Professional Rejection

A question in e-mail:

I’d be curious to find out what the rate of rejection to acceptance is among your professional writers. Would it be different for you from your commercial work, or the same?

This is actually two questions: What is the rejection rate among professional writers, and how does the rejection rate for my commercial work (by which I assume is meant the work I do for corporations) compare with my rejection rate otherwise.

As to what the rejection rate is for a pro writer, I think it really depends on the writer, and the circumstances. Some writers bang out a very large number of stories (if they’re writing fiction) or queries (if they’re writing non-fiction) and start sending these out to a very large list of editors. These people get rejected a lot — and they expect to, which is why they send out such a high volume of stories/queries. But if they’re good, something is likely to stick, and then they’ve got a gig. Other writers may choose to be more selective and send out fewer stories/queries and thus have relatively fewer rejections than that other fellow above, yet still overall get the same amount of work. As for me, I almost never get work rejected, but that’s because I almost never look for work, I let work find me instead. But I probably don’t work more or less than the other two writers above, either, presuming we’re all of equal competence when it comes to writing.

(This, incidentally, answers the second question: I get my commercial work by clients coming to me, so my rejection rate is really low. My corporate rejection rate is in line with my “creative” rejection rate, but that’s because I’m weird and don’t send out my work all that much. If I did things non-weirdly, my “creative” rejection rate would be quite a bit higher.)

I mention this to make a point that from a professional point of view, rejection rates don’t matter; what matters is if you’re finding the amount of work that suits your interest in (and capability for) writing. If you’re getting rejected 50% of the time but the 50% of stuff that gets accepted keeps you busy, great. If you’re getting rejected 90% of the time but the 10% that gets accepted keeps you busy, great. How much you get rejected doesn’t matter. Nobody other than you is keeping score that way. What score is being kept (and there’s not much of it) is kept by how much you’re published, and whether what you’re publishing is good.

Let me get back to me for a minute. I don’t get rejected much today, but that’s only because I don’t query or send out work much. If I were to send out queries or stories like normal, sane writers, my rejection statistics would be, I expect, fairly high. I say this with some authority because when I was pitching stories and queries, my rejection rate was fairly high. I used to freelance for the Chicago Sun-Times; I wrote music features for that paper my senior year of college. Every week I’d get a copy of the Chicago Reader and find out which bands were coming to town, and then I’d call up the features editor and just walk down the list of bands. Some of them she had no interest in; some of them their on-staff guy was already dealing with. I would pitch nine stories (or so) for every one that she took, and I made enough money from the gig to pay my rent and at least some of my tuition bill my senior year.

This told me two things: One, a high rejection rate doesn’t matter as long as you’re getting the work you need; two, spending any amount of time worrying about rejection is foolish. When my editor didn’t want a story, I moved along to the next story idea. It was good training, both in dealing with the ego issues (i.e., rejection isn’t personal failure, it’s just rejection) and understanding that the writing business is actually a business, and one of the best ways to deal with it is as a business.

Now, I think writers do well to minimize their rejection rate when possible, and this is achieved through the usual tricks and tips of knowing one’s markets and creating stories/queries that are actually interesting to an editor. Also, of course, if you’re just spamming editors with hundreds of story ideas in the hope they’ll pick one, if only to get you to stop bugging them, you’re going to get yourself blacklisted from a market. Use your brains, people, that’s what brains are there for. If you’re sending out stories and queries in an intelligent fashion, you’ll likely be fine.

So in short: How much pro writers get rejected isn’t really relevant. What’s relevant is the work. Readers don’t see the rejection, they see the work. Focus on the work, not on the rejection.


Android’s Dream Accolade

The literary site Bookgasm declares The Android’s Dream one of the five best science fiction books of 2006:

Straight, fun sci-fi adventures are hard to come by these days, and Scalzi has done an awesome job with this one, with great characters, plotting and dialogue wrapped up by a plot that always stays 10 steps ahead of the readers.

Neat. Congratulations also to my pals David Louis Edelman and Toby Buckell, whose books made this list as well.

