Everything On Sale!

If you want to sell a story, here’s what you can expect before your first sale. And if you’ve sold a story, here are the odds you’ve beaten.

These data were extracted from my own Submission Tracker application, and then crunched and abused until they submitted to being squeezed into this neat table format. As a statistical sample, this is as close to meaningless as it comes. But as an idea of how the sales process drags on… and on… and on… and on, this is fairly illustrative.

Especially with the caveats below the table.

Sold story Subs Sold on Days until
Deep red 23 Jan 02 2 May 02 108
Conversation with a
mechanical horse
30 Jun 03 20 Jan 04 204
Meeting the Sculptor 21 Sep 04 28 Feb 05 160
Beans and marbles first: 30 Sep 04
sold: 20 Nov 04
31 Mar 05 after
1 rejection
Prisoner of war first: 30 Mar 06
sold: 18 Mar 10
27 Mar 10 after
13 rejections
Diamond sharks first: 22 Nov 06
sold: 29 Oct 07
7 Nov 07 after
4 rejections
What happened while
Don was watching the
first: 29 Jul 07
sold: 26 Sep 10
30 Oct 10 after
9 rejections
Dumb Son first: 7 Oct 07
sold: 1 May 08
24 Jul 09 after
1 rejection
Friendly fire 14 Jul 11 7 Nov 11 116
Trick or treat 6 Sep 11 5 Nov 11 60
Mashup first: 23 Apr 12
sold: 4 Jul 12
10 Sep 12 after
4 rejections
A cold welcome first: 12 Oct 12
sold: 6 Jul 14
2 Sep 14 after
10 rejections
A matter of mass 28 Oct 14 29 Oct 14 1

Now some of the numbers may tempt you to allow yourself some cautious optimism. Don’t. It may look like almost half these stories sold on the first try, but those numbers are badly skewed.

Both Conversation with a mechanical horse and Meeting the Sculptor sold to Writers of the Future. Of course they were sold without first getting rejected somewhere else! If you have a story of the appropriate length, not sending it to Writers of the Future first is plain silliness. If you sell to Writers of the Future, it had better be your first submission of that story!

Friendly Fire sold to Machine of Death on its first outing. Duh. It was written specifically for that market, and if it hadn’t sold there, I would have been at a complete loss where to send it next, since the story is just about glued to the premise and world of Machine of Death.

A Matter of Mass was accepted by SF Comet on its first sortie. No surprise there either: it was a solicited story, and editor Alex Li had already bought whatever story I would submit. The only reason the sale took a day is the fact that Alex checked his e-mail a day after I sent him the story.

Sales without a rejection first? Those are freak accidents.

Not counting the four instant sales I mention above, the average number of rejections I got before I sold a story is almost five. And here’s another statistic to temper you optimism: the average time between the first submission and the eventual sale is 404 days: more than a year!

And this is not even considering the stories that keep on getting rejected…