Last Friday, I got a form rejection from Nature. That rejection was my 800th short story rejection. That number is so impossibly high. It is 123 stories that have been rejected from 175 markets. Since I sent out my first submissions on December 20th, 2003, I've gotten, on average, a rejection every four days. For a long time, the only things that I got were rejections, so I looked to my rejection count as a primary writing indicator. More submissions meant more chances at success, but it also meant more rejections. Since rejections were directly correlated with submissions, rejections were good. It meant that I was making progress.
And now I have soooooo many! I am absurdly proud of my rejection count. Awhile back, Jay Lake had a thread on how many rejections people had gotten before making their first pro sale (you can even see me comment on it; back then I had only a puny 312 rejections), and my number was so much higher than most people's. Until then, I'd simply assumed that almost everyone had to garner a few hundred rejections before making any decent sales. But that is actually not the case.
In any case, here is a list of my other rejection milestone posts. As you can see, I am actually getting rejected much more often now than I was at the beginning of my career. This is a little surprising, since my stories tend to get held longer than they used to and they're more likely to sell (both of which tend to reduce rejection-count). I think that my increased productivity and diligence in submitting have, for now, more than made up for any increase in writing skill.
- 300 – August 8, 2008 (401 days to next milestone)
- 400 – September 13, 2009 (282 days to next milestone)
- 500 – June 22, 2010 (268 days to next milestone)
- 600 – March 17, 2011 (208 days to next milestone)
- 700 - October 11, 2011 (185 days to current milestone)
In the comments to one of these posts, someone wrote in praise of my tenacity, and I wrote back saying that tenacity was all well and good, but sooner or later one has to take the hint. I wrote that if I wasn't seeing much success by the time of my eight hundredth rejection, I might consider quitting. Luckily, my success has come fast enough (for now), to forestall weariness. In terms of sales, this last century has been the best one yet. I've sold six stories, all at pro rates, to Daily SF, Clarkesworld, Apex, IGMS, Redstone, and a theme anthology whose editor will hopefully get back to me soon on whether it's okay to announce the sale to y'all. That is some pretty good selling right there, and it includes two markets--Apex and IGMS--which had rejected me 21 and 22 times (respectively) before finally accepting something of mine.
My first book was rejected by about 50 agents before I found one; then it was rejected by 25 or so publishers. I guess it’s not dead, but I don’t think it’s under submission now.
My second book has been rejected by 4 publishers and is under consideration with 2.
I’ve sold a handful of essays and articles, none at pro rate.
I feel extremely fortunate at this point. Every rejection was tough for me, especially before finding an agent. I was never into short stories and wrote a few, but didn’t know where to submit because I don’t read short stories much. And I absolutely cannot imagine 800 rejections, but I also can’t imagine writing 123 short stories–or writing genre stories, which it seems is your thing? That amount of volume is incomprehensible to me.
This post gives me pause for thought, not only because rejection is different for everyone but because quitting is different for everyone. Strictly speaking, I never quit, but I also don’t write (or read) as much as you. And I’m lucky that, having an agent, I don’t have to do my own submitting. What really happened to me was that I started off without a day job, just creative writing, and then I went to grad school for other things and simultaneously through my agent I networked my way into editing jobs. Ironically, I make a lot more money from my writing skills than I ever did when I was “writing;” it’s just not my name on the finished product. Now I just make my wife read stuff, and then I lock it away on my computer…or post it on facebook.
Just goes to show that it’s different for everyone. I think if you really like the act of writing, you probably won’t ever quit. If you were in it for the fame or money…I think you were too smart for that to begin with, but certainly you’d be done by now.
Hey Tristan, yes, I’ve definitely gone about things in a rather more high volume way than is even common for sci-fi writers (especially ones with literary pretensions like myself). It seems like most people work more intensively on a few stories and end up getting about 100-300 rejections on the way to where I am now. But I also submitted everything I ever wrote, from my first stories onward. I think alot of people have a period of shame where they don’t submit stuff because it’s so clearly bad. Not me. From my first story (written during my senior year at St. A’s), I submitted everything. That’s one way to get alot of rejections.
In genre fiction, the path to success is also alot clearer. You can see other people working and other people selling and you can read on their blogs and know exactly how they went about it. A clearly defined community and a lot of intra-community communication means that there’s considerable transparency regarding how to get from where you are to where you want to be. Although the odds suck hugely, at least you know that _someone_ makes it. And with short stories, there’s more gradual success. You sell one. Then you sell another one. Then you sell a bunch. It’s easier to keep going.
I do aspire to some kind of fame. Fortune seems unlikely, but I’d to at least have fans. Still, I do try to moderate my expectations for the future and just live day-to-day.
I’m glad that you’re happy. I also envy you your agent. I’m trying to find one right now for my gay YA novel. It’s a hard subgenre to market, but I am sending out queries here and there. What kind of stuff do/did you write?
I’m also currently making my living as a writer without a byline. I work as an independent contractor for the World Bank, synthesizing and editing reports on environmental issues in South Asia. It does kind of make use of my writing skills, but it also kind of requires me to subvert them. The language of policy development can be intentionally obfuscatory, and it took me awhile to learn that we obfuscate for a reason. Now I’m king of a master of Bankese, but it’s definitely not the kind of skill that is going to help me write more interesting or persuasive prose.
I wrote a nonfiction book about a year my wife and I spent living in Italy. Fairly cliched, but there used to be a market for it, and I tried to comment a lot on the cliche and why it existed…and I tried to subtly hate on Eat Pray Love. Publishers thought it was well written but said they couldn’t sell something that cerebral. There’s a reason Eat Pray Love sold. Though the multi-million-dollar marketing campaign helped, as did Gilbert’s quarter-million advance that paid for the eating, praying, and loving.
Anyway, then I wrote a semi-autobiographical novel about being an overeducated, pretentious, and disillusioned jackass. Keeping my fingers crossed on it, though being in law school, I’ll now be using a pseudonym.
I do a lot of economics editing. I find it helps my creative writing a lot. In addition to controlling content as you mention, you also have to kill any personality the author might show in an institutional context. So you start to notice little mechanical details and idioms that shape people’s voices as authors. And you get to be fucking awesome at comma usage.