Receiving that first acceptance, that first “yes, we want your story!” is one of the most difficult challenges a budding writer will face. In fact, quite a large percentage of new writers don’t even get to their first submission. An equally large percentage submits a story, but quits after the first rejection. According to Robert Heinlein’s pithy, brutally honest article:
“I know one Canadian aspirant writer who managed to delay for two years sending out his story because, he said, he didn’t have any American stamps for the self-addressed stamped envelope. … No, it wasn’t stamps he was lacking — it was backbone. He was afraid to find out whether his prose was salable. Don’t be a coward: send your story out. (Of our twelve writers left [of 100 total in the example], half of them won’t work up the nerve to make a submission, leaving just six…)”
– Copyright © 1996 by Robert J. Sawyer. All rights reserved.
As Heinlein continues down his list of rules for writers, more and more would-be writers drop out of the running, until only one or two out of his example of 100 can actually be called writers who follow all of his essential rules and get published.
These numbers might seem depressing, even more so when you begin delving into acceptance/rejection statistics for particular markets. Hence why so many new writers give up, even before they’ve tried! However, no one is pretending that writing is easy. It’s anything but. Sometimes it’s 100% blood, sweat, and tears, and 0% inspiration. Many writers rack up 100+ rejection slips before selling a single short story or (even worse) poem. I won’t lie, either–the numbers really do look terrible. And they look worse all the time.
But if you are dedicated to succeeding as a writer, you have to ignore the “big picture.” Instead, you need to place the pebbles, one at a time, that will eventually make up the mountain. Focus on accomplishing one small thing at a time, and eventually all of those small goals will add up. First, begin a story. Second, finish the story. Third, revise the story. Fourth, submit your story to a market you’ve researched. Fifth, keep submitting until you gain acceptance, even if you have to repeat all of these steps a few times. That is the only reliable way you will achieve that first acceptance, and jump that hurdle.
You will get rejected many, many times. Turn it into a contest, if you must–see who can rack up the most rejections in a fixed amount of time (this worked for Stephen King). Remember that the first acceptance is always the most difficult. The second and third acceptances are pretty rough, too. But once you’ve gotten yourself out there, it will get easier. You’ll gain more experience reading editors and choosing appropriate markets, and your writing will improve with ever more practice. You’ll figure out what works, and what doesn’t.
I say this based off my own experience. For me, the first couple of acceptances were the most difficult. But ever since, I have improved as a writer (at least, I think so…) and I have gotten better at choosing markets. I now have 12+ acceptances, but I’m telling you, it took years and many, many rejections. I fully expect to receive, many, many more such rejections (and hopefully acceptances). I did so by using statistics only as a guideline, and not as a roadblock. In the end, you need to set small goals within your larger goal, and achieve those first.
And, most importantly of all, don’t stop writing, and don’t stop submitting.