[writing] How many rejections have you had?

Pursuant to a discussion on Twitter right now, I’ll mention here that I had about 150 rejections before I made my first pro sale, and currently have had over 1,200 in my career. (1,225 as of this week.) By contrast, I personally know at least two writers who made a pro sale with their first ever submittal.

If you’ve sold a pro story, how many rejections did you receive before that point?

If you haven’t sold a pro story yet, how many rejections have you received so far in your quest?

How many career rejections total?

I’m curious as to people’s experiences and views on this.

28 thoughts on “[writing] How many rejections have you had?

  1. I started the query process last week and got a full MS request with the first query, 2 rejections after that. My brother had 300+ rejections before he sold The Dresden Files. When I get the 300+ I plan to complain loudly, with many, many adjectives.


  2. Jay says:

    @1. Julie — Complain with adverbs, then people will have something to bitch back at you about. Or better yet, sell faster than that and smoke your brother. 😀

  3. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I’ve been building back into submitting to magazines. Then I stated having second thoughts about the effectiveness of this. I wrote it all up on mindofbryan.com, and asked for suggestions. Here’s the basic gist of it.

    I’m interesting in finding an agent, and selling a book or three. I started wondering what is more important, some professional sales, or following. With the decline of the magazines, I’m seeing fewer opportunities, and less immediacy to the goal of building to that core 5,000 member audience. If I submit to a magazine, I reach a couple of readers over a period of months, who most likely will tell me they can’t use it.

    I’ve decided to build a following and build a market. I can do this much more effectively by internet than I can through submissions hell.

    My question is how to get professional attention. There is certainly a trade-off to getting a resume of publications vs. getting a wider audience and not having the credits.

  4. Tim Pratt says:

    I’ve only been got records for my story submissions going back to 1999; I’ve had 417 rejections since then, and about 80 story sales. But I was submitting stories starting in 1991 or so, and I’m sure I sent out 150 to 200 stories without success in that period, most multiple times. So it’s gotta be approaching a thousand rejections by now.

    My record for a story is 29 rejections over a period of almost six years before it finally sold. 🙂

  5. I officially began following my lost dream, and making proactive advancement towards being a professional author in 2008. Before this, I was just a hobbyist writer/poet since the age of 9. I first realized I wanted to be an author when my 4th grade teacher asked me to write a story per week–for the whole school year–that she read in front of the class, every Friday afternoon. It is sad that it took until the age of 32 for me to remember this dream, and begin to make it happen. Current ratio: 3 acceptances / 7 rejections.

  6. Grant Stone says:

    Technically my first sale was a pro one. But I haven’t seen a contract or the story published yet, so it’s not in my official count (though not ruled out either)

    But apart from that, in the past 3 years I’ve been seriously writing and submitting:

    20 acceptances, 47 rejections.

  7. Michele Lee says:

    I only decided that what I wanted was to be professionally published instead of just published wherever about 5 or 6 months ago. My rejections have taken a jump since then, of course. Lets see, since I stopped farting around and decided to write for real in 2006 I’ve racked up 302 submissions, 240 rejections and 13 acceptances (some of which never actually made it to print, or haven’t yet). My stats are slightly less abysmal when you see the full novel requests, hold requests and rejects wherein the editor/agent has sounded almost reluctant to pass the story up.

    I guess my numbers are high because I have a lot out there. Most of my individual stories don’t go over 20 submissions before they sell. I have a few that sold in the first three tries.

    I made my first pro sale this past year on a technicality. The low dollar meant that when I got the acceptance the exchange rate made the sale pro. By the time I got and deposited the check though, it wasn’t. Not sure where it fits now.

  8. I have no concrete numbers, since I only started keeping track of submissions in a spreadsheet a couple of weeks ago (before that it was in a notebook). I’ve had 1 book, 22 anthology pubs, 108 poems, 10 short stories and 4 flash fiction pieces published or pending (although I don’t know how many of these you’d consider pro – many of them are lit mags and that’s a different metric since some of the most prestigious don’t pay or pay very little). I’m sure that for eon average, I’ve gotten at least 5 and probably more like 10 rejections per piece, although that’s just a guess since I haven’t been tracking it. But I’d be very shocked if I’ve received fewer than 1,000 rejections.

  9. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    probably 6000 since 1987. probably 3000 since my first pro sale.

  10. Holy Crap. I don’t think I can do 1000.
    *feels dizzy


  11. Michele Lee says:

    Well, thank Jeff for making me feel better 😉

  12. Sean Markey says:

    15 rejection to my first pro sale. And I currently have 24 rejections.

  13. tetar says:

    We don’t all keep track. I sure don’t. I just try to send at least two out for every one I get back. It’s a process for me rather than a reckoning or an accounting.

