by Vylar Kaftan
I’ve published about three dozen short stories, and perhaps 1/3 are SFWA-qualifying. I thought I’d open my submission history in case it would help a new writer see what the submission process looks like. Because the data is less clear-cut and requires some history I don’t have, this won’t be quite as nifty as my diversity statistics, but I hope it’s helpful for someone.
The first thing to know–this is only my submission history post-Clarion West, so it starts in 2004. I did send a few stories to the big magazines in the very early 2000s, but they had staples and single-space and all sorts of horrors. I still have those stories in my files, but I don’t think I have their submission history.
Second, this is not in chronological order. I sorted it by times submitted, since that’s the primary question people wanted to know. I did look for any patterns, like whether stories were selling faster or not in more recent years. No pattern. I mean, this list includes everything from my Clarion West submission story to my Nebula-nominated story from Lightspeed. You really can’t tell which is which from the raw numbers, which I think is fascinating.
Third, this doesn’t include any of my stories currently in circulation or waiting to be circulated. (I treat stories like hot potatoes and try not to keep them in my pocket very long, but sometimes I have to wait for particular markets to open.)
Here’s some raw data.
|Times subbed||Sold/trunked||Months waited|
That’s 42 stories. I sold 34 and trunked 8 (81% and 19% respectively). Of the 8 trunked stories, my reasons were: didn’t like the story anymore (5), or ran out of suitable markets (3). That’s a simplification, but close enough.
Average number of times submitted before a pro sales: 6.1. Average number of times submitted before a semi-pro or other sale: 6.5. I don’t remember how to do the math for statistical significance, but I’m pretty damn sure those numbers are not very different.
My friend Annaliese Beery made some delightfully nerdy histograms of this data. She reports that there’s no significant difference in number of times submitted by whether or not it sold. They’re included at the end of this post.
So, some observations about that data now.
1) That story with 19 subs (18 rejections, accepted at the 19th place) received 6 Nebula recommendations, back when we did that sort of thing. There was nothing wrong with it. It just had to find the right home. Here endeth the lesson.
2) If I scan the list looking for my “best” stories, using any of several measures, I can’t see a pattern. Possible measures include: the ones I liked best, the ones readers emailed me the most about, the ones my crit groups loved, the ones editors wrote personal rejections for. I really don’t think there’s any conclusions to be drawn there except that submission history and the story’s quality are only somewhat correlated at best. Certainly not the Holy Grail that I’ve heard some writers proclaim.
3) I don’t track personalized rejections, but I’d estimate that in my early days, I got perhaps 10% personalized rejections. Nowadays I get more like 70% personalized rejections. Most of the non-personalized ones are from editors/magazines who don’t personalize for anyone.
4) Check out that “months waited” column. Yes, it can be 4 years from the day I start circulating a story until the day someone buys it. Add the fact that sometimes I don’t start circulating a story until a year after I wrote it, and/or it can take a year for an accepted story to actually be published… makes me wonder what’s sitting in my files right now that will eventually be exciting for me. Which I think is pretty cool.
Vylar Kaftan has published about three dozen stories. A 2010 Nebula nominee, she blogs at www.vylarkaftan.net and as vylar_kaftan on Livejournal. She founded FOGcon, a literary-themed sf/f con in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has stories forthcoming in Lightspeed and Realms of Fantasy.