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Musing on rejection - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2006-09-01 07:06
Subject: Musing on rejection
Security: Public
Tags:process, writing
Over at Pub Rants, Kristin winds up a post with a comment that rejection is "a badge of honor on this journey to publication."

I know I've touched on this before, but I think we get too enmeshed in the dynamics of rejection. Even the word is unfortunate, as it implies a judgment of personal worth. I'd like to say I prefer to think of rejection as simply a class of editorial response, but in fact I'm just as pissy and vulnerable as anyone else. However unenlightened that I am, this conceit is still worth thinking about.

Let's rotate the fine art of rejectomancy orthogonally from its usual axis of angst. What are the classes of editorial response? If you think of writing as a business, then think of the the editorial responses as business-driven.

  • Acceptance at above published pay rate

  • Acceptance at published pay rate

  • Rewrite request with intent to accept

  • Rewrite request with intent to consider

  • Rejection with request to send more

  • Rejection with neutral letter

  • Rejection with negative letter1, 2


There's a scale here, measuring degree of editorial interest, and it's not binary. If you accept the seven levels I've outlined, four are positive to some degree, though only the top two represent full success.

Now, remember I said recently that I succeed at most 25% of the time at this point in my career. Which is to say, I don't sell at least 75% what I send out. But I succeed almost 100% of the time at not receiving negative rejections, and perhaps 80% of the time at receiving something better than a neutral letter. So here, let's make several scorecards. I'll pick 1996, when I'd been writing and sending out seriously for about five years, 2001, when I made my first sale (note the timing on this) and 2006, today. This applies to short fiction and novel writing both, and the ratios aren't firm, just my general recollection.

Rejection Class199620012006
Acceptance above rate0%0%5%
Acceptance at rate0%5%20%
Rewrite request with intent0%0%5%
Rewrite request without intent0%5%5%
Rejection, send more25%40%45%
Rejection, neutral25%25%20%
Rejection, negative50%25%0%

ETA: Above figures are rough estimates based on the number of sendouts, not the number of stories sold (with thanks to davidlevine for pointing out the ambiguity -- I will make another post on sell-through later)

What does this all mean? Mostly that rejection is editorial response, it is nuanced, and there is progress to be made. But rejectomancy only works across the data set. It's pretty much zero-sum self-flagellation on a story-by-story, market-by-market basis. And Kristin is right, rejections are a badge of honor, because they mean you sent work out and an editor or agent considered it.




1 By negative, I don't mean vituperative. I'm talking the flyspecked form rejections, such as the famous "blue slip of death", which are the bottom-tier rejections some of the major markets use or have used in the past. I once got a rejection with multiple checkboxes urging me to do things such as study grammar or read within the field. That kind of thing.

2I did consider adding a couple of more categories, one at the top and two at the bottom:

Acceptance via singing telegram with bundles of cash
Rejection with restraining order attached
Rejection with offer of payment to remove the submission from circulation

A Certain Editor Who Shall Remain Nameless actually sent me that last once, but I think they were kidding.
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desperance
User: desperance
Date: 2006-09-01 15:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Let's rotate the fine art of rejectomancy orthogonally from its usual axis of angst.

Jay Lake, I love you with a love that's true. Just sayin'.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2006-09-01 15:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I guess everybody's got to have a hobby...but thank'ee for the light of your kind regard. :p
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User: shawn_scarber
Date: 2006-09-01 15:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I actually strive to collect as many rejections as I can as a goal--however, I allow my self-defeat to come into play by writing the best possible story I can and submitting it to the most likely markets for publication. This way I can remain positive about achieving my goals and my failures seem like a success to the rest of the world.
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David D. Levine
User: davidlevine
Date: 2006-09-01 15:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for sharing this.

Are those percentages of submissions or percentages of stories? That is, are you selling a quarter of the stories you write, or is it that one submission out of four is accepted?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2006-09-01 15:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Excellent question. I shall amend the post forthwith. Those are send-outs, not stories per se. I should make another post about the issue of sell-through, ie, stories, which I have hard statistics to back up.
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David D. Levine
User: davidlevine
Date: 2006-09-01 15:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Interesting. I just checked, and since 1/1/05 I'm getting about 20% acceptances. Higher than I would have guessed.
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España Sheriff
User: cmdrsuzdal
Date: 2006-09-01 16:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Don't forget "Acceptance with restraining order attached" ... isn't that pretty much what Iain Banks got for The Wasp Factory?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2006-09-01 17:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Heh -- nice one.
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kvaadk: gencon
User: kvaadk
Date: 2006-09-01 18:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:gencon
Ooo. I remember the multiple-check-box- rejections!
I got them a lot from girls in the third grade.
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Thida
User: waterowl
Date: 2006-09-01 19:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for sharing this! It's really encouraging to me since at this point my acceptance rate is currently 10% or literally 1 out of 10 with 2 answers still pending.

In 2001, was your acceptance a rewrite that turned into an acceptance?

I don't think I quite understand what you mean by negative rejection. Do you mean just rejections that tell you remedial things, or form rejections in general? What about the infamous "not right for this program?"
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2006-09-01 19:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The very first acceptance I ever got, in 2001, was for "The Courtesy of Guests" to Bones of the World, and it did not require a rewrite.

By "negative rejection" I mean the low-tier form letters. Blue slips, or those check box thingies. "Not right for us" might be negative, but you can't tell.
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Bibbit
User: bridget_coila
Date: 2006-09-01 20:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And Kristin is right, rejections are a badge of honor, because they mean you sent work out and an editor or agent considered it.

I used to tape my rejections up on the wall above my desk when I first started writing. It made me feel like I was actually doing something and also reminded me to keep sending more stuff.

B
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2010-06-02 20:01 (UTC)
Subject: Controlling for the data
One factor that might play into this is the change over from Mr. Gardner Dozois to Ms. Sheila Williams at Asimovs. His generic rejection was a remedial one (of the "Don't you think you should stop sending me stories in crayon?" variety) whereas hers is neutral in its content (at least was the last time I got one).

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