Today’s dive into the 2021 submission data for Clarkesworld Magazine looks at the volume of submissions from each author in 2021. Returning authors are authors that had submitted at least one story in 2020 or earlier.
The pool of regularly submitting authors is probably smaller than most people expected. An overwhelming majority of authors only submitted a single story in 2021 and nearly 70% of those people were submitting a story to us for the first time. Just under 2000 authors submitted more than one work in all of 2021 and of those half only submitted two. The ratio between US and non-US submissions remains consistent throughout the data. No one submitted more than 40 stories last year (which is the most anyone has done in the last three years). If a number is missing, no one submitted that number of times.
Returning authors represented 38% of all authors and 48% of all submissions. This is in line with previous years. (A surge in first time authors in 2020 led to the returning rate to fall to 36%. That’s the only time it’s gone that low, though actual number of returning authors was consistent.)
Why does this happen? I don’t have that data, but I can make some educated guesses. I know a lot of writers just drop out of the field. Imposter syndrome plus rejection can be a powerful one-two punch. Some discover that it isn’t their passion or that doing it for money ruins it for them. There’s also the possibility that our short rejection times are intimidating to some. And then there’s the occasional spikes in submissions we receive when we’re (unfortunately) featured on a “write for money” website. I imagine that most of those don’t stick around when they realize it isn’t as easy as stringing some words together (or in some cases, cut & pasting). There’s also socio-economic factors that play in for some. Just not enough time to devote to something that won’t help pay the bills.
On a much lesser scale, you have the impact of solicitation of more established authors, loss of writing time when novels enter the picture, and the common desire to be published more broadly (an author may start submitting work to other markets instead of yours in pursuit of that goal). I can’t stress just how small a percentage of the entire pool this is. It’s only impactful if “name” authors are your priority and we choose to treat them like everyone else. We value new authors just as highly. Both are an important part of the short fiction ecosystem.
Anyhow, what we’re seeing is probably some combination of the above and more. (Like the people who complain about not getting feedback.)
Some positives you won’t find in the graph (since it’s focused on submissions, not acceptances):
- In 2021, we accepted 8 works submitted by authors on their first try (with us).
- A bit more than half of all works accepted were by authors we had never published before.
and one piece of data I’d like to highlight:
- The lifetime average for all authors we accepted works by in 2021 was 7.5 rejections before their first sale to us. This represents a range of 1-62 Clarkesworld submissions before that first sale. (So don’t give up after the 8th!)
All the data I’ve been digging through (combined with 15 years of the submissions themselves) has had me thinking about the role of persistence, imposter syndrome, and self-rejection in submissions. Over the years, I’ve started coming around to thinking that in addition to skill, both persistence and (some reasonable level) of imposter syndrome are necessary to get a career off the ground. Imposter syndrome is to be fought when it’s the impetus behind self-rejection, but if we’re listening, it’s also the voice that reminds us we have more to learn. Persistence comes into play making us act on it. Learn more, improve your craft, and keep submitting work. Persistence only becomes troublesome when it veers into stubborness. That’s where you starting making the same mistakes over and over and expect a different result. (This is very common among the angry writers I hear from periodically. There’s typically a lack growth happening in their work from submission to submission.) The only good self-rejection is when it stops you from doing this. (Side note: An observable trajectory of improvement is a unifying thread behind every author we’ve worked with. I can see it in the submissions.)
As much as it would probably swamp us with more submissions, I’d love to see a little more of the right kind of persistence in this data, even if it only means one story every year or two. You decide what pace is healthy or practical. Just keep submitting them here, there, or wherever.