Over on Twitter, which is my number one site for fiction-writing shop talk, a trend emerged from the conversation in October.
In text form: Rhonda Parrish sold a story to a “dream market” after logging twenty-two rejections, Matt Bennardo is having a five-month dry streak in sales but isn’t worried because he’s been there before, and Mishell Baker landed her first-choice agent after months of agonizing insecurity about both her book and query, which could have turned into quitting at any moment.
These are important stories to tell. Conventional wisdom is to keep your mouth shut about getting rejected, and that’s good advice on a day-to-day basis. But celebrating our successes without acknowledging our failures does a disservice, I think, to newer writers without years of anecdata to draw from. It’s one thing to fill your Pinterest with macros reading “DON’T GIVE UP.” It’s another thing to hear that someone you know landed a story you love at a magazine you respect after two dozen tries.
I do often see writers passing around lists of nasty rejections toward famous authors, but I don’t think that’s the same. The implication of those lists (and the reason I don’t like them) is “SOME PEOPLE JUST DON’T KNOW GOOD ART”, making it easy to believe your would-be editor is a dunce and your work is genius. Neither is probably true, and that mindset is not only not useful, it’s actively harmful. These small reports from working writers deliver a different message. “I loved my story; the first twenty people didn’t love it enough to present it to their audience, but one did, and one was enough.” Once you have that mindset, it’s much easier to send out a good story confidently to the twenty-first person. Or the twenty-second. Or the twenty-third.
I asked Twitter to tell me about their most-rejected pieces. (Definitions of pro/semi/token markets supplied by Duotrope.) Their responses:
Andrea Blythe: I have one that’s up to six rejections and still going. Hasn’t sold yet.
Tim Tobin: #battlescars 6, token
Lisa N. Morton: 15, sold to a pro market 🙂
Kate Shaw: 17 rejections before a pro sale.
E. Catherine Tobler: 31, and I ended up giving it away.
Me: 31, jiminy cricket. What’s your most-rejected piece that got paid in the end?
E. Catherine Tobler: 26, I think. Sold it to Realms of Fantasy. “Indigo With Distance.” (Bonus: full blog post on the topic.)
Brian Dolton: 17, I think, then it sold to a pro market, and then it sold to a second pro market.
Alex Shvartsman: 27! Including from at least 1 token market (EDF). But ended up selling at pro rates.
(Follow-up question by Alexis A. Hunter): Can I ask if you did any rewrites/major edits before it finally sold or was it largely unchanged?
Me: Oh, that’s a good question. In my case, no: once I think it’s good to go, I usually don’t mess with it again.
Alex: Not a word changed. Very light edits after acceptance.
James L. Sutter: 11 rejections before it sold to Apex, then got reprinted in an Apex antho and Escape Pod. And if you want to link to the story, it’s at http://escapepod.org/2012/02/17/ep332-overclocking/ and http://www.apex-magazine.com/overclocking/
Ed Grabianowski: Around 6, but it was accepted twice by mags that folded before it was published. It was finally pubbed in Black Static.
Deborah Walker: 27! To a pro market. Hoorah. Well it did sell at 14, but I had to withdraw because of shadiness. 27!
Ann Leckie: 12, & sold to a token market (EV) runner up, 11, sold to Clockwork Phoenix 2 (& appeared in a YB antho) / got an unsold piece that’s at 30 rejections.
Claire Humphrey: 13, and then it sold semi-pro. I made the mistake of subbing an early version at first–then I rewrote it right.
Matthew Bennardo: The story sold on its 11th submission to a pro market. After being rejected by at least seven semi-pro/token markets along the way. (And with no substantial rewriting.)
Michael Matheson: 13. Sold semi-pro. Numerous rewrites: cut down 70%, rem. words rewritten many times before placing. Sold to editor that had prev. rejected it; editor asked to see piece second time down the line. Sold cleaned up, but same, version editor saw 1st time.
A.J. Fitzwater: Current honour: 22. Did sell a piece last year but after venue folded it’s back on the table and catching up to Most Rejections #
Christie Yant: 17, semi-pro.
Ian Creasey: I sold a short story at pro rates (5 c/w) on its 43rd submission. I always believed in it, so I kept sending it out.
And these are only the people who happened to spot my question in the middle of the afternoon Sunday (and later thanks to the magic of the retweet, Tuesday). Trust me, everyone has a story.
Do you have a story? How many rejections did your most-rejected story rack up before it sold?
Added: And here are two delightful stories of perseverance that involve fewer rejections, but are spread over a very long time frame.
Mike Allen: Okay, this one doesn’t have so many rejections but it’s pretty out there. 3 poems of mine gets accepted to semi-pro zine one. Publisher acquires semi-prozine 2. Poems by me accepted by Zine 2 appear in Zine 1! 2 of 3 poems for Zine 1 actually eventually appear in Zine 1, which shuts down. 3rd poem, supposedly to appear in Zine 2, lost in limbo. 7 years later I pull it… Poem 3 gets some rejections, then original Zine 1 editor contacts out of blue, buys Poem 3 AGAIN, uses it for new semipro zine. So it had a happy ending, or at least ended in publication, hee!
Gwynne Garfinkle: I have one! 1) Wrote novel in 1983. Publisher loved it, thought it should be YA. YA division said no. Time passed… 2) Revised book. Turned a couple of chapters into a short story, sold it. Was paid, but then magazine folded. Time passed… 3) Approx. 20 years after I wrote book, published 2 sections from book as short stories: 1 to erotic fiction mag, 1 to YA anthology 4) but still want to revise book again and try to sell it! (thirty years later at this point…)