Writing by the Numbers

Writing by the Numbers

Since my writing career is so neatly encapsulated by the 2010s, I thought I’d take a look at some more detailed statistics. Note that the overall picture includes all my submissions, not just 2010s, but the difference is trivial.

Overall picture

Overall, I sent over 1,000 submissions, and got 30 acceptances: 3%. About 83% of submissions were rejected (17% personally). While there are a number of withdrawals listed, I rarely withdraw stories, so I suspect that includes some grey areas. About 5% of submissions never got a response.

Of 102 stories I sent out, 27 were eventually published – 26%. I also self-published about 40 stories – mostly because at one point I wanted to just clear the decks. Because most were published twice – in one of three collections and in an omnibus, the first chart isn’t quite correct.

The pending response numbers are misleading, because those are just the latest batch of stories. Clearly over a 10 year period, pending stories are largely irrelevant. The self-published figure below is a bit misleading, of course, because that counts each story only once, whereas the other figures can include the same story multiple times – rejection, rejection, rejection.

Over the whole period, I’ve made just over $2,000 from sales to venues (not counting self-published book sales).

Year by Year

Here’s a year by year chart – for my entire writing career, which, as previously noted, is desultory until 2010. After that, I average about 79 submissions per year.

The stories

I self-published a trilogy of collections in 2013 and 2015 (brought together in Allenthology), largely because I was frustrated with stories that I thought were good but that had been submitted multiple times. I wanted to get those stories out of the way, and have more of a clean slate. That may have been a mistake, because repeated submission (and sometimes revision) does work.

I don’t know what the magic number of submissions is. One story (that I quite like) has been submitted 30 times, a number of others 20 or so times each. Some stories were submitted only once, and accepted immediately. Of 102 pieces I sent out, 27 were eventually published.


Stories were out an average of 50 days each before responses. Average time for acceptances was 88 days. Sometimes, a long wait is good – though usually not.

Average time from acceptance to publication was 214 days, but there were some major outliers (781 and 699 days). With those removed (there were still some 400+ day waits), the average is 172.

Average time from contract to payment was 79 days, ranging from 0 (probably a record keeping flaw) to over 400. Average time from acceptance to payment was 127. Standouts for quick payment are The Overcast and Cirsova.

For what it’s worth, I was in my early 40s when I started the decade (and all this writing). I’m in my early-mid 50s now.


I submitted to a total of 315 markets – 179 of them only once each. Other markets were oversaturated with my submissions. My highest rates of submission were to (no acceptances!):

Clarkesworld Magazine 44
Asimov’s Science Fiction 40
Apex Magazine 35
Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show 31
Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) 28
Daily Science Fiction 24
Analog Science Fiction & Fact 23

Of my top markets, F&SF had by far the highest percentage of personal responses, at 71%. Ironically, that slowed my submissions to them, because I a) put some pieces out of commission pending revisions, and b) really wanted to submit only stories worthy of the market. I didn’t always hold true to that, sometimes submitting out of desperation because it had been a while, but overall, I grew more selective and tried to send F&SF only my best. In short, Charlie Finlay is a treasure.

Beyond even F&SF, though, Beneath Ceaseless Skies gave personal feedback on a whopping 83% of submissions, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores on 82%, Diabolical Plots on 57%, EscapePod on 45%. There are others, but the samples get too small to be reliable. However, the above venues deserve a lot of credit for doing the hard work of giving feedback. Send them your best!

What it all means

To reprise a theme from an earlier post: at the start of the 2010s, I expected more. I didn’t expect to be a household name, but I thought I’d have an award or two by now. My stories would be in the top magazines. I might even have a traditionally published story collection. None of that happened.

Why not? I learned that I’m a terrible self-promoter, and that I’m not great at producing what venues want. The pieces I like most are rarely the ones that sell. Also, of course, I’m probably just not as good as I think I am. The venues that turn my stories down may just be right (though of course I stand by my stories). The overarching theme of comments I’ve received – in person and in response to submissions – is: you write beautifully, but your stories don’t do it for us. I suspect that it boils down to: “good writer, poor storyteller”. A sub-theme has been that my stories move slowly, but I’m okay with that.

Despite having failed badly by my 2010 standards, I’m pretty happy with where I am. I may not have accomplished what I set out to, but my 2019 standards, I’ve accomplished a lot.