10 October 2013

rejection: what are the odds?

Rejection: "What Are the Odds?"
This post was supposed to go up Wednesday morning, but had to be put on hold. In part because I ran out of time to write it … and in part because I was trying to figure out the best way to put “bad news” in a “nice package.” Then I realized that what I’m about to tell you isn’t bad news. So here it is:

Since we’re doing things by the numbers this week, I think it’s time we play a little math with the topic nobody wants to talk about when it comes to making submissions: Rejection.

Here are three numbers for your consideration:

780, 9, 1.15%

Are you ready to hear what these numbers represent? “No,” you say? Well, we’re going to talk about it anyway.

Taking figures from some of the top literary journals out there, most journals are receiving, on average, 780 submissions a month. (That figure is rounded down.) On average, those same journals are accepting around 9 pieces for publication. (If you think that’s bad … that figure is rounded up.) That means that of the hundreds to thousands of submissions journals receive, only about 1.15% (or, if it makes you feel better, 1-2%) are accepted.

Now, there are a few ways to take this information.

1. “may the odds be [never] in your favor”

The way most submitters look at this is as a negative. If you’re just one swimmer in a pool of 780-plus fish, you’d better hope your fins are strong. Chances are, there’s a bigger, better fish ahead of you, and that’s the fish whose name you’ll be seeing in print. Meanwhile, with these kinds of odds, the closest you’ll come to seeing your name in print is having the editors condescend to actually using your name in addressing the rejection slip. If you're thinking this way, the question basically becomes: Why bother submitting at all?

2. “you’re one in a million, once in a lifetime”

Here’s how I think you should be taking this information: It’s business, not personal. (Yes, I’ve jumped from Miss Congeniality to The Godfather …) First of all, if the odds are this stacked against you, they’re also this stacked against 98-99% of everybody else submitting! You can snub your nose as much as you like at that “choice” 1% that makes it, but you know what they call the literary journal that accepts everybody? Nonexistent. (If you want to see what that literary journal might look like, go here.) A rejection doesn’t mean you’re the one person who didn’t make it: it means you’re one of over 700 people who didn’t make it, and in only some of those cases is it because the work wasn’t “good enough” … In most of those cases, there just wasn’t room. This time. Which means there needs to be a next time you submit. Most of the time, it’s business, not personal.

Ready for seconds? As much as we all like to think it would feel great to get picked first every single time, we also all know that can’t happen. But doesn’t that make that one time you get picked first even better? (If you say “No” to this … just don’t say no, okay?) Treat submissions the same way. Rather than dwelling in a rejection (which, by the way, is a horrible name for it anyway: let's start calling it, "a journal's inability to accept your piece at this time"), try dwelling on your acceptances! Linger in that warm glow ... even when it's followed or preceded by the cool chill of a "no thank you."

And for dessert, consider this: the numbers really aren’t this badly stacked against you! Let’s make the number smaller: out of a pool of submissions, you have a 1% chance of being selected for publication. Instead of considering 9 out of 780, let’s just make it a 1 out of 100 chance. Raise your hand if you’ve submitted 100 times without receiving an acceptance.

I’ll wait.

The fact is, that’s probably not going to happen to you. So stop worrying because you’ve sent out 20 submissions and received 20 rejections. I’ll tell you a secret: I once sent out over 30 submissions in a month and got one acceptance from the bunch. Ask me how much I cared. About 0.001%. Seriously! I'm not saying that the "rejections" didn't sting (and I won't promise that at some point they'll stop stinging). But I've learned that the submission process isn't about the rejections: it's about the acceptances. And if you spend too much time weeping over rejections, even the acceptances will start to lose their sweet flavor.

So please: enjoy the process. Relish the acceptances and relinquish the rejections to the domain in which they belong: the "try again" pile for the work, and the "circular filing cabinet" for the rejection slips. Only start weeping when you’re up to 99 submissions without a single acceptance. Until then … the odds are still in your favor!


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  1. I enjoyed this, Khara. You really put things in perspective... thanks.


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