Fun trivia fact: Bookgasm posted this list at 8:19 am; I found it at 8:24 and posted this a couple of minutes later. This is my ego search kung fu, and it is strong.


My 2007 Literary Output: A Review

What will you see from me in 2007, and what won’t you see from me in 2007, but I will be working on, nonetheless? Here’s what I know I’m doing, so far:

Stuff coming out in 2007 that I have dates for:

1. Old Man’s War (mass market paperback edition), January 2007: Those of you waiting for OMW to come out in the supermarket racks, here you go!

2. The Sagan Diary, February 2007: As most of you know, this is a novelette (it comes out to about 100 pages) written from the point of view of Jane Sagan, one of the major characters in my Old Man series. It’ll be available in hardcover and in deluxe leatherbound editions. Both are limited editions, the leatherbound version more so than the other. This novelette is almost entirely different, stylistically, than anything else I’ve ever written, so those of you who pick it up are going to see a side of my writing you haven’t seen before. It’s good, trust me. It’s just different.

3. You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop Into a Coffeeshop: Scalzi on Writing, March 2007: My book on writing and the writing life is now going out in early March, I think, and should be a lot of fun; it collects up a number of essays on writing originally published here on the Whatever, including some that are no longer archived on the site, so the book will be the best way of seeing them. This is a signed limited edition hardcover.

4. The Last Colony, May 2007: The third and for now final book in the Old Man series, which reunites John Perry and Jane Sagan, and pits them against, oh, most of the entire universe. You know how it is. I think this book finishes off this particular series in a really compelling way; I like it a lot, and I suspect I’ll be promoting my brains out over it. This will be a hardcover release.

5. The Ghost Brigades (mass market paperback edition), May 2007: This hits around the same time as the hardcover edition of The Last Colony. Collect it! In convenient summer reading form!

Stuff coming out in 2007 I don’t have dates for:

1. The Rough Guide to the Universe, Second Edition: I’ll be getting new and updated chapters to Rough Guides in August, so I’d say to look for the second edition of this book sometime around the holidays of 2007 or possibly early 2008.

2. Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: Collected Writings, 1998 – 2006: This limited collection of Whatever essays was originally planned for 2006 but we held off for various reasons. Now it’s on track for sometime in the second half of 2007, which gives me time to update the text with some of my favorite stuff from this year.

3. An Untitled Fantasy Novella. It actually has a title, but I don’t want to say what it is yet, because it gives away something crucial about the plot that I don’t want to discuss until I finish the novella. However, yes, I will be trying something on the fantasy side of things. Should you be afraid? Oh, I don’t know. I think this could be fun.

4. Various short stories. I’ve agreed to write some short stories for some people. These will come out when they come out, and of course I’ll let you know when they do.

5. The Android’s Dream (mass market paperback edition): I imagine this will hit very late in 2007, possibly just ahead of the hardcover release of the sequel, which is slated for very early 2008.

Note that stuff in 2007 that doesn’t have dates is fungible — some of it could move to 2008; some of it might not happen at all.

What do I know I am writing in 2007? Much of it is already noted above: I’ll be tackling a sequel to The Android’s Dream, updating my Universe book, writing the fantasy novella and getting out those short stories. I’ll also be writing at least one more novel, most likely the first book of the Super Secret Project I Can’t Tell You About. In addition, I’m contributing to at least one more Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, and will be writing some magazine articles. I’m also continuing my work with AOL Journals in 2007, which means I’ll be continuing my Author Interview series. And of course I’ll continue writing Whatever here.

I think all of this should keep me busy in 2007. For 2008: Nothing concrete planned outside the release of the sequel to TAD, but in 2007 I hope to submit proposals for a couple of novels, including possibly a YA, and a proposal for a non-fiction work I’ve been mulling over for some time now. For 2009: Geez, who knows.

That’s what I’m up to, writing-wise, in 2007.


2006: The Year in Athena Pictures

Because it’s not like I’m under the illusion that any of you come here because of me.

More pictures after the jump.

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