10 October 2011 ~ 2 Comments

The Importance of a Thick Skin

written by David Steffen

This post was originally written up in response to after-story discussion on Dunesteef Episode 108 on their forum, speaking about how to take rejection.

A thick skin doesn’t come naturally. You have to cultivate it. One of the biggest ways that I did this when I started writing fiction is critique forums. My particular favorite is Baen’s Bar. Post some stuff there in the Baen’s Bar Slush, get some feedback, post feedback on other people’s stories. Yeah, the negative comments can be hard to take at first, but you learn to extract the useful parts of them. If you critique enough stuff from other people you can learn to take that cold critical eye and apply it to your own writing, and then when someone comments on your stuff, even when they don’t like it you can decide objectively “Yeah, that makes sense” or “No, that advice is absolute crap”. I wrote up an article a while back suggesting some rules for critiquing and receiving critiques. Some of it has to do with this subject, especially the rule “This Is Your Story”.

I don’t follow Dean Wesley Smith a great deal, but one concept he has that I really found useful is The Race. In that, you keep a score for all the stories you have submitted. 1 point for each short. 3 points for a partial novel manuscript, 8 points for a full manuscript. I mostly submit short stories, but I do have one old dog of a novel I occasionally send out. I have one children’s book going out occasionally that I count for 3 points, on the grounds that it has more monetary potential than a short story but is not as bulky as a novel. I have about 50 stories completed by this time, and I typically keep about 30 of them in submission at any given time, rotating the other ones in as I get rejections. With that and the children’s book, my Score’s hovered around 33 for quite a while, not too bad of a score.

One thing that helps is if you can find a way to not put too much anxiety into any single submission. Submitting in bulk really helps this a lot, because if you have only ONE submission out, it’s hard not to obsess over it. You send out one submission, and then when you get one rejection you are back at square one. If you have 30 stories submitted though, a rejection for one is just a scratch on the surface, not that big of a deal. I assume any given submission is a certain rejection, but that I have some chance across the board. Pessimism in specific, optimism in general. :)

And for tracking submissions, I keep an Excel spreadsheet for now. In which I do happen to do some obsessive stats tracking. The way I have it set up the file has gotten ridiculously large and it’s hard to update with new markets. I’m trying to work my way to a database system. I’ve got the basic database tables set up along with some forms to fill them and get simple reports, but I want more complicated stats reports and haven’t figured out how to do those yet in OpenOffice. If anyone wants it you can download a free copy of it at.

And, after that, just perseverence is the only advice I have. When I get one back i just send it out to the next available market I haven’t sent it to and work my way down the line. And just because it’s been around the block a few times doesn’t mean it’s doomed. 1 of my recent stories that I sold for pro rates had been on its 20th submission. And then finally it found that editor for which it was just right.

As part of those obsessive stats, I keep a count of my submission responses, and the number at which I receive rejections. I started submitting in June of 2008. In that time I have had 675 resolved submissions:
489 negative/neutral rejections
167 positive rejections
5 rewrite requests
14 purchase at normal rate (for 8 different stories).

To show how long the stretches were between selling those eight different stories, of those 675 submissions those were numbered #s 126, 129, 210, 232, 572, 591, 599, 626, 637.  That gap between 232 and 572 was soooooo long for me!! But I made it, and now have had pretty good luck for the last few months!  Here’s hoping my luck continues.  As it is, with the sales I’ve made this year, and if the neo-pro markets I’ve sold to get listed by SFWA as pro markets, then I could be eligible to apply for SFWA’s “Active” status around June 2012, which is one of my major milestones I’ve set for myself.

2 Responses to “The Importance of a Thick Skin”

  1. Debs 10 October 2011 at 7:19 am Permalink

    Yep, I do the race score too David. I like to maintain it at around 40, and I also give myself points for poetry, (1/2 sub for each poetry submission packet), so let check…. I’m at 43 points today.

    When I tell people about it, I think they think I’m a bit bonkers, so it’s nice to see someone else is doing it too.

    It’s not the only way, but I like it.

  2. Derek L. Palmer 16 December 2011 at 4:45 am Permalink

    Your words impress me, even if I don’t know that I could ever walk where you’re walking. It’s like talking to a friend who’s given up smoking (or drinking, or red meat, or angeldust, or killing drifters with a naily board): I’m totally impressed that he managed it and would like to do the same . . . but I’m not sure I can toss my own pack of Marlboro’s, you know?


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