I kept it out there. I had to withdraw it from quite a few places when it was accepted. But, man, my last acceptance is a total dream publication that I really didn't think I would ever break in.
When I say the best stories get published they do. They are the best stories to that editor or editorial team. Knowing publications better does help. I suggest picking up a copy of The Pushcart Prize. It comes out every year, and it's the best of the best out of all the literary journals and magazines (according to the prize committee). It will say where each story was originally published. It comes out every year. And it also has essays included. I know there aren't many short cuts when it comes to writing, but read a copy of the Pushcart anthology because it can tell you a lot without you having to try and go all over the place to find potential homes for your work. You'll see stories and essays from the really big places and places you've probably never hear of.
How it works is that everywhere can make a set number of nominations out of the work they've published that year. I think it's too per category. There is no entry fee, but the only way in there is to be nominated. But if everywhere enters two stories, there's still a lot of competition there. I was nominated before, but in the end didn't make the cut. However, I do want to win a Pushcart in my lifetime so I like to submit places where I have a chance of being nominated. The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Essays run similarly and would make for a good reading material and a good sampling of what's out there.
I also have to recommend The Gettysburg Review when it comes to trying to understand what these places look for. I just think their stories are so smooth and so complex at the same time. It's my favorite journal hands down. I was just looking to read more and I had picked up literary journals here and there throughout my life. I just decided to subscribe to a few. I was blown away by the stories in The Gettysburg Review. And that's when I said, "I want to write those stories too." They have never published me. I've never even gotten a personal rejection or anything like that from them. Some of the places I have published are a bigger deal, but The Gettysburg Review sort of taught me to write.
Also, keep in mind that you are submitting to the tough places. I don't recommend changing that very much or at all, but it's probably always going to take a lot more than two or three tries before an editor reads your story and considers it among the best of their submission (and solicited works) and wants to publish it. You're a good writer. You can do this. Don't stop short by dropping too many stories too soon. I do think great things are coming, but it all starts with submitting and submitting and submitting...
Congratulations on the 11%. That's awesome. But since you're doing so well you might be selling yourself short. I say try a few bigger places here and there. Keep up with the anthologies since you obviously have something good going there, but if a story is good enough for one place to take it, chances are another place would feel the same. Anyway, keep up the good work!
Also, my 1.1% is just for fiction. For nonfiction with personal essays I do much better. With poetry I'm at zero and always have been. But most of what I submit is fiction.
A 154-day form rejection from Mid-American Review.
Thanks, maybe one day. I just don’t think my writing is good enough. I think I’m good, but I’m not great. I wish I was great but I can live with good. Having said that, I did submit to One Story yesterday, but will eat my hat if I get anywhere.
My non-fiction rate on Duotrope is 20%, I have one of those asterisks that you mentioned earlier! But it’s a bit false as I submit a lot to The Mighty and I think their acceptance rate is probably pretty high (they are on Duotrope but mine seems to be the only data!).
A 6-day form rejection from The Idaho Review.
You guys are so inspirational. Keep fighting. I’ve heard zip for weeks. I might start chasing agents but it’s my birthday next week so I’ll wait till after that for fear of ruining the week
29-day form rejection from The Drabble.
That anthology I was accepted for but worried they just accepted everything, they sent me their edits and comments on my story this week. And added a comment that my story was wonderful, they think people will buy the anthology just for my story, and they hope to see more stories from me! I’m wondering if they just say that to all their authors...
I wouldn't overthink things, take the win.
A rejection from a February submission. One I’d already crossed off my list thinking they’d just not reply but nice to know.
Don't be so quick to forget about these places, @Medazza. The publishing world can be super slow and getting to submissions is the last thing on the list most of the time. I've got several submissions that old or older. Actually, I also have one from February that's pretty much a non-responder. That one was sent to The Atlantic and they state that they only respond if interested. However, The New Yorker says the same thing and they still send out rejections most of the time. Anyway, putting yourself and your work out there is the biggest step we can take in this process. Wishing you and everyone else here the best. Let's have a rejection-free weekend, my friends.
Funny thing: I submitted to American Short Fiction and not even an hour after I submitted, the journal I'd submitted to back in June emails me a rejection.
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