    I’d submitted sporadically for six years, starting in 1974.

    In 1980 I began submitting regularly. My first sale was “Weal & Woe” to MZB’s in Spring 1990. I’d had many near-misses, including almost snagging 3rd place in the first Twilight Zone contest, won by Dan Simmons.

    So, if I had to estimate, I’d say maybe, what, 1000 – 1500 rejections before that first paying sale? Wow, I had no idea. If I had been keeping track I might have been discouraged.


    I’m not counting unpaid publication or various other things, either. Face it, I just don’t pay attention to much beyond what I’m writing at the time, which explains my lack of business success. As you’ve said, Jay, the business part is what too many of is ignore to our detriment. So true.

    I’ve never been able to internalize taking a more businesslike approach. And yes, I recognize this as a fatal flaw.

  14. About 150 before my first sale. Before I sold anything I thought that number was humiliatingly huge — especially since my Dad told me I must not have any talent after my first magazine rejection at age 17! Fortunately I found better informed role models. 435 rejections to date.

  15. tetar says:

    Once you’re writing publishable prose, rejections are irrelevant to such things as talent or skill. I’ve long since concluded they are essentially random. Either an editor likes what you send in the few moments it slides under editorial gaze, or not. Same editor may later buy what has been previously rejected, or wonder what they ever saw in a work after they buy it.

    This is why I don’t bother with them. Sometimes there are good reasons for a rejection, sometimes not, but either way I have no control over that, beyond trying to conform to each publication’s standards or to each editors expressed needs.

    To me, rejections are noise, acceptances are signal, and payment is what the signal delivers.

  16. Joseph Jordan says:

    I don’t know how many rejections, but I can tell you it took 30 years from my first submission, to Analog in 1975 at the tender age of 15, to my first and so far only professional sale by winning the 3rd quarter WotF in 2005.

  17. I only started keeping records when I got serious in 2007, midway through grad school. But I remember sending a couple of things to Asimov’s before that, and two pieces of realism to Glimmer Train contests.

    So, counting the early half-serious ones, I’d had 7 rejections before my first pro sale, 4 of them in spec-fic. Of course, I’d love not to count the half-serious submissions, but just because you’re embarrassed of things doesn’t mean they didn’t happen! (Which reminds me, didn’t I send a POEM to a contest once? Repress, repress, repress…)

    Rejections total: 22 (2 sales)
    Rejections in spec-fic: 14 (1 sale)

    My litmag sale doesn’t pay money, but it’s a pretty well-respected journal. Like Joanne said, that world requires a different metric.

  18. I think the numbers will be very different, too, if you’re writing solely fiction rather than fiction and poetry or poetry alone: with fiction, the piece sells or it doesn’t; with poetry, you typically send 3-5 poems and when you get an acceptance, it’s for one or two of those. Poets who get an acceptance on every package of poetry they send out would still have more rejections than acceptances.

  19. Joanne: Yeah. Combine that with the huge ‘inventory’ (most of my poet friends count their available poems in scores or hundreds) and the litmaggish tendency towards allowing simsubs, and poetry numbers would be very different indeed.

    I am not a poet. That’s why having sent out a poem to a contest once is something I choose to repress. If you’d read it, you’d want to repress, too! 😉

  20. 355 rejections before my one and only pro sale. 495 rejections in total.

  21. Since it was my Twitter-whine that started this, I really should weigh in. I thought I was approaching 70 rejections, but it turns out to be just 40 (I am approaching 70 points in the scale by which I rate the rejections).

    I have one sale to a small press magazine. So, does this count? For my purposes, I was only considering professional markets.

    These rejections, by the way, come from 12 different stories over the last two years. If I don’t produce more, I have a long wait ahead of me.

  22. I find the posts here very encouraging. My rejection count is up to 85, with 2 sales (neither to pro markets). Seeing what people have shared here makes that number seem less discouraging. Thank you all for sharing.

  23. Late to the party with this thread, Jay. Sorry.

    For me, it took approx. 138 rejections and 17 years to get the break-in: Writers of the Future. Thankfully Stan Schmidt bought my non-winning Finalist two months later, letting me know the WOTF win was not a fluke.

    I should note that those 17 years were not 17 years of constant effort. More like long stretches of near-quitting punctuated by two or three sustained bursts of production.

    The “million words” thing is about right for me: I was at 870,000+ when I won WOTF.

  24. Nobu says:

    I’m late to the thread party, too (found this post off Brad’s blog).

    I was at 48 rejections before my first sale (semi-pro, not pro), now I’m up to over 100. Since I’ve only been submitting for a year and a half or so now, I’m not discouraged yet 🙂

    1. Jay says:

      Excellent progress, in my experience. Good on yez.

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