Mark Twain is imminently quotable. He might be the first person we have detailed records on who turned sarcastic smarm into an art form. Had he lived in the latter half of the 20th century and into the first half the 21st, he’d no doubt be among the leading internet edge lords in existence. His meme skills would be legendary.
Statistics can, indeed, be used to lie. Statistics are too often badly misunderstood and mischaracterized. The public at large doesn’t understand them, so they become easy to twist. All of those pop culture “a study says coffee is bad/good/bad/good/awesome/terrible/cancerous/aphrodisiac/cocaine for you” stories are applications of bad statistics and/or a worse understanding of what these studies are actually trying to prove. It’s not always what the talking heads say it is.
But I love statistics. Not the interpretation of them, which is what I’m talking about above. That’s a problem: everyone is going to interpret things differently and few bother to take their analysis back down to base and study what actually was discovered. Raw data, though, that’s the part I love. Examining it, parsing it, reformatting it to see connections that aren’t obvious in a long list of numbers in a spreadsheet. It’s why I’m proud to be able to call myself an analyst now (it’s in my title!).
Submission Grinder became my go-to site for documenting my story submissions in 2016. I’d initially begun with a spreadsheet, and had I set it up properly to begin with, it would have been fine. I could have gotten some fantastic data out of it. But my basic sheet didn’t capture all the important dates (when rejected, rejection results, length of story, etc, etc). On top of that, markets open and close constantly, so the amount of leg work needed to keep the sheet updated would have been tremendous. Discovering that most of what I wanted was handled by a website was pretty liberating.
The Grinder is great for analyzing your efforts and seeing improvement (or lack thereof). Your personal Dashboard – located underneath the “Account” menu in the upper right corner of the website – gives you a nice breakdown of data, with some noticeable exceptions. You get your overall yearly stats; you get stats for each story; and you get stats for each market. What you do not get is one chart that shows all stories and a matrix of which markets they were submitted to. You have to go into the Manage Submissions portion of your account and run that to get that information. So the info is available, it just takes a couple more clicks. Play around with it, you’ll figure it out pretty quickly.
In terms of improvement, my results really please me. Not only do I have far more stories in the submission process these days (from 3 in 2016 to about a baker’s dozen percolating at any given time these days), but the amount of times I’ve submitted year over year has grown in leaps and bounds. From 11 times in 2016, to 21 in 2017, to 78 in 2018. I’ve already made 42 submissions this year, so I’ll most likely surpass last year’s total.
Even better, I can see my results on this page. I had 1 personal rejection in 2016 out of those submissions. I had 1 again in 2017 before I attended Viable Paradise. I had 16 personal rejections in 2018, and already have 17 personal rejections this year. The changes wrought by the VP community, the lessons they shared, and the writers who I am now honored to call friends is obvious, along with my own continual attempts to try and improve my prose. To write cleaner, stronger stories. The Fairy Folk, one of my VP entries, was form rejected 9 times prior to the conference, and had 1 personal rejection. After, it was form rejected 6 more times, personally rejected once, and then sold to Andromeda Spaceways magazine.
I love parsing each story, too. You do that under Account – Manage Submissions. I want to see which ones get a higher percentage of personal rejections. To me, that says it’s a strong story, but the vagaries (luck) of the market are what are keeping it from getting published. My story Falling Jupiter, for example, has been submitted 14 times and has 6 personal rejections, including one from Analog, which highly pleased me. That’s a tough market to crack. Another story, You’re In a Horror Story (my attempt at a second person narrative) has 2 personal rejections on 4 total submissions. But that last is a story I might never submit again. The more I read it, the more I disliked it. I don’t want one of my earliest sales to be a story that, while attempting to deconstruct certain horror story tropes, falls into something that feels anti-representative and a negative stereotype of LGBTQ+ individuals. Fishing Over the Bones of the Dragon has 2 personal rejections on 6 submissions, and is currently being held (for the third time) for further consideration. Fingers crossed on that one. It’s getting really good feedback, even on rejection.
I use statistics to prove I’m reaching my goals. The goal is to become a better writer. To put out works that represent who I am and what I believe. To write stories that engage readers in different ways. Statistics also serve to help me over those tough times when it seems nothing but rejections are knocking at my door. Seeing measurable results is really valuable when all you can think is how much you suck at what you love.
Now go get a coffee and stop worrying about whether it’s bad or good for you. It’s only statistics after all.