Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Value of Failure: by the Numbers

Duotrope's Digest tells me I have had 436 short story/poetry rejections in the past four years.

I have (at least) another 100 rejections from agents for the three books I queried the traditional way: Last Days of the Springdale Saints, The House Eaters, and Rock Gods and Scary Monsters.

536 doesn't even touch the real number. Some markets aren't listed on Duotrope. Sometimes I don't report rejections or submissions.

I received well over 50 rejections before I sold my first short story, "A Fresh Coat of Paint" to Big Pulp. That story was rejected 3 times before being accepted.

The point of these numbers? Lessons. Every one of them. I learned through each and every tiny failure.

By my records, which I think are complete, I have had 153 stories accepted for publication. A handful of these are reprints. Five markets died before an accepted story was published. Several stories are waiting for publication. I was paid, at least a token amount, for 102 of those stories, ranging anywhere from $1 to $150.

Lessons. Every one.

I'm glad I started self-publishing my work in e-book format. I think it's the right thing to do--for me, for now. If I would have started in 2007... Failure. Not the good, lesson-learning failure.

Just failure.

My writing has grown because of every stumble and fall and failed story. There's no other way to become a better writer.

How do you feel about failure?


Sage Ravenwood said...

There is a quote by Samuel Beckett,
"Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

I think it pretty much describes a writers life. (Hugs)Indigo

Michael McClung said...

"If I would have started in 2007... Failure. Not the good, lesson-learning failure.

Just failure."

Yeah. My debut novel, published as an eBook in 2003. Not good failure, not just failure, but painful, pointless failure.

Unknown said...

Failure feels like a necessary step towards success--especially with writing.

I dunno if I'd be writing if it was easy and nailed it on the first draft. There's that honing element to it, particularly when I hit a groove in a story, which really strikes at me.

Granted, there are days when failure is nothing short of a kick in the teeth, but ... whattayagonnado?

Anonymous said...

"My writing has grown because of every stumble and fall and failed story" -- true words, sir. I'm still stumbling along, but I hope to start picking up steam. This summer will mark the 2-year point since I began subbing my short fiction. Thanks for showing us the ropes!

Daniel Powell said...

Love this post, Aaron. It all adds up to work--and good work at that. One of the eternal themes we look at in our lit. survey course bears this out: life can be damned hard sometimes.

So what do we do? We just keep working, and improving, and building. It's not like the alternative is a real choice...

Aaron Polson said...

Indigo - It's a valuable thing, failure.

Michael - The best failure brings lessons.

Gef - Keep working, that whattyagonnado. ;)

Milo - I'm following a well-beaten path.

Daniel - We keep working. The alternative is quite unpleasant.

Fox Lee said...

It's a perception. If you moved forward, you didn't fail.

Alan W. Davidson said...

"Right on" to what Natalie said (Err...does saying that make me sound old..?) Your numbers tell a tale of perseverance and should inspire us all, Aaron.

Cate Gardner said...

I continue to embrace failure (learning, learning, learning).

(P.S. Natalie is so wise)

Aaron Polson said...

Natalie - You made my brain grow. Thanks.

Alan - We're all inspiring, sir. ;)

Cate - It's either that, or...

Kara McElhinny said...

I think one of the reasons you're doing so well, besides your talent, Aaron is because you also view your "failures" as lessons. It is one of the biggest things in the world to see it from that light. Keep on keepin on.

Danielle Birch said...

I learn from my failures - I give myself a little bit of time to lick my wounds and then I move on. I agree with Natalie and Kara too :)

Ricky Bush said...

Ain't no shame in rejections. I've tallied plenty. Just means that you've got the balls to "get it out there".

Unknown said...

I'm so glad I learned to write in an era during which it was difficult to get my fiction in front of people, an era of gatekeepers.

I can finally look at my work from the last few years and enjoy it, so I'm not afraid to put it up for sale on my own. But I cringe to think I would have self-published way back when.

Aaron Polson said...

Kara - I can only learn through "failure". ;)

Cheers, Danielle.

Ricky - A bunch of words on a hard drive doesn't help anybody. Let 'em loose, I say.

Alan - I had to pound out a pretty bad book and several "meh" stories before things started to click. Thank God I didn't jump the sharkies too early.

jr said...

Dude, just now finished your story in Triangulation: Dark Glass and had to check out your site. This post is encouraging and disheartening at the same time since I only have ten short stories worth reading and one acceptance. Will buy one of your books with my next paycheck, which would you recommend for a starter?

Katey said...

It's definitely all about the timing.

I failed hard when I first tried, but every now and then someone would stop, look twice, and say, "But you know, you're really good at THIS THING..."

Still do, sometimes. I love me some failure.

Man. 153 stories. You are incredible. And awesome.

Michael Stone said...

A rejection isn't failure, is it? It's more of a...postponement.

Aaron Polson said...

JR - Thanks! If you liked "Dancing Lessons" (from Dark Glass), I'd suggest The Saints are Dead. Aqueous Press is releasing it later this month/early May. If you like novels, I'd suggest Loathsome, Dark and Deep, currently available in paperback via Amazon and others. Cheers!

Katey - 153 stories, 600+ rejections. You don't get one without the other. ;)

Michael - I like that: postponement. Delayed gratification.

CF Winn said...

Your post is the same story of blockbuster authors like John Grisham and JK Rowling.
According to my numbers, I have 19 blog posts and 12 comments total on ALL of them. I'm sure that at least 3 comments were mine, but I've still averaged less than 1 per post. How's that for failure??
LOL..good luck and keep on, keepin' on.