This has long been a favourite saying of mine. What you measure changes what you accomplish.
2017 was the year I started using a spreadsheet to track my short story submissions. I guess it didn’t feel necessary before that. But a spreadsheet can do much more than a text document, especially if you happen to have a little of the geek in you and if that text document is starting to creak under the load.
Over on LitHub, there’s a perennially popular article by Kim Liao: why-you-should-aim-for-100-rejections-a-year. In 2016 I managed 270 rejections. Yay me! With 2017 drawn to a close, I’ve topped that. I got my 300th rejection in the dead days between Christmas and New Year and I’m pretty sure I’ll beat 365 rejections all in.
“Pretty sure” because rejections take time. As 2018 begins, I have 85 submissions open. So the exact number of rejections for the year–and therefore acceptances–won’t be known until late in 2018, when I finally lose patience and declare the non-responders as “rejected without notification”.
The moral of the “100 rejections” strategy is that you won’t get accepted if you don’t submit and if you do submit you ARE going to get rejected. It is (of course), the acceptances you’re aiming for. It might be possible to rack up even more rejections by sending your work to inappropriate places, but then, what would be the point of that?
Except that metrics distort…
I do know, precisely, exactly, my 2017 submission count. The spreadsheet gleefully tells me I passed my 2016 total in October and my nominal target of 365–one for every day of the year–in mid November.
I chose not to slacken off, despite a niggling doubt or two. I set a bold new target: 100 more submissions than the year before.
As December spluttered to a close I sent out my last submission of the year and hit 425 submissions.
Break out the champagne.
The spreadsheet also tells me I submitted 950217 words. This isn’t as precise as it sounds; I tend to round to the nearest 50, or 100.
Let that number sink in for a moment.
950000 words is 19 NaNoWriMos. Or 12 standard sized novels. Or almost–but not quite–the entire Harry Potter series, which weighs in (apparently) at 1084170 words. Yeah JK! I’m coming for you!
Before you shy away in awe and terror, some rather obvious observations.
I didn’t write 425 stories this year. These submissions are from a body of both unpublished and previously published work built up over ten years.
I didn’t submit 425 unique stories. (Spreadsheet confirms: a mere 129) When a rejection comes in the story goes back out again. Sometimes with a tweak if there was feedback, sometimes without. One brave story ventured out 17 times and is still looking for a home.
I didn’t get 425 acceptances. (Otherwise my rejection count would be zero and I’d have failed to meet Kim Liao’s target.)
When I told my writer friends how many submissions I was racking up, these were their comments:
Wow! You’re a submission machine! Go you!
Sweet Baby Cthulu. The Slush Readers Shall Know Thy Name.
Jesus Christ, man. You’re going to do yourself a mischief.
Certainly, compared to even such industrious types as the members of the Codex Writers Forum, I’m out on a limb here. I am an extreme submitter.
Or I was in 2017, anyway.
Because some of the lessons learnt are not entirely positive. Some of those niggling doubts have crystallised.
Despite 100 more submissions than 2016, I’m on course to achieve around the same number of acceptances, 47.
And in terms of earnings… dramatically less.
Crime does not pay. Nor, it appears, does fantasy, science fiction, horror, or steampunk. Back in April I did a Books Showoff at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road, on the un-economics of short story writing. I won’t repeat that here, except to conclude as I did then: don’t give up the day job. (Reader, I gave up the day job.)
Happy Ending Not Guaranteed, by Liam Hogan
2017 has not been all doom and gloom. (Though that certainly features in quite a lot of my tales). There was the launch of my debut short story collection, Happy Ending Not Guaranteed. The inclusion of “Ana” in NewCon’s Best of British Science Fiction 2016. My work appeared in eleven anthologies, including the Amazon Chart topping (briefly, in sub-category Genre Fiction, Political) Alternative Truths.
But was it a success? Sure, I hit 425 submissions, but remember: metrics distort.
Retrospectively, my aim for the year wasn’t to earn more (phew!). It wasn’t to submit more. It wasn’t even to be accepted more.
It was to get more writing done and in this I failed.
I don’t know how many words I wrote in 2017. And maybe that’s for the best, because words have to be edited and they’re not finished until you’re willing to share them (and not always even then). What my overly helpful spreadsheet does tell me is that I submitted 28 new short stories, for a word count of 46662 words). That’s fewer than a NaNoWriMo.
A Spread The Word event in October put the nail in the coffin. Bidishi’s talk asked: what are your writing goals?
Mine, it turned out after a moment’s thought, was to get another collection published. Actually; multiple collections, but one step at a time. For that, you need a solid body of quality work. You need to be writing.
When you set a goal like “to be published”, it’s binary. You either achieve it or you don’t and that doesn’t reflect the effort put in. That’s why even though metrics distort, we still use them. We have to have something to measure, something to tilt at.
But we shouldn’t lose track of the real goals; the things those measureables are supposedly helping towards.
It’s January, traditionally a time for setting resolutions for the year ahead. What are mine, for 2018?
I’m not setting a submission, or an acceptance target. I don’t need to get all those old stories published, before wrapping them up into a collection. That’s not to say I won’t submit–but I’ll try not to do it slavishly. I won’t let that administrative, pen-pushing activity get in the way of new writing.
My twin goals, then:
To curate my existing short stories into solid collections and find a home for them.
And to write more.
Hmm. Perhaps I should I set myself a word count challenge? Nothing insane. 6 NaNoWriMo’s? 300,000 words. Sounds… doable. (Ahem)
Anyway. I suppose you’re going to ask one last question: did I include this article in my submissions spreadsheet?
Of course I bloody well did!
You’re reading that 425th and final submission of the year and for this, I thank you.
If you want to see what else I published in 2017 please check out my website here. There are lots of free reads there. If you like my stuff and can afford to splash out, pick up my collection of 27 twisted fantasy tales Happy Ending Not Guaranteed, published by Arachne Press.
And don’t forget to set your own (sensible) writer goals for 2018!
Liam Hogan is a London based writer. Winner of Quantum Shorts 2015 and Sci-Fest LA’s Roswell Award 2016, his dark fantasy collection, “Happy Ending Not Guaranteed”, is out now from Arachne Press. Find more about Liam on his website here or tweet at @LiamJHogan)