It shouldn’t be new information that to be a successful writer, one has to endure a lot of rejection. Being told that your writing isn’t good enough can sting, especially if it’s for something like a fellowship attached to real currency you can use to exchange for food or rent or heat. For the first few years of my writing career, I submitted with the goal of getting accepted. The result was that I rarely submitted, or at least I didn’t submit as much as I should have. The desire to get accepted came with the fear of getting rejected.
But then I read Kim Liao’s piece over at LitHub, and I realized I had been thinking about submission all wrong.
You probably have one of [these] friends, too—you know the one I’m talking about, that friend who is a beautiful writer, but who also seems to win everything? I could barely believe that she had the balls to apply to—let alone, get accepted to—several residencies, a prestigious fellowship, and publications in journals I had actually heard of.
I asked her what her secret was, and she said something that would change my professional life as a writer: “Collect rejections. Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.”
I had a professor in undergrad who said that an 8% acceptance rate was what you should aim for as a writer. I don’t know where he got that number, but it’s stuck with me. If you were to accrue 100 rejections in a year and you had an 8% acceptance rate, you would also publish eight pieces that year. I don’t know about you, but that’s more than I had last year.
At the beginning of 2017, I decided I would also try for 100 rejections this year. I also decided I would try to read fifty books this year because the only New Year’s Resolution I ever make is to read more books than I did the year before. This is just the first year I’ve put a number on it.
We’re three months into 2017, or one-quarter of the way through. At this point, I should have 25 rejections, 2 acceptances and 12.5 books read.
Here’s what I’ve done so far:
Books Read: 11
I’m behind in every category, but not unreasonably so. I could catch up on the books with a good week of reading. I currently have six submissions open, so if all of the rejections came back in the next hour, I would still be ten behind. I’m still not submitting enough to hit 100 rejections, but my increased submission rate has already netted me an acceptance.
The Books I’ve Read This Year:
- Up, Up, and Away! by Jonah Keri
- Conduits by J. Ryan Sommers
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates
- Cartography of the Void by Chris Abani
- Once, I Was Cool by Megan Stielstra
- Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
- Middle Passage by Charles Johnson
- Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
- Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
- Drown by Junot Diaz
- Becoming Abigail by Chris Abani