Statistics and Probability for Writers

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For the last four years or so, I’ve kept a “Submission Diary” – a little notebook where I jot down each story I send off, when and where I’ve submitted it, and the final outcome.  I have made attempts to set up a more professional spreadsheet affair on my laptop which includes more information – the genre of each story, the word count, additional comments – plus a complicated colour coding system for its current position (i.e. whether I’m awaiting a response or, for acceptances, if the story is yet to be published). In theory, the spreadsheet should be much more useful – I can filter it by genre to see where the bulk of my successes lie, I can filter it by status to identify stories which are currently free to submit to another magazine or competition, or by word count to see which stories might fit a competition requirement.  But do I actually do this?  Of course not – because I’m an old fashioned girl, and I love my little notebook with its pencil scribbles.

So, out of curiosity, I had a flick through the aforementioned notebook this morning, and did a quick tally of my success rate – taking a success as anything which was accepted for publication, or reached some kind of placing in a competition.  In the first couple of years, I wasn’t terribly prolific – but I had a 50% success rate, so the work I was submitting was, in the main, well targeted.  The last couple of years, I’ve upped my submission rate – sending more to the magazines but also entering many more competitions.  While the actual number of successes has remained – depressingly – constant, in percentage terms, my success rate has plummeted.

Of course, such stats can be skewed by the rogue story you thought at the time was good, but which was rejected by every magazine to which you ever sent it!  (It’s certainly true that just because a story is rejected by one editor, doesn’t mean it won’t be successful somewhere else – but there comes a time when you have to accept that every editor can’t be wrong.)  And perhaps I shouldn’t have included competitions in my calculations as, in the main, they are less likely to have a positive outcome.  But it does clearly show that it’s the quality of the submission (both the writing, and the correct targeting) which is important.

So, quality over quantity.  Right, I’m off to the Post Office with my latest submission.  […Nervous Cough…]  Perhaps I’ll just have one last read through before I seal the envelope…

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