It’s year-end writing-stats time!

HOW WAS 2015?

Not my greatest!

Between starting a new job and a powerful, persistent Crisis of Writing Faith (TM) I went months without reading, writing, or submitting. Which is not a good strategy for achieving strong writing stats. That’s not to say nothing happened–I had a lot of cool achievements throughout the year, almost entirely thanks to work I did in 2014 and earlier–but I’m really hoping to get my submissions train back on the rails in 2016.


Not bad, thank you!

The big change to my writing income was that I started making book covers. (In case you needed additional evidence that there’s more money in selling services to writers than in writing, but I digress.) I ran a series of blog posts wherein I practiced for free in public, then made a bunch of premade covers and got some commissions. It’s a skill I’m glad I started learning, and as you can see in the pie chart, a pretty nice boost to my writing/publishing income.

Untitled“Sold Previous Years” means I logged the sale prior to 2015 and only this year got paid for it. “Flat” means I was paid a flat rate, i.e. not royalties.

“Trad-Pub Royalties” come entirely from Wolves and Witches, the collection of fairy-tale retellings with my sister Megan Engelhardt that came out in 2013. “Self-Pub Royalties” come from the my three self-published reprints, primarily The Lair of the Twelve Princesses with the vast majority of those sales through Amazon but some through Smashwords and its partners. (Incidentally, Lair is on sale this week for 99 cents, a complete coincidence that it fell at the time I made this post.) (That was a fiction.)

And check out those affiliate fees! Amazon Associates has been pretty good to me. If you have a website that you link to Amazon from–even a Twitter!–you should sign up. It’s a trickle, but it ain’t nothing.

Those numbers are pretty similar to 2014, for the record.


Here are my stats:

  • 69 rejections
  • 15 sales
  • 7 submissions still pending

I didn’t do a particularly good job with keeping my pieces in circulation this year, and a lot of those rejections were for poems sent 3-5 at a time. Not only that, but I’m almost out of inventory. Despite myself, I did make some sales–including some pretty neat ones.




You guys! This year my work was podcasted, included in a Year’s Best anthology, reprinted in gift-edition hardback alongside hilariously famous classic horror authors, and translated into French. That’s neat!


Dreadful! I wrote all of, what, four short stories (two for Rhonda Parrish, bless her heart) and a couple poems? I did finish one novel edit and make serious progress on two more, plus I put tens of thousands of words into novels that remain unfinished. Like many elements of this blog post: it’s not nothing, but it’s not what I expect of myself.


The big goal is to have two of my YA fantasy novels fully revised by World Fantasy Con, which I’m attending with Megan Engelhardt. (It’s my birthday weekend, and next door in Ohio! YOU SHOULD COME.) That will put me at three query-able manuscripts.

Meanwhile, I’d like to return to #10bythen, or ten submissions per month. I’ve also got an adult fantasy novel to complete, and I hope to spend NaNoWriMo 2016 on original work instead of rewrites. Then there’s the whole “actually producing new stories and poems” thing which I hear is PRETTY INTEGRAL to selling new stories and poems.


Link me your 2015 stats post, or tell me in the comments what you accomplished!

This post first appeared on World Weaver Press as “When to Trash Your Flash” in July 2013.

This mess has to go.

A couple of weeks ago, my local writers’ group issued a flash fiction prompt, and I completely bombed it. I made four wildly different attempts. All were terrible. This isn’t unusual; I write a lot of flash fiction, especially prompted or to theme, and I end up retiring most of it right away. This time, when I griped on Twitter about discarding all those bad stories, someone ended up asking: Well, how do you know if your story is a dud?

Good question!

I don’t explicitly use a rubric to decide whether to put a story into circulation or throw it into a locked drawer, but I probably could. Here’s the one question I ask myself when I suspect a story isn’t working:

Is it really a story?

