Join guest columnist and author, Aeryn Rudel, every month right here at Dark Matter Magazine to get tips on writing, publishing, and the subtle art of rejection. Read more of Aeryn’s work over at his Rejectomancy blog.
ACCEPTANCE RATES: WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
Column by Aeryn Rudel
August 26, 2021
This month, we’ll try to answer the following question: How much should you be getting published? If you send ten, twenty, one hundred submissions in a year, how many of those should come back as acceptances? Let’s discuss.
This is purely anecdotal, but it’s a number I’ve heard tossed around fairly often in writerly circles. That number is ten percent. If you’re getting an acceptance once out of every ten submissions, you’re probably on the right track. Now this does not mean you are failing if you’re acceptance rate is under ten percent. As we’ll talk about in a bit, there’s some luck involved in this whole submission business.
Anyway, we’re going to use this ten percent number as our baseline, and I think it’s a good place to start. Before we dive into raw numbers, here are four rules or guidelines I think it takes to be a ten-percenter.
- Your work is ready for publication. It goes without saying that if you’re submitting unfinished, poorly proofed, poorly edited stories, acceptances are going to be hard to come by. How do you know your work is ready? For me, it was when I started getting truly objective feedback from fellow authors. I think this is vital to a writer’s success. You need eyeballs other than yours on your work to get it into publishable shape.
- You’re submitting work on a regular basis. If you’re only submitting a handful of stories per year, you may not be casting a wide-enough net. The more you submit, the better your odds. How many submissions is sufficient? If I had to put a ballpark figure on it, I’d say around two to three or month is a good place to start.
- You follow submission guidelines. This is so important if you want to get published. Make sure you are submitting stories of the right length, in the right genre, in the right format, and so on. Nothing will derail your chances of an acceptance faster than not following the guidelines.
- You keep going. This can be the hardest rule to follow, but it is essential that you keep writing and submitting even when the rejections are piling up, even when you get twenty-seven rejections in a row, even when you think you will never get another acceptance in this life or the next. Keep going.
These are the basics, but I believe a writer who follows them has a good shot at getting accepted on the regular.
Cold, Hard Stats
So, what does it look like when an author follows the guidelines I mentioned? I’ll show you with the most complete data I have—my own submission stats. The table below shows the year, number of subs, and my acceptance percentage for the ten years I’ve been tracking my submissions. (Numbers courtesy of Duotrope.)
As you can see, in 2012 and 2013 I was not following rule number two: submitting on a regular basis. I’d argue that in 2012, I wasn’t following rule number one either. In 2013, my work improved, and even though I didn’t get an acceptance that year, I went on to publish a number of those stories in 2014.
You can see that, generally, the more I subbed, the more stories I sold, and then, well, 2017. What happened that year? The number of submissions I sent increased, and my work hadn’t declined in any way I could see from the fabulous year before. It sounds cliché, but I think I was just unlucky. There’s always a bit of luck involved in getting a story accepted. It’s that formula I’ve mentioned in previous articles: right story + right editor + right time. If you miss one of those, you get rejected. In 2017, I missed a lot. I got close to publication many times, and I often refer to 2017 as the year of the shortlist.
As tough as 2017 was, I followed rule four. I kept going. In 2018, I submitted more stories than I ever have before or since and rebounded nicely. The next two years ranged from solid to spectacular, but as you can see, 2021 is turning out to be a bit like 2017. I’m getting lots of close-but-no-cigar rejections. Still, plenty of time to salvage this year, but if it turns out to be a sub-ten-percenter, I’ll follow rule four again and hit it hard in 2022.
The four rules or guidelines I listed are the primary drivers of your acceptance percentage, but there are others. What makes these different is that you have far less or zero control over them. Here are two of the biggest I’ve encountered.
- Market size. If you are primarily submitting to top-tier markets—and by that I mean the big SFWA- and HWA-qualifying publishers—you’re tangling with acceptance percentages around one percent. In other words, you’re up against stiff competition for relatively few spots. I’m not saying you shouldn’t submit to these markets (you absolutely should). You just need to be aware that your chances of publication are slimmer than they might be with other markets.
- Story length. In my experience, the longer the story, the harder it is to publish. Obviously, novellas and novelettes are the toughest because the number of markets that accept them is small and vanishing. But even short stories in that 3,000- to 5,000-word sweet spot can be more difficult to place than shorter works like flash fiction. The reason for this comes down to simple economics and space. Many short story markets publish bi-monthly or even quarterly and might publish only a dozen pieces per issue. On the other hand, many flash fiction markets publish weekly or even daily. This is not to say that flash fiction markets accept any old thing, just that they have more space to publish stories they like. A short story market is bound to turn away stories they may think are good simply because they don’t have the room.
Much of what’s in this article is subjective and very much based on my experience and how I tend to submit work. Volume and stick-to-it-iveness have worked well for me, and they may for you too. That said, a slower, more deliberate approach may be the ticker to your acceptance success. I still think rule four applies to us all, though. No matter how tough it gets, keep writing, keep submitting, and keep going.
And so ends my twelve-part Rejectomancy column with Dark Matter Magazine. Keep an eye out for my new column with Dark Matter coming October 2021. For more Rejectomancy, head over to my blog Rejectomancy for oodles of overly analytical articles about the various and sundry parts of writing, submitting, and every author’s favorite subject, rejection.