About a month or so ago, a young writer dropped me a note letting me know she was about to kick her first story out of the nest to let it find its home out in the wilds we call publishing. Being the brother of encouragement that I am, I wished her well with her rejections. It’s not that I thought her story was bad, but rejections are a part of a writer’s life.
Number of short stories I have written 59 + 3 WIP + 15 trunked
Number of times I’ve sent stories out 516
Number of acceptances 56
Number of rejections 460
By my meager calculations, I have about a 12% acceptance rate over the history of my career. I have no idea where this ranks in terms of being typical. I’m no Jim C. Hines or Tobias Buckell or else I’d crunch these numbers to death. For example, see how my acceptance rate has changed over time. The acceptance rate in my first five years is quite different from my most recent five years (getting invited into anthologies, for example, skews the percentage).
There can be a difficult learning curve to rejections. The time spent realizing that the rejection is of the story, not of you varies with each writer. Different kinds of rejections tell you different things. A lot of quick arriving form rejections may be telling you that the story’s not ready. I have sold every story that I wrote in college. The last one sold two years ago (well over a decade since I first wrote it). They’ve gone through maybe ten drafts each. I stuck with them because I believed in them and because the rejections went from forms to personal comments. Those stories which never moved past the form rejection stage, after a dozen send outs, I took a hard look at. Some simply weren’t good and have been trunked.* (These days I typically do three drafts of a story before sending it out and let the rejections tell me if I need to do another one.)
Over the last couple weeks I’ve had one rejection and two acceptances. I’ve sent out rejections to all but 25 or so authors for Dark Faith 2, some of whom are great writers and close friends whose stories simply didn’t work with what we were looking for.
You will be rejected. It’s part of the writing life. It feels personal (especially when you’ve poured your soul into it, bleeding over each page), but it’s not personal. It’s about the work. Not every rejection means the same thing. Before you reach to drown the grief of your baby being rejected, parse it for what it means to you and where you are. Rejection can refine us, letting us know when a story is not ready. But rejection could just mean not for us. Or we ran out of room. Rejection can teach us things, but sometimes the biggest lesson is getting up, dusting yourself off, and sending your story out again. Like much of life, a successful writing career is about perseverance.
*I’m sure I could find the trunked stories a home, but since each story is part of my resume, I don’t want too many stories out there that shouldn’t be. They’d only be part of my “porn past”: they’re out there, I did them, but I’m not going to bring them to anyone’s attention.