Common Story Names (revisited)

Back in April 2015, I celebrated passing 50,000 submissions in the Clarkesworld Submissions System, by blogging about the most common story titles. In response, I also blogged about The Truth About Short Story Titles and a Wordle that represented the most frequently used words in all 50,000 titles.

Since then, we’ve picked up nearly 32,000 more submissions, so I decided to take another look at the data and see how things have changed. There were many ties in this group, so this time I’ve only listed the top six places. If a title is followed by a number in parentheses, that’s its top ten placement from the first 50,000.

1st Place (14)
The Hunt (6th)

2nd Place (12)
The Interview

3rd Place (9)
Trapped, First Contact

4th Place (7)
The Box (3rd), Seeds, Monsters (4th)

5th Place (6)
Flight (6th), The Awakening, Skin (9th), Stranded, The Visitor, Home (2nd), Mercy, Reflections (8th), All That Glitters, The Dragon, Choices, Hunger (2nd), Broken (8th), Contact, Worm, Homecoming (2nd), The Bridge, The Forest, Transmission, Going Home (10th)

6th Place (5)
Alone (7th), Happy Birthday, The Pond, Jump, The Wanderer, Redemption, Daddy’s Girl, The Sacrifice, Skin Deep (9th), Lost and Found (5th), Descent, The Door (10th), Snow, Harvest, The Gift (2nd), Stay, Second Chance, Adrift (7th), Legacy (7th), The Void, Shift, The Tower (10th), The Well, The Machine (10th), The Caretaker, Rage, Escape

And because it’s fun, here’s another Wordle with the most common words from this group of 30,000 titles:

 

It is mentioned in one of the above links, but it bears repeating: The title of a story has no impact on whether or not it will be accepted at Clarkesworld. If I really don’t like a title, I’ll suggest a new one/work on it with the author.

 

June 2017 Clarkesworld Submissions by Country

I recently blogged about the countries represented by Clarkesworld‘s podcast audience. This time around, I’d like to look at the submissions by country for June 2017. I should note that these statistics do not include the translated stories from China. They go through an entirely separate selection process as part of our partnership with Storycom.

1 – United States (68.08%)
2 – United Kingdom (9.61%)
3 – Canada (6.17%)
4 – Australia (3.09%)
5 – India (1.15%)
6 – Ireland (0.71%)
6 – New Zealand (0.71%)
8 – South Africa (0.62%)
9 – China (0.53%)
10 – Brazil (0.44%)
10 – Finland (0.44%)
10 – France (0.44%)
10 – Italy (0.44%)
10 – Nigeria (0.44%)
15 – Germany (0.35%)
15 – Israel (0.35%)
15 – Mexico (0.35%)
15 – Poland (0.35%)
19 – Croatia (0.26%)
19 – Greece (0.26%)
19 – Hungary (0.26%)
19 – Korea (0.26%)
19 – Netherlands (0.26%)
19 – Philippines (0.26%)
19 – Sweden (0.26%)
19 – Thailand (0.26%)

3.51% are from the combined efforts of these countries: Austria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan/China, Trinidad and Tobago, and Vietnam.

Normally, the US represents 70% or more, but it looks like some of my recent efforts to encourage more international submissions were somewhat effective. A small improvement over previous months, but definitely a step in the right direction. I’ll have a better sense of whether or not this is real progress or just a glitch after a few more months of submissions. Congratulations to India on cracking the top five! I think this is the first time that’s happened.

NOTE: By encouraging international submissions, I am in no way frowning on authors from the US. I’m still encouraging them to submit too. Good stories aren’t restricted to one’s own backyard, so I’m trying to make sure I cast the widest possible net. Let’s see what the rest of the world can bring to the table. Each story is considered on its own merits regardless of where it came from. (Yeah, I actually have to say this. Some people…) Many foreign authors assume we won’t consider stories from outside the US, so it requires a bit of effort on my part to help set that straight.

