How many times do you submit a story before it sells? The flippant answer is as many times as it takes to sell it. In reality, that’s not such a flippant answer—it’s the truth—it’s just not particularly helpful.
I know people who trunk stories after only a few rejections. If I gave up that easy, I wouldn’t have many sales. Neither would Nebula-nominated writer Vylar Kaftan, who averages over six submissions before selling a story. Ms. Kaftan has written two interesting, must-read, guest posts at the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) website. One is a question answer about her submission habits and the other contains her submission history since about 2004. If you’re an aspiring writer, or even and old pro, I recommend you check them out.
While I don’t have the same number of sales as Ms. Kaftan, here’s the number of times I submitted each of my nine published or forthcoming stories: 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12. That averages out to 4.5 submissions for each sale. Digging a little deeper into the numbers, there’s no relationships between the number of times submitted and the order in which I wrote them. However, a relationship does exist between the type of sale (pro vs. semi-pro) and the number of times submitted, but I expected that because I generally exhaust the pro markets before moving to the semi-pro ones.
So the take home message is don’t trunk your stories too soon. Writing is about rejection, which for me is an average of about four rejections before I make a sale. On occasions, those rejections can be considerably higher, as many as eleven “no thank yous” (so far, but bound to go up). No one ever said publishing was easy (and the odds seem to support that), so if you want to publish, grow a thick skin, write, and submit and submit and submit and submit…
I keep telling people this!
‘5’ seems to be the magical number when people ‘give up’. If I gave up after 5, then I’d have sold exactly nothing (until recently, when I admit I’ve sold a couple of things on the first submission, but that has more to do with careful targeting of the market than with any improvement in writing).
Getting published seems more about finding the ‘right’ market for a piece, than it does about writing that perfect short story that everyone bows down before.
Finding the right market, yes, but also writing a good story. Never forget the good story part.
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I wrote a short story in 1994 and didn’t see it published until 2008. It went through numerous revisions along the way, and would probably still be getting reworked if someone hadn’t eventually picked it up!
Funny how that works sometimes. My story “Requiem for Shiva” was originally written in 1991 in a college fiction writing workshop. It went out to a few places in the early 90s and never found a home. It got revised (and significantly improved) several times, and finally sold in Jan 2012.