Data Dive #1: "Crushed"

Cover art by Gary Golightly

Cover art by Gary Golightly

I was reading the author's contribution notes to Best American Short Stories once and one of the authors said something like "This story was rejected 20 times before X picked it up.  Now it's in BASS.  I just wanted to put that out there for other writers."  A writing professor once told me that the students from his MFA that went on to be the most published weren't the best writers, but were the people who were the most persistent.  I'm willing to guess that a publication record is some combination of talent, luck, persistence, and submission strategy.

I'm interested in the metrics behind publication--from the writers' end, not the publishing end, particularly because people often don't talk about it.  I started making submissions was I was incredibly young and clueless and basically didn't have a writing network at all to compare notes with.  This was before every journal had a real working website, and way before online journals.  This was when Duotrope was free.  I think something like a decade passed between my two logins--one a few years ago, one when the USSR was still a country or something.  I know some folks are angry about Duotrope not being free anymore, but I will happily pay for anything that gives me data.  Because data is my precious.

"Crushed" was published in The Pinch in 2014, but I actually wrote it more than ten years ago for a college writing workshop.  I submitted it a handful of times back in early 2000s--nonsimultaneously, cringeworthy, now that I think about it, but my recollection is that back then that a lot of lit mags didn't allow simultaneous submissions.  (I'm extremely happy that almost all journals have since changed their minds on that issue.)  Back then, the only "data" I had available was the actual literary magazines I could physically get my hands on at the bookstore or at college libraries.  Bookstores didn't carry a ton of them back then, so if I could get my paws on it, I would submit to it, which often meant I was submitting to magazines that were super prestigious.  The problem was that I had no idea of what was prestigious--I didn't really know anyone who was seriously involved in the writing world, so as far as I knew Missouri Review and Podunk Quarterly could have been equally as good.  I don't even think I regularly used the internet back then to find journals--I had a ricochet modem in my dorm room (yup, that was a thing) and I'm pretty sure I wrote papers by looking up topics using the Dewey Decimal System.  I'm probably exaggerating.  But maybe not.  While this was a terrible submission strategy there's one thing psychologically interesting about it: submit to journals without knowing how hard they are to get into.  It's the equivalent of not being scared off of asking out a girl because she's really hot.  (I mean, she's probably busy, right?)

This story got rejected 6 times when I was initially sending it out and I thought this meant the story was terrible.  There was this whole grad school thing and I stopped writing for almost 10 years.  Then a decade later I started sending it out again, and on the 9th submission it was taken.  So a story that was first sent out in the summer of 2001 was eventually published more than 10 years later, with basically no revisions. 

Number of submissions: 9.  Ratio of positive feedback to number of submissions: 20%.  Time from completing story until publication: 13 years.