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
|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
|Prisoner of war||first: 30 Mar 06
sold: 18 Mar 10
|27 Mar 10 after
|Diamond sharks||first: 22 Nov 06
sold: 29 Oct 07
|7 Nov 07 after
|What happened while
Don was watching the
|first: 29 Jul 07
sold: 26 Sep 10
|30 Oct 10 after
|Dumb Son||first: 7 Oct 07
sold: 1 May 08
|24 Jul 09 after
|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
|A cold welcome||first: 12 Oct 12
sold: 6 Jul 14
|2 Sep 14 after
|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…