 

The Year in Slush: 2016

Recently, an author on twitter asked me what the point of submitting to Clarkesworld when the acceptance rate is around 3%. Two things immediately came to mind:

1. If you pay attention to the odds, you’ll go insane

I keep finding myself having to explain quantitive vs. qualititive processes. If you think of submissions as a quantitative process (believing slush pile stats to be your odds of being published), then the skill or talent of the author and the story itself have absolutely no value in the decision. The selection process might as well be a lottery that assumes every story is equal to the next.

I have data that confirms a minimum of 15,000 different authors submitting stories to multiple markets over the past three years. Even with the short fiction market as over-saturated with venues as it is–an argument I make based on the size of the reading community that can sustain it–there aren’t enough slots for every story written. No one is guaranteed a spot.

While every story is given the same chance to prove itself, getting published involves a qualitative evaluation for those few open slots. That evaluation will be different for every editor and their rejection or acceptance of a story is an assessment of that story’s value to that specific market at that specific time. Sure, chance can play a role in being rejected–for example, when an editor already has a very similar story in inventory–but being accepted always requires talent. (Being rejected does not imply the inverse–a lack of talent.) If you believe you have talent, ignore slush pile statistics. They are the devil on your shoulder telling you to give up/you’re not good enough.

Oh and if you have a hard time believing you are good enough, volunteer to read slush somewhere for a while. Aside from gaining some interesting insights into writing and the state of the field, you’ll quickly discover how much better or worse you are than the majority of authors submitting stories. I haven’t met anyone who ended up thinking they were worse.

2. His rejection rate was wrong

Ok, if you are an author and still reading, I think we’ve established that you are potentially self-destructive.

The rate of 3% has never been true at Clarkesworld. That’s closer to the percentage of people who receive the near-miss top-tier rejection letters. If you get one of these, we’ve seen something in your work that makes us think you have a good shot at being published with us some day. If you’ve received multiples, you are skating around the edges of what we want and need to shake things up a little. If you get a lot of these, I’m probably now recognizing your name in slush and will inevitably try to push you in the right direction.

The actual acceptance rate for 2016 was 0.41%. That’s up slightly from 2015, but we saw some late-year declines in submissions that appear to line-up with the presidential election. December had the highest monthly acceptance rate: 0.83%. The lowest was September, which had none. Combined, the authors of the stories we accepted in 2016 accrued 434 rejections over their entire history of submitting stories to us.

Slush Pile by Genre

39.54% Science Fiction
26.57% Fantasy
9.22% Horror
8.80% Fantasy/Horror
7.23% Science Fiction/Fantasy
5.26% Science Fiction/Horror
3.38% Other

Accepted Stories by Genre

76.47% Science Fiction
1.96% Fantasy
15.69% Science Fiction/Fantasy
5.88% Science Fiction/Horror

What does this mean? Essentially, it’s a snapshot of the types of stories that most appealed to me based on what I received in 2016. I’m always hesitant to post data like this because it can cause an unnatural shift in the submissions we receive. If I suddenly declared “I love robot stories,” I’d inevitably get flooded with robot stories and find myself hating them. Unfortunately, the inverse is not true. I can scream “DON’T SEND ME ZOMBIE STORIES!” to some people’s faces and they’ll still do it. That should say something about writer psychology, but I’m not sure what.

In the end, don’t write what you think I want. That’s a likely path to boring me. Write what you want, throw it at my wall, and I’ll see if it sticks. Don’t let the numbers psych you out. If you’ve made it this far, they probably don’t apply to you.

Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers

In the last month, I’ve been in Boston, Houston, Orlando, and Brooklyn. Last night, the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers group had me speak as part of their Expert Meetup series. The topic was one I’ve talked about (formally and informally) at all of those stops: the state of the short fiction field. In last night’s talk, I made reference to several data posts and editorials I’ve written in the last year or so. Rather than make people track them all down, I thought it might be a good idea to use this post as an index.

The 2015 Clarkesworld submissions stats I mentioned can be found here.