Most of my stories fail by not actually having all the elements that make a story satisfying and salable. They’re oddly easy to skip. I like to use the definition Marion Zimmer Bradley gives in her essay What Is a Short Story?:


This is meant to apply to commercial genre short fiction, and a genius can break any guidelines they want, but I write genre and am no genius. I could write reams about the meaning of “likable” in this context, but I take it as “someone you don’t hate reading about”–whether you’d actually want to meet them or not. Writing dark fiction, I also don’t believe that achieving the goal is strictly necessary, although I do believe the failure to achieve it should be the climactic point, and that failure should be the character’s own fault.

Personally, my failed stories almost always fall short on the points of ODDS and EFFORTS.

Here’s a storyline I write a lot: a character wants something, does what it takes to get it, and succeeds. This isn’t a story. There’s no opposition–the “odds” are unimpressive. People following me on Twitter know that I bake a lot, but I only tweet about the disasters. Nobody wants to hear about the time you made a cake according to the recipe and it turned out fine. They want to hear about the time your cat dropped something in the batter.

Here’s another storyline I used to write a lot, when I was new and did more horror: something bad happens to a character, who tries to escape, but can’t. The problem’s not that they fail, but that a) the “odds” didn’t initially spring from their own wants or actions, and b) the “goal” is a return to normal. It’s hard to make a satisfying narrative out of such tenuous cause-and-effect and such a commonplace goal.

They look like stories: they’re about yea long, they’re fiction, they’re made up of words. They sure feel like stories when I’m writing them. But taken as a whole, they don’t hold up.

So if this thing I wrote is not a story, what is it? When I’m able to stand back and really evaluate a failed story, I can usually reframe it as a different form of writing. Maybe it’s just a proof-of-concept for an interesting storytelling mechanic. Maybe it’s a scenario worth exploring further. Maybe I was just test-running a new character type. I never regret having written what I wrote; something about it must have intrigued me enough to do it. Running a quick eye over Bradley’s definition, however, tells me whether to retire it (NEVER to delete it–nothing’s THAT bad) or to send it on into the world.

I rarely manage to “fix” a piece of flash fiction. It’s more efficient for me to just write another piece. Speaking of which, I finally got back on that local writers’ group prompt. Fifth try, almost done. The main character wants something, and goes for it, but runs into unexpected opposition and has to either overcome the problem or change her goals. Sounds like a story to me.


wolves_and_witches_tinyTo read the stories and poems I didn’t trash, check out Wolves and Witches, a collection of dark fairy tale retellings with Megan Engelhardt, from World Weaver Press, 2013. Or you can find all my available work on my Read Free page and bibliography!


More writing advice:

Cataloging My Kinks – How to find the story elements you’re passionate about writing.

The Total Beginner’s Guide to Submitting Short Fiction for Publication – The name says it all: getting started confidently and effectively.

Wounds on Our Fronts: Failure and Success – How long should you keep submitting a story that’s racking up rejections? Longer than you think.

Motivation-Encouragement Profiles – Figuring out what makes you write more and what helps you to love it.

It’s year-end writing-stats time!


So much!

I learned to love making book covers.

She's got a sword, a genie, and three days to live. When the going gets weird, all you can do is stick by your friends and hang on to your brains. Coming soon from Megan Engelhardt! Were-eels. For Heather Ratcliff on the occasion of her foot surgery.

This year I really opened up my writing revenue streams by reprinting some of my work to Kindle, Smashwords, and QuarterReads. They’re not STRONG revenue streams, but they’re not nothing.



I slipped into WorldCon for a day and WFC for three, which was 100% delightful on both counts. You guys are so great in person!!

I underwent a thorough and harrowing fifth revision of a certain novel, which is nearly done, at last.


Here are my submission numbers:

  • 81 rejections
  • 14 sales
  • 21 submissions still pending

I am way happier with those numbers than I am with last year’s. They’re more in line with what I like to see from myself. Those sales include five stories to pro-paying markets, four audio reprints, two poetry sales, and, fingers crossed it comes through, a foreign translation reprint.




