Another writing friend mentioned recently that for every 50 rejections he might then finally receive one acceptance. Now, this writer sends out both stories and manuscripts, so he’s juggling a lot of paper in all this. But it made me wonder what my own rejection/acceptance ratio might be.
I don’t write many short stories, my Sherlock Holmes stories notwithstanding. I self-publish those anyway, so I have no stats for rejections. Well, that’s not entirely true; early on I did send “Mystery of the Last Line” out to a few mystery magazines and the like. Maybe five? Then finally self-published it and never looked back.
That said, I did recently write a story called “Aptera.” It was written to spec for an anthology about Sirens, and though shortlisted did not make the final cut. (Tone too different from all the other stuff, which is a topic for another time.) Counting that rejection, “Aptera” was sent to 12 venues and rejected by 8 of them. I had not heard back from 3 others when Aurora Wolf accepted it. So, discarding the might-have-beens, my acceptance ratio for this story was 1/9.
Okay, what about novels? Which is more of what I do anyway. I queried The K-Pro just shy of 50 times before self-publishing it. So the ratio there is 0 for 50, more or less. The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller was my hardest sell. I queried that one exactly 100 times and had 2 acceptances. So my friend’s 1/50 estimate was spot on there. And Changers? I sent out 70 queries on that one. I received 2 acceptances and had not heard back from 4 at the time I accepted Evernight Teen’s offer. So if I subtract those 4, I get 2/66, or 1/33, which isn’t too bad.
And what about timing? I started sending out “Aptera” in January after receiving the boot from the anthology. It was accepted in May, so it took me 4 months to place it. I queried The K-Pro for a year before giving up and self-publishing. It took 15 months to place Peter, and 10 months to find a home for Changers. The reason for that is most likely there are more agents and publishers open to YA fantasy (Changers) than there are for adult upmarket espionage (Peter).
What all this adds up to is that querying and finding a home for your book or story is not, on average, a fast process. You’re going to hear “no thanks” a lot, and you should be prepared to stick things out for a year or more depending on your genre and how popular it is. There are more romance and fantasy publishers than, as I said, upmarket espionage publishers. So plan for a long-term siege. That way, if it happens sooner rather than later, you can be pleasantly surprised. But if it takes a while, you’ll be ready for that rather than disappointed and disheartened. It’s all a matter of perspective.