Reflections on rejections in 2020

I have an 87% rejection rate this year so far. Wow.

Inspired by Katie Hale’s recent post I thought I’d summarise my 2020 experience as a writer through submission and rejection stats, in case it’s comforting to fellow writers or interesting to readers. It should be noted that my 28-hour-a-week day-job ended at the end of March, after which I threw myself into writing as a distraction from the news and it all got a bit feverish for a while. I calmed down as the year went on.

As I write this in mid-December I’ve made 140 submissions. That includes 32 short stories/flash, 7 pieces of creative non-fiction, 5 novels, and 13 scripts. I’ve pitched articles and applied for commissions (unsuccessfully so far), sent pieces to journals and anthologies, entered competitions, sent partial or whole novels to agents and publishers, sent scripts to BBC opportunities or open calls, and probably more besides. I’ve heard back from 125 of those (or the ‘if you haven’t heard by…’ date has passed) and 109 of them, that’s 87%, were out and out rejections or silence. For context, in 2019 I made 39 submissions and had a 90% rejection rate, so this is an improvement of sorts. Still, that’s a lot of rejection for one year, particularly when it’s already pretty shabby. Until April I was still getting 2019 rejections trickling in too.

On the plus side – and I really do want to focus on plus sides this year – that’s sixteen times in 2020 when I got an acceptance in a magazine, or won a competition, or someone asked to read the rest of my novel after they’d read the first 3 chapters. I’d never had a full manuscript read before but by the end of this year I’d had three small publishers express interest in reading from chapter four onwards, two for one novel, one for another. One of them has since said no, but the other two are technically still potential acceptances [Late edit: a second no, but with helpful feedback]. I have seen two actors take on my monologue scripts and bring them to life wonderfully, and this month I found out a short radio drama of mine will be recorded next year as one of the winners in the Script Yorkshire competition.

Even some of the full-on rejections have had silver linings. I have received ‘encouraging’ rejections more times this year than ever before, including those form rejections that ask the writer to submit again sometime. Before this year I dismissed those as mere politeness that costs the editor nothing, but I’m coming to understand that in general they do mean it and when I get a rejection like that I feel pretty good about it now. I’ve also received some more concrete near-misses – thank you to all the editors who took the time to give me even one line of feedback. It’s still frustrating to know a piece didn’t get accepted because someone else had already sent a similar topic, or they were put off by that one line I wasn’t sure about and should have taken out (ask me to change it – I’d probably be happy to! I know, I know, you don’t have time for the extra emails and not everyone would take kindly to the suggestion, but a girl can dream).

I made 35 quid from writing this year, one payment on publication for a story accepted last year, one payment on acceptance for a creative nonfiction piece due out in 2021. Unfortunately I’d already spent 26 quid on competition entries and submission fees. The monetary gain wasn’t much but I’m finishing the year with twelve stories, sixteen scripts and two novels, either written from scratch or finally finished or substantially reworked in 2020. I’ve started another couple that have potential but aren’t quite there yet, too. The astute among you will notice that I wrote more scripts than I sent out (partly confidence issues, partly not finding a suitable place to send it) and sent out more stories than I wrote. I have stories I absolutely believe in that I wrote years ago, and while some people might say it’s time to put them away, I’d point to the story I had published this year that I wrote in 2013, and the novel I got my first full manuscript request for, which hit the end of its first draft in 2011.

So what can we take away from this? Persistence and self-delusion are useful traits in a writer? Maybe. I’ve written stuff I’m really proud of this year, and I hope some of it’s made people think, and some of it’s given them a laugh in this bleak year. I’ve had my confidence boosted in some areas (scripts and novels) and it makes sense to concentrate on them next year. I’m also intent on applying for grants for the projects I want to do, instead of letting all the bureaucracy put me off as I have this year. Let’s hope 2021 is better than 2020, and may you read as many good books as you need.

Here’s a quick run-down of what you can read or watch from me this year:

Starting in April there was I Could Murder a Custard Cream, a dark comedy monologue produced by Slackline Productions, directed by Callie Nestleroth and starring the fab Susannah May. Watch it on Youtube (and catch up on the whole Slackline Cyberstories series while you’re at it, there are some under-rated gems in there) and you can read a bit about it here.

In May there was a short comedy monologue as part of the Rapid Reel challenge. I wrote about taking part, and you can watch A Ferret Too Far, admirably portrayed by Alan Cammish on Twitter here.

May also saw the Dortmund leg of the Leeds-Dortmund 50th anniversary town-twinning, for which I wrote Upstairs Left (flash fiction on living in flats, on this page: https://leedsdortmund50.com/the-work/open-writing) and a prose poem which you can hear me read at https://dortmundleeds50.de/was-uns-verbindet/ (click on the cherry blossom photo).

In June I had a splurge of fiction: light-hearted gay romance Evidently Lovestruck at Truffle magazine and angry pandemic-inspired Twelve Weeks’ Rest in the first issue of Untitled:Voices. You can read a bit about them both here. I also had prose poetry at FEED, Eyes Front.

In October Secret Attic shared my 1980s flash Stolen Warmth, about being a kid & thinking your parents are just being mean when they won’t put the heating on, and Ellipsis Zine printed my flash memoir Dream On in their eighth anthology, You, Me, and Emmylou which you can buy here.

Issue 14 of Confingo came out last month, which you can buy if you’d like to read a dark story of mine called 24 Years, 361 Days (they’re the ones who paid me – thanks Confingo!). And if you enjoyed any or all of that, you can always buy me a cuppa at https://ko-fi.com/jysaville

Merry Christmas!

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