Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Very Picture of Success

Hey, aspiring writers!  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I thought I'd show you a picture of what success looks like:

Now I will explain the picture.

I have submitted stories on and off for over 20 years, but I didn't get serious about writing and publishing until a few years ago.  Since 2007, I have kept the spreadsheet seen above.  The 25th submission since 2007 sold:  Two Dwarves and Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (check out the very perceptive review from Arlene on that page!).

Then it was all rejections until the 38th submitted piece sold.  Then the 64th (again, to Ellery Queen).  Then the 73rd.  Then the 120th.  Then the 190th (an anthology, my single proudest achievement).  Then the 219th.  Some of these places did not pay in pro rates, one did not pay at all.  But they were magazines and sites where people went to enjoy fiction, and my stories were among those they enjoyed, and it is a great feeling.

From the first, to the 219th, I placed seven stories (not all of these have been listed on my web site because they're not published yet).  So:  219 divided by 7 = 31 and change. 

I submit over 31 stories for every one acceptance.

(That doesn't include the stories I have judged to be good enough for publication but didn't sell, which I then self-published.  Check out the Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords links on the sidebar.)

You want to be published?  Do what I did.

Follow Robert Heinlein's famous rules.

If you publish yourself, you must do the work of formatting, proofing, covers, etc. 

Keeping excellent records is both instructive and entertaining:

  • After selling two stories to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, I have gotten six rejections in a row from them.  Not a problem; some of them included very flattering comments from the editor.  But this knowledge is instructive if you think that after you've made the first sale, you'll never be rejected again.  Dude, you'll be rejected by the same places you've previously sold to.

  • On July 8, 2011, I got four rejections in one day: a record.  I had developed a thick enough skin by then to be actually entertained by it.

  • A tab on my spreadsheet called "promising" reproduces all submissions where I got personal notes from the editors, asking me to submit more.  (When they say, "I would like to see your next story," they always mean it.  I know, because I got that comment in some, but not all, rejections from the same editor, meaning that some of my stories, not all, impressed her.)  It tells me who to send the next story in that genre to.

  • Some magazines and web sites are class acts.  Some are not.  There is a well-regarded magazine that sat on my submission for over 200 days.  I thought maybe they were considering it.  But then a follow-up letter (with SASE) was not returned.  I withdrew the story.  On a whim, I submitted a second story and got the same treatment.  They're a high-paying market with visibility on the Barnes & Noble newsstand, but I'll never touch them again.  You won't be able to keep track of such things unless you keep good records.

I hope this helps.  Please leave me a comment if you enjoyed it. 


  1. Hey, I enjoyed "The Last Listener" in NewMyths. You took some chances, telling us about the defunct listeners. Of course, I saw later you were setting us up for the final loop. An original story. Nice job.

  2. Thanks Gerald!

    I tried to stand on the shoulders of the giants of the past. When I was a kid, I read Alfred Bester's novel "The Demolished Man." I tried to add my own two cents to advance the telepathy subgenre. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    Scott Barnes, publisher of, was a class act to work with, by the way. The author's questionnaire on the site asks for your birthdate, to which I wrote: "You know that American president who publicly proclaimed to have a certain set of values but then didn't live up to them? That guy? I was born during his administration."

    Scott then emailed me to say, "You could be anywhere from 1 month to 199 years old."