What I've Learned From 595 Rejections
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In order to be a published writer, I think in some ways, you have to be a glutton for punishment. That is, you must embrace (what might someday become) the satisfying sting of continual failure. Let me explain.
Since I first started submitting my fiction to magazines in January 2011, I’ve been tracking each and every submission in a beloved color-coded spreadsheet. My submissions have grown beyond magazines to writing residencies, grad school programs, and fellowships and I’ve begun to also submit pitches, essays, and even some poems.
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Something I find most satisfying to do is to scroll through the more than 700 cells with entries in my spreadsheet and see the orange and teal accumulate as the years go on—orange is for positive rejections and teal is for acceptances. I began tracking positive rejections, meaning rejections where I got a personal response or note of encouragement from an editor to keep writing and send more work in the future, because I wanted to see what I might notice as time went on. Seeing more orange and teal cells build up over the years has encouraged me to keep submitting amidst all the form letters saying in so many words, "No."
Out of those 595 rejections, I have received 47 acceptances over the last 11 years. That’s about 4.27 acceptances a year—an acceptance every quarter—for over a decade, with a 7.8% acceptance rate overall. What’s interesting is that this acceptance rate is reflective of my best years of submitting as far as the amount of times I could submit when I had more time and resources to put my work out there and hope for the best. It’s generally common knowledge that most literary magazines and book publishers accept only around 1% of their submissions. This makes me feel not so bad about my personal numbers, though, if we’ve learned anything together over this past year of Ask a Failure, it’s that there’s always room to improve and keep trying, even while fully enjoying and embracing the imperfect moment.
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