In April 2015, I did an analysis of the short story titles in our submissions system. This post has some comments and links to the word frequency Wordle and the most frequently used titles post.

In 2015, I ran a open survey for authors to test a theory about my story selection process. It asked authors to provide some basic demographics and the names of up to five authors that were their biggest influences. The survey results and my theory can be found here. I also included demographic information here.

Last September, I published my first Sad Truth editorial. I didn’t mention it last night, but it has bearing on the field as a whole. This one talked about short fiction reviews and how the current system fails us. Details here.

That editorial was followed by the Sad Truth about Short Fiction Magazines. This is the one that is being talked about at Eastercon this weekend and triggered more than a couple of knee-jerk responses over the whole hobby/IRS thing. The piece was inspired by some thoughts I was gathering for my introduction to The Best Science Fiction of the Year. Read here.

A side comment “Maybe we should be talking about how we can make short fiction magazines thrive rather than simply survive.” was on Facebook here and generated a lot of discussion. I plan on expanding on this at some point using some of the things I mentioned last night.

If I forgot something (or you’d like some further detail or different data slice), please leave a comment or email and I’ll add it.

2015 Clarkesworld Submissions Stats

Every now and then, I dive into the data from the Clarkesworld Magazine submissions system. This time, I’m looking at our 2015 data.

This data includes stories submitted or accepted in 2015. It doesn’t represent all stories published in 2015. (Some stories published in 2015 were submitted or accepted in 2014. Some stories submitted or accept in 2015 were published in 2016.)

This data does not include our Chinese translations. (They are handled through a different process.)

In looking over this data, please keep in mind that these charts represent QUANTITATIVE data which would incorrectly imply that all stories are equal. The process of selecting stories for publication is a QUALITATIVE process reflective of our opinions. If we were to receive more zombie stories than any other kind of story, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that we would be more likely to publish zombie stories. I don’t like zombie stories, so we don’t publish them. Quantity can be misleading in a qualitative process.

cw-2015-daily

The spike in June corresponds with the increase in our upper word count limit to 16,000. A number of writing-for-pay websites capitalized on the announcement and sent hundreds of people our way.

cw-2015-day-of-week

We get fewer submissions on the weekend.

cw-2015-monthly

This chart shows the submissions by month in blue and the “near miss” letters by month in red. In 2015, 2.53% of all submissions received our top-tier rejection letter. The monthly average for submissions was just over 1000 and the first two months of 2016 have trended higher.

cw-2015-top-tier

The red line represents top-tier rejections and the green line represent acceptances. The acceptance rate for 2015 was 0.3%.

cw-2015-country

In 2015, we received submissions from 109 different countries. In the above chart, the blue bar represents the percentage of total submissions for that country. The green bar indicates the percentage of all acceptances. (Reminder: The Chinese translations are handled by a separate process and not included in these numbers.)

Note: If you feel inclined to proclaim that this data indicates that I have a bias towards international submissions, perhaps you should read this editorial. That said, it pleases me that Clarkesworld has a more global representation of science fiction. There’s a lot of great work written beyond our shores.

cw-2015-country-other

This chart breaks out “other” in the prior chart and only includes countries from which we received 10 or more stories. Interestingly, China’s numbers have fallen despite our special translation project. I’m wonder if Chinese authors think that’s their only way in now. (It isn’t.)

cw-2015-genre

In this chart, blue bars represent the percentage of submissions and green indicates the percentage of accepted stories. 2015 was a very strong year for science fiction submissions. I was hesitant to post this graph for fear of discouraging writers in other genres. We want those submissions too.

This last bit of data doesn’t require a chart. The average word count for our 2015 story submissions was 4495. That’s fairly consistent across genres with the exceptions of horror (shorter) and SF/F (longer). Acceptances, however, averaged 5650 words. I expect both of these values to climb slightly in 2016. (More to do with the higher word count limit than a specific preference.)

Added 4:50PM BONUS CHART!

cw-2009-2015-international