I had a weird year!

I got about 110k new words written, which has been my yearly pace for a very long time now. (Last year was a fluke.) That pace delivered me about 17 finished shorts and poems, another 25k on last year’s novel, and an embarrassing assortment of unfinished nonsense.

Did I mention revising nearly an entire novel for the fifth time?


I’m aiming for what I consider a fairly easy 3k/week pace, which will still wildly increase my output of new words, depending on how hard I cheat. I have quite a few unfinished and imperfect stories to whip into shape. I’m planning to complete my adult fantasy novel, rewrite one other YA fantasy novel, and start seeking an agent for the YA fantasy that’s nearly done. I plan to keep up with #10bythen, or ten submissions per month. (I assume saying all this will help me actually do it.) I don’t have any convention or additional self-publishing plans, but who knows what will come up.


Link me your 2014 stats post, or tell me in the comments what you accomplished!

Over the past few weeks I’ve pulled together two zombie stories I wrote for hilariously specific themed anthologies, talentlessly iterated a cover, added a bonus drabble from way back in the day, and boom: thar she blows in the Kindle store.


Two Things was written for Zombonauts (because zombies in space!) and was the first proper-length short story I ever sold. Just recently, Wily Writers produced it for audio, so you can give it a listen.

Escape From Ape City was written for Zombie Kong (because GIANT ZOMBIE GORILLAS), in which my sister Megan Engelhardt also appeared*. My schtick was to never truncate “giant zombie gorillas”; it’s the whole phrase, every single time, because it busts me up and also because they paid me by the word. There’s also some Jazz-Age banter, sweeping action, and romance, but let’s face it, the giant zombie gorillas are the stars here.

So cover to cover, it’s pretty silly. For a while the tagline on my website was “writes dark fiction and light horror.” This is the light horror part. If you’re gonna end the world, you might as well enjoy it.

Zombies in space! Giant zombie gorillas! When life gets weird, all you can do is stick by your friends and hang on to your brains. Amanda C. Davis dishes out two short stories from the lighter side of the zombocalypse.

*The conversation went: “DID YOU SEE THE GIANT ZOMBIE GORILLA THING” “WE HAVE TO GET IN ON THIS” “YES WE DO” That both our stories came out as pulpy historical adventure is, however, coincidence.

(Here’s a free zombie piece that was called “simultaneously eerie and funny”: Untouchable.)

(Check it out, Suddenly, Zombies is now available on Smashwords.)

2013 was a very different year in writing-and-publishing for me than the previous four.

I sold much less than usual–four stories, two poems, and a piece of flash that’s still kind of Schrodinger–but all four stories went to pro markets. I wrote a lot fewer short stories and poems–thirteen, not all polished yet–but my yearly word count nudged 200,000, twice my usual yearly rate, thanks to compulsive novel-drafting (two and a half new books first-drafted in 2013). And that doesn’t count any rewrites.

I also wrote eight guest blog posts (discovery: I do not like writing them!) and several personal blog posts (not a big fan of those either) and a fan game and all of my NaNo region‘s pep talk/reminders and a couple lines that were pretty funny on Twitter.

And of course this is the year the book came out.

Like I said, weird. Despite all the cool stuff that happened, by all my usual metrics, 2013 was a huge failure. I wrote far less submittable material, therefore I submitted far less, therefore I sold far less. If I have any goal for next year, it’s to get back on the submissions wagon. Write One Sub One is too much for me, but I liked #tenbythen, which required ten submissions, of anything, per month. That would bring me back in line. In the meantime, I’ve got QUITE a lot of novel editing to do. I hope I get slightly faster at it next year.

