Some Math of my Publishing Journey

You might have seen this on my socials, but I’ve sold my first short story! To celebrate, I’d like to share some data on what it took to get here.

Submitting can sometimes be demoralizing; it can take a long time for places to get back to you and getting a lot of nos sucks! But hopefully these numbers can put it into context and give you hope to keep trying.

It was submission #32 that sold story #4. I submitted story #1 for the first time in May 2022 so it’s been a total of 13 months to be published.

The market that bought story #4 was from the initial batch of markets I picked for that piece, which was all the way back in February 2023. So it took 120+ days to hear back. But in that time I submitted the story to 11 markets and got 5 rejections before the 1 acceptance.

But across all of my submissions I got 70 rejections in total. So is story #4 better than stories #1-3? They’ve all gotten more than 5 rejections. But I’ve also gotten 7 personalized rejections across those earlier stories, including from major, award-winning publications!

What’s important to keep in mind is markets aren’t picking a story only based on quality. A very big journal might, out of all the hundreds of submissions they recieve, get 20 super-awesome-amazing ones. But it only has the space to publish 10. So they have to make decisions based on other criteria.

Markets might have a theme (anthologies especially) or a certain vibe or tone they’re going for. A story that fits the theme better will do better. Or maybe your super unique story about space pirate penguins is just as well written as someone else’s story about space pirate albatrosses. Having 2 stories that are so similar in one issue would be odd, so they have to pick one or the other.

And sometimes the editor likes a piece for a reason you just can’t predict. Maybe they love penguins a lot! Or the new Netflix show about space pirates was so awesome that they’re on the lookout for space pirate stories.

And, unfortunately, sometimes editors are biased. They might not like that your characters are queer or you’re from a certain country. It’s not very nice! But you probably wouldn’t want to be in a publication that’s run by someone like that, either.

Even the best-written piece by the biggest author ever isn’t going to be accepted in every market. Nature (you know, the scientific journal) says they want “very short stories or โ€˜vignettesโ€™ of between 850 and 950 words. The subject is typically near-future, hard SF, although this can be interpreted liberally.” So not fantasy, nor contemporary romance, nor a lot of other things. A rejection from Nature doesn’t mean a piece is bad, it only means it’s not a great fit. Getting a rejection or 2 (or 20) isn’t a statement on your writing or worth as a writer. It just means you haven’t found it a good home.

The best way to get published is to keep trying. This means sending your story out to more markets but also to write more stories! You’ll end up exploring different themes, using different voices, and maybe one of those is a better fit for a place that’s rejected you before.

The nice thing about the modern publishing landscape is that there’s plenty of markets that charge nothing to submit, you submit online, and they’ll pay you! Submitting takes nothing but your time; if they reject you, you’re not out anything. There’s still some places that require you to mail in submissions, pay a fee to submit, or don’t pay for your story. Whether you do so is something you need to determine for yourself.

One final note: how things looked when I started submitting just over a year ago looks very different from today. As I’m sure you know, “AI” like Chat-GPT is very common and easy to use. And every market is dealing with these submissions flooding their inboxes. They have to suss out which pieces were made by humans as well as the normal filtering for quality and fit. It’s going to take longer for responses to be sent out. Submission windows might be shorter or the steps needed to submit are increased.

Some places might start accepting “AI” generated work and you need to decide if, morally, that is the kind of market you want your work in. There’s this one market I know I have a good chance with for multiple pieces…but they put a piece of “AI” artwork with every story. And, ethically, I can’t support a place like that.

If you’re worried about being falsely flagged as an “AI” submission, that shouldn’t happen as long as you write a coherent story. Language Learning Models are good at patterns but that means many of their stories come out the same. They’ll repeat sentences from previously-published stories or give multiple people essentially the same story. Editors are going to notice this. They struggle with plot lines and consistency. You, as a human, aren’t going to have these problems. Markets aren’t going to say what they’re doing to detect “AI” pieces because it will tell “AI” makers what to do to avoid detection. We’ll never know for sure, but that’s okay. Your well-written story will let your humanity shine through with no extra effort needed.

Anyways, that’s a lot of info! I hope it’s meaningful for you and helps you keep trucking until you’re published, too!

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