Crazy Hope & the Submission Numbers Game

Publish  or perish sounds like a joke until you try it.

Publish or perish sounds like a joke until you try it.

Now that I’ve been winging out stories for months in this latest round of publish or perish, I’m in some ways more obsessed with numbers than ever, and in others, letting go of supposed signs that used to get my hopes up.

All that hope, superstition, market studying, guideline consulting, submission preparing, stat-analyzing and rejectomancy came to just enough income to buy a few eBooks from one of my favorite online science fiction publishers.

Coming out of my shell to connect with writers, editors and readers has been the best part, so here’s an overdue blog post.

The Art of Submission-Watching

The longer I played the submission numbers game, and the more stories I kept in play, the easier it became to let go of fantasies about what might be happening to any particular story. For example, pro science fiction Magazine A has had my story for days longer than their latest responses, according to the Grinder.

A few weeks ago, I would have imagined this might be a good sign. Now I avoid that thought train. I see it flicker and reject it. Reject, see, I can reject, too.

For you numbers junkies, only one of my submissions was eaten by Internet bacteria.

For you numbers junkies, only one of my submissions was eaten by Internet bacteria.

There’s no telling why the timing is what it is. The story may be with a reader who hasn’t gotten to it yet. That’s the most likely answer to the nagging question of why there’s no response.

Unlike reading tea leaves, tarot cards, the I Ching or soy-based animal entrails, speculating on imaginary signs based on submission stats offers nothing in the way of useable results.

To reduce the email-watching, I decided to write more stories and send more out. Now I have 13 stories out. All are exclusive submissions.

What Submission Stats Mean About the Odds of Acceptance: Short Answer — Nothing

I read on a blog that one guy makes one story sale per 75 submissions. This was heartening. For all of a few minutes I felt better. Yet I’m not competing with anyone else. I’m just trying to place these stories.

Each submission is a cry against death.

Each submission is a cry against death.

On the happy side, I’m reading even more of what’s coming out: my favorite online science fiction, fantasy and horror publications, recent anthologies by editors I’m courting, the few remaining newsstand mags, and as ever, the annual best-of collections.

I muse a lot about the mysteries of inclusiveness.

Reading all those encouraging policies in submission guidelines got my hopes up, for about a year.

I’m cutting down on submissions to places that rarely publish characters like mine, and places that rarely publish anyone who isn’t a top name. As time-consuming as this has already been, I may as well focus on publications where I might have a better shot.

Overcoming rejection phobia didn't work out so great

Overcoming rejection phobia didn’t work out so great


I wrote this post many weeks ago while I was still circulating stories to editors, writing and polishing more stories, and doing everything I could think of to reach a fiction breakthrough.

None of those last 13 stories achieved publication.

During that 13-month bout of crazy hope I wrote more than 30 new stories and a Gothic horror novel, racked up more than 100 rejections, made three sales and went broke. Kids, don’t try this at home.

Three story sales out of 113 or so submissions is a better rate than one out of 75, yet it didn’t buy me the time I needed to continue the full-out fiction experiment.

That a few pro editors shortlisted several of my stories and sent detailed responses encouraged me, yet the highs and lows of hoping and crashing cut into my productivity on paid projects. I make all my income writing and get paid by the word — yes, I’m crazy — so bleeding fiction out into the danger zone wasn’t the brightest move. After months of cutting sleep to prioritize fiction, I stopped writing and submitting stories and went back to chunking out the words that cover the bills.

[Side note on all those thrilling “bumps” and shortlistings: In my case, not one resulted in publication and the crashes from those — usually extensive — waits for a verdict were worse than several normal rejections combined. Vicious, vicious hope. The bump-crash syndrome inspired me to self-publish my vampire story, Animals of London in December 2013, right before I lost almost everything for the second time in two years.]

A few weeks of intensive copywriting for survival have resulted in the usual more-intense depression, yet I’m working on the Gothic horror novel a couple hours a week.

I hope to launch it next month.  Guess I’m an addict.


“Persistence furthers,” sayeth the I Ching, or, I’m not dead yet.

Here’s some inspiration: Astronaut Gives Amazing Speech On How To Conquer Your Biggest Fears

And, for anyone who missed this exposé, Shimmer’s Beth Wodzinski tells The Truth About Rejection Letters.

I write speculative fiction, science fiction, horror, fantasy, cross-genre, unclassified, non-fiction, scripts, poetry and dreams. I'm branching out into multimedia projects. My Vampire Madam series is available on Amazon. The first episode is Animals of London. My work has appeared in anthologies, literary journals, newspapers and on websites under a trio of pen names. I made my first sale to the Pan Book of Horror: Dark Voices series.

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Posted in Fiction, Horror, Publishing, rejection, stories, submissions, Writing
3 comments on “Crazy Hope & the Submission Numbers Game
  1. Joseph Pinto says:

    Keep chopping wood, Bat! Never despair!


  2. Tao23 says:

    Sounds familiar, I’ve suppressed most of the speculation about what editor or reader is thinking about which story as well. I started out self-publishing without submitting elsewhere first; the last year I send a story out anywhere from 3 to 10 times depending on… well, reasons… before self-publishing. I only sold one this year (unless one sells in the little bit of year left), so you’re ahead of me there. Good show.

    The self-published stuff has bought me a couple tanks of gas and covered the internet bill once or twice.

    It’s slow going. I don’t remember who said it, but I swear I remember a writer saying “the first seven years of being a writer are the worst”.

    I’m only halfway through that. It’d be nice to beat that seven year estimate. We’ll see.

    Good luck.


    • Bat Hughes says:

      Congrats on the sale! Sometimes it takes more than 10 submissions to find a home for a story, even for well-established writers.

      You’re ahead of me on the self-publishing income. I make enough for a cup of coffee here and there from my first eBook. Still, it’s worth keeping at it. The Kindle boards have good posts — inspiration from people who are building sales. It seems to usually take having a few books out.

      Many authors took years to become established — I’ve been through some drastic things the past couple of years and decided it’s time to publish the things I care about. I ran out of patience for sending out each story or other work many times for months. It was becoming too draining.

      I hope you beat that seven year estimate! Thanks for posting.

      Liked by 1 person

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