Stuff that came out in 2013:

Remembrance in Stone – Daily Science Fiction, 12/5/13

A Fixer-Upper (reprint) – Niteblade, 12/1/13

The Scry Mirror – What Fates Impose, 9/23/13

Things I Wish I’d Known Before Drinking the Faerie Wine – Penumbra, 9/1/13

Missed Connections > Pocket Universe – Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #57, 4/30/13

Sparks Between Our Teeth (reprint) – Bull Spec #8, 4/23/13

Song of Snow – Enchanted Conversation, 4/1/13

Wolves & Witches – World Weaver Press, 2/19/13

O How the Wet Folk Sing – FISH, 1/27/13

Rejections: 42
Sales: 6, possibly 7
Still on submission: 22 (mostly reprints)
Wrote: 198,000 words (incl. 2.5 books, 6 stories, 6 flash, 1 poem)

Over on Twitter, which is my number one site for fiction-writing shop talk, a trend emerged from the conversation in October.

rhonda matt


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. Morton15, 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 and

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…)

How to finish and format your stories, find markets that want to read them, and send them out in ways that make you look and feel professional.

One of my writers’ group people recently mentioned she had no idea where to start to find people to publish her short stories and poetry; I’ve been on Duotrope (and surrounded by working writers on Twitter) for so long that I’d forgotten what a hurdle it was figuring out how to go about it. I can’t tell you how to write well enough to sell, but the act of sending out your work shouldn’t be as tough to learn as it was for me. It’s strictly business correspondence. Here’s everything I know.

This guide makes the following assumptions:

A) You’re writing short fiction. (“Short” meaning 0-17,500 words, though this method might work for novellas and poetry too.)

B) You will make your story awesome before you send it, in whatever way you usually do. Ain’t my place to say how.

C) You only want to send submissions electronically.

D) You will slavishly follow all market-specific guidelines in preference to these.

I also did my best to refrain from offering tips, but I’m not made of stone. An advanced course might include how to send print subs (ugh), how to choose places to submit to (and what to avoid), when and how to send a status query, when and how to withdraw, and so on, but if you’re reading this with any interest, you don’t really need any of that. YET.

(Question: There’s a lot of writing advice on the Internet. How legit is this? Answer: It works for me.)

wolves_and_witches_tiny circus_tiny ASIM57_tiny ????????????????? redstone_tiny


1. Write a story and find a market.

You can do this in either order.

1a: Write first

  • Write a story. Make note of its genre and word count.
  • Do a search on The Submission Grinder (still in beta, but functional). Search for markets that will consider a story of that genre and length.

I suggest limiting the search to semi-pro payment and up, markets that accept electronic submissions, excluding markets that are temporarily closed, excluding fee-based markets, and sorting by pay.

“Pro pay” is 5 cents per word or higher*; “Semi-Pro Pay” is 1 cent per word up to 5 cents per word, and “Token Pay” is less than one cent per word. “None” is what it says on the tin, though there might be royalties and/or contributor copies, and it may or may not be a good target.

  • Choose the first market you plan to submit the story to.

I like to start with high pay and fast response time.

At this point, I also usually choose the next few places to send it.

  • Read the submission guidelines.

1b: Find the market first

I see calls for submission make the rounds on Twitter regularly (including on the public Duotrope feed); there are also a number of newsletters featuring upcoming deadlines, like this one from Hayden’s Ferry Review and Aswiebe’s Market List. Follow a number of very active short-story writers on any social media site and you’re likely to see the most interesting markets mentioned and discussed.

  • Choose one.
  • Read the submission guidelines.
  • Write a story that meets the guidelines.

2. Format the story.

  • The guidelines of the market you’ve chosen will usually include the format they want. If there’s little to no mention of format, use standard manuscript format. (If it’s your first time, you can pay someone to do that for you.) Specific guidelines always trump the standard.

If the market requests the story be typed in the body of an email rather than as an attachment, standard email manuscript format is slightly different.

3. Write a cover letter.

  • Cover letters should include your name, pen name (only if you use one, obviously), mailing address, email address, story title, and word count rounded to the nearest hundred.

