A long time ago in an idealistic frame of mind far, far from the current more pragmatic state I began submitting stories to science fiction and fantasy markets. I was more or less in the Snoopy frame of mind when it all began, and just couldn’t wait for all the acceptances and checks to arrive.
1326 rejections later I’m a little more realistic about the markets out there. I’ve made a total of 1399 submissions (excluding current ones) and sold 73 stories, a 5.2% acceptance rate. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it?
Actually, much of this is apples and oranges. Mixing the submission rates of the top markets with those at the lower levels is like comparing a player’s batting average against major league vs. little league pitching. The top markets are inundated with submissions, and have acceptance rates something like 1 in 500 or so. It’s actually even worse for most of us since they have spots reserved for “name” authors (who have earned that right and consistently write great stories), but it means that for the rest of us, the acceptance rate might be 1 in 1000. Yeah, about 0.1%.
At the lower levels, the acceptance rate might be as high as 1 in 10, or 10%. Some “for the luv” markets (i.e. no payment) have rates something like 1 in 3. There’s a wide variance here, but the basic idea is that if you write pretty well, and are persistent in submitting, it’s not hard to get published at the lower levels.
At what point is all this submitting change from hobby to business? That’s a tough call. I like to think of myself as a professional, even though I don’t get nearly enough money from SF writing to make a living. (I actually get lots of money from writing about the Olympic sport of table tennis – yep, enough to make a living, with seven books and 1400+ published articles on the sport, and a daily table tennis blog, along with professional coaching.) So I try to keep the stories out there in the markets, relentlessly sending them out to new markets the same day they are rejected by foolish well-meaning editors. I currently have 18 short stories in submission, with 12 other stories in abeyance, i.e. waiting for an appropriate market to open up. (Often this is because I have a story in submission to a market, and so can’t submit until I get the result of that one.)
There was a time when I’d keep sending stories out, from the highest to the lowest markets, until it sold. These days I’m a bit pickier, as I’m more interested in making “good” sales than just making a sale at sub-minimum wage level. So if a story doesn’t sell to the better markets, but I believe in the story, I’ll hold back and see if perhaps an anthology opens up that it might fit, or a new high-level market. They come and go regularly. It means that even though my writing has hopefully improved, my acceptance rates are probably about the same, since I’m going for more difficult markets.
Meanwhile, I keep writing news ones – I have five in various stages of progress. However, recently I’ve moved up another level in the professional scale as I sold a SF novel to World Weaver Press, “Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions.” And so I need to focus more on novels, including the sequel to this one, which I’m now 17,000 words into. But I still like to do short stories even if they aren’t particularly profitable. There are a few pro markets out there that I’m determined to break into – call it a professional challenge – and so I’ll continue to write short stories along with novels.
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