A Hundred Rejections a Year

I heard some advice at the writing conference I went to last spring, and I keep hearing it. Or at least I keep repeating it and other authors nod their heads like they are familiar with it. If you haven’t already guessed from the title of this blog entry, the advice is for writers to aim for 100 rejection letters per year (even after they are “established”). There is also some conventional wisdom about how many rejections you should receive before putting a book and/or story on the shelf (and these numbers are usually under or at 100) and also the idea that you should change your cover letter every twenty or twenty-five rejections (which I got from Scott Reintgen). But this is the most shocking news of all: you should aspire to 100 rejections per year, like it’s a goal to celebrate when accomplished.

Ouch, right? Or in Irish: och, aye? Who wants to even think about rejections, let alone celebrate them one at a time? Which I think is the real point of this advice. While still harbored somewhere deep in my psyche is the hope that I will be an anomaly and get published each short story and novel after sending like three-five inquiries, I am trying to go into this with much more realistic expectations. And the reality? If I even get published, it’s going to come after many, many rejections, even if it’s the best crap written in the last century. This is just the way the system works, and—if you’ve gotten any rejections, you know—a rejection doesn’t even mean you don’t have something. It just means they don’t want it right now. That one person. On that day. Presented in that way that you presented it. And also that magazine or paper or publisher.

Of course, literary magazines especially, but also agents and publishers would like you to think you can avoid a lot of this if you do your homework. Really, I suppose, they don’t want 1) to have to sift through mountains of propositions that they have absolutely no interest in and 2) they like giving rejections about as much as we like receiving them. (Yeah, not quite, but still.) Just about anywhere you go to submit (which is done largely online and through Submittable these days), someone is reminding you to do your research. For a literary magazines, they want you to read at least a few copies so you know your work would fit there. For agents and publishers, they want you to be familiar with the agent’s or editor’s work, again, having read some of what they have produced. While I agree with these sentiments in theory, I often snort at them before hitting the send button. This doesn’t mean I go in totally blind—I don’t. I do some research. But if we’re aiming at 100 rejections a year—a rejection every three-four days—and most query packages take a couple hours (all that writing, editing, and the initial writing of the cover letter aside), then there is no way on earth that I could read every literary journal and magazine as well as every magazine and newspaper that I submit to and a few novels for every agent and editor I submit to. (Of course there are repeats, but still.) I would never have time to write or edit or, ahem, submit!

Could I submit less if I only targeted the magazines and editors most tuned to my work? You would think. But it doesn’t seem to be that way. While I would never recommend sending sci-fi to a place that says “no sci-fi,” or addressing your cover letter to the wrong editor, I do think you’re likely to waste much time doing too much looking into each one. I mean, agents have jobs for this reason. I don’t have the connections or the deep understanding of the publishing houses and the industry. I’m the writer, and in some ways I am just starting out. It’s still a good idea to figure out the agents and editors of your favorite books that resemble yours and send your query along to those people along with your admiration (just as it’s a good idea to send stories to places that you read because it’s likely to be similar to what you write), but it’s very likely you are going to be rejected and have to move deep into your submissions list before you get an acceptance. By then, let’s face it, you’ll be reaching for a connection to present. (On the other hand, I do prioritize my submissions with the dream-acceptance first and so-on. Sort of. I try also to see my story for what it is and aim it where I think it might find a home. And then when they say “No,” I keep on moving down the list. Or sometimes up.)

Back to my main point: I am aiming for 100 rejections this year. Actually, I may aim more for 50-75, because I am still a full-time homeschool mom and co-op teacher until May. So after that? Full speed ahead. Am I looking forward to all those rejections? I am trying to, actually. It’s mind over matter, maybe. It’s February first. Two down, 98 to go.

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