You may include pub credits if you have them; be sure they are relevant. Having no prior publications is TOTALLY OKAY. Don’t apologize for it. Just leave out that line.

Biographical information is not necessary unless requested or highly relevant (writing Westerns while being an actual cowboy) and is often seen as a red flag for new writers, as the quality of your story cannot be gauged by the age at which you started writing, your hometown, or your number of cats.

I don’t usually use a salutation because between slush readers, assistant editors, and co-editors, you never know who’ll be reading. Some disagree. Can we get some discussion going in the comments?

**Update, 4/1/14: These days I usually go with “Dear Editors”, as it pretty much covers everyone.

Sample cover letter:

Dear Editors,

Please consider the attached story, Title, at about XXXX words. My work has appeared in [pub creds].

Best regards,


Street Address 1
Street Address 2

(Okay, I can’t help myself: time for a tip. If you don’t have a professional-looking email address–that is, one that shows nothing but your actual name–get one now. I don’t recommend using your day job or student account, because those won’t follow you through life changes. I love Gmail. You can’t go wrong with And be sure it displays your real, full name to recipients, not initials or nicknames or a blank.)

(Or pen name, I guess.)

More on cover letters from Helena Bell.

4. Do whatever the guidelines say.

  • Other things the guidelines for your market might request include: an author bio, story genre, phone number, PayPal address, synopsis, secret passwords, specific salutations.

Often markets have an additional “Stories we do/don’t want” section. Read that too.

  • Be 100% sure that your story meets their requirements for both content and formatting. (But don’t self-reject.)
  • If the market uses a submissions manager (such as Submishmash or HeyPublisher) or a submissions form, read and follow the directions for uploading your piece.
  • “Simultaneous submissions” means the same story sent to more than one market at the same time. “Multiple submissions” means more than one story sent to the same market at the same time. Most markets do not allow either. If they do and you choose to take advantage of it, be very vigilant with your records.

5. Send the submission.

  • Most markets specify an email subject line. If they do not, “Submission – [Title of Piece]” should be fine.
  • This is the stage where derping happens, so it’s worth it to double-check everything, including the story and the guidelines, at this point. Make sure you included:

Subject line
Email address in the “To:” line
Full cover letter
Attached (or in-line) story
Whatever else they asked for

6. Record the submission.

  • Immediately write down the name of the piece, the name of the market, and the date it was sent. Leave space to record the date you hear back and the response.

I use Excel and Notepad. Duotrope has a tracker; so does Kaolin Fire.

7. Go to Step 1.

There is also a hidden next step, 8a and 8b, which are BE REJECTED and GET ACCEPTED respectively, but you will find out soon enough. Oh, you will find out! I guess now I should warn you that you will be doing 8a A WHOLE LOT MORE than 8b, and that doesn’t (necessarily) mean you suck; it helps to build rejection into your plans in step one by always knowing where to send things next. (How many times should you send out your story? A host of working writers say: A LOT.) I should also warn you that any one story can sit at a market for completely non-nefarious reasons for upwards of a year, so it’s to your benefit to keep writing new ones.

A NOTE ON THEFT: Some people balk at sending their material out for fear that it’ll be ripped off. With rare exceptions, this is not a thing that happens. An editor who likes your work has far more to gain by straight-up buying it. Registering your copyright is generally seen as not worth the cost. Submit, and fear not.

All clear? Not clear? Anything absolutely essential that I’ve missed?

New! Once you get started, you might want to check out these tips to make formatting as painless as possible.

Buy me a coffee at

Edit: 01/10/13: Duotrope has become a paid service, and while I consider it a valuable one, I’m not comfortable recommending it to the kind of starting-gate beginners I wrote this post for. I’m still using Duotrope, but I’ve updated this post with free and mostly-free services.

*As of July 1, 2014, the SFWA qualifying pro rate is increased 6 cents per word. If Duotrope changes its definitions, I’ll update the post, but I’m leaving it for now.