Submissions: the full breakdown

I’ve now had the chance to analyse all the submissions I was sent for Rocket Science. While the submissions pile was not excessively large – 107 submissions in three and a half months; and the chances of any one submission being chosen was 107 : 22, or 20.5% – the anthology’s remit was quite limited. Having said that, I did post regularly to this blog about what I was seeing in the slush pile, and what I’d like to see more of. In order to choose the stories for the anthology, I read 411,670 words of fiction and non-fiction. Every submission I rejected, I did so with a personal rejection. A number of people thanked me for my comments, which was nice of them.


Not unexpectedly, there were more submissions in October, the final month of the reading period. I kept the reading period for non-fiction open for a further two weeks, hence the submissions in November. Also, a couple of people did email me and ask for some extra time, and I was happy to agree.


Sixty-five percent of people only submitted once. Two people tried four times to get into the anthology. Of the fifteen people who submitted twice, some were requested rewrites, and at least one person submitted a short story and a non-fiction piece. Of those who submitted more than once, ten made it into the anthology – so submitting multiple times clearly works.


A twenty percent submission rate from women writers is apparently typical for the genre. The fact that Rocket Science was looking for hard sf, a subgenre popular wisdom insists women do not write, clearly had no effect. The percentages hold true for both fiction and non-fiction, incidentally.

AR Argentina, AU Australia, CA Canada, EE Estonia, GB UK, NO Norway, PO Poland, US USA

The bulk of submissions came from the US. Despite the fact Rocket Science is a British anthology, this wasn’t unexpected. The Internet means distance, or the cost of postage, is no longer an obstacle, and pure numbers alone will result in US submissions always dominating. Only three non-Anglophones submitted stories – from Argentina, Poland and Norway – although they did submit in English. I bought one of them. Which demonstrates that the language barrier is there to be broken.


Earth proved to be a surprisingly popular setting, despite the anthology’s title. The popularity of the Moon and Mars is less surprising. I’ve used “unnamed star” and “named star” to distinguish between stories set in made-up planetary systems, and stories set in the systems of stars with real-world names, such as Gliese 876 or 55 Cancri K. Stories set in “interplanetary space” were typically on spacecraft journeying across the Solar System. For stories set during interstellar journeys, I’ve split out those which involved some form of FTL as “interstellar ship”. Low Earth Orbit – i.e, the International Space Station – also featured in more stories that I’d expected, but I did think there’d be more submissions set among the moons of Jupiter or Saturn. The Kuiper Belt obviously attracted several writers, despite there being very little there.


The fact that the percentage of female protagonists is higher than that of female contributors shows that a number of male writers were happy to write women characters. But not as many as I would have thought. Most stories did feature female characters, but the main point-of-view character was typically male. One story had an intersex protagonist, and several featured non-gendered aliens, robots or AIs.

AU Australia, BA Bosnia, CN China, FR France, GB UK, HR Croatia, IE Ireland, IT Italy, JP Japan, KR South Korea, LY Libya, MX Mexico, RU Russia, US USA, WS Samoa

A good spread of nationalities for protagonists, though I have assumed many were the same as the writer’s as they were not categorically stated. However, several people made an effort to write characters of different nationalities – from Croatia to Mexico to Samoa. Some were impossible to discern, so I’ve put them down as “unknown”; and some were aliens or AIs, and so are marked as “N/A”.


Not every story I was sent qualified as hard science fiction. But then I didn’t want only hard sf. A number I’ve categorised as “traditional sf” because I felt they used too many tropes not common in hard sf, or the tropes were used without the rigour typical of hard sf. A couple of stories weren’t even science fiction, though they  did otherwise meet Rocket Science‘s guidelines. I’ve used the term “space fiction” to differentiate those hard sf stories set in the present or near-future which featured technology recognisably similar to that currently used by present-day space agencies.


I decided to re-categorise some of the types of stories submitted to make things a little clearer.

  • bit off too much: previously I had this down as “little tailor”. These are stories in which the protagonist finds themselves in over their heads and gets their comeuppance.
  • day in the life: are stories about the protagonist, either something which happens to them, or something they learn about their world or themselves.
  • first contact: a science fiction staple, human beings meet alien creatures; and, in two cases, the reverse.
  • first landing: a space fiction staple, the first human beings to set foot on some world or other celestial body.
  • fix problem or you die: the popularity of these was not unexpected – Apollo 13 is an obvious inspiration for an anthology titled Rocket Science, and any anthology looking for hard sf is sure to attract Analog-style problem stories.
  • heist: the author of the one heist story admitted to me he wrote it because it wasn’t there as a category of story on earlier charts during the reading period.
  • kids today: I hadn’t actually expected to receive any stories with child or teenage protagonists, but I was sent some. Most turned out to be “trad sf”.
  • lonely spacer: stories of this type generally involve the protagonist failing to handle the loneliness of interplanetary travel… which does make you wonder why the writers would think such travel would be undertaken by individuals on their own.
  • love triangle: the eternal triangle is a fiction staple, of any genre.
  • man against elements: the only example of this was set on Mars, although one or two of the stories set on the moons of Jupiter / Saturn could perhaps also have qualified.
  • mood piece: I have no problem with plot-less mood pieces, and certainly there’s wonder a-plenty, and hence much to write about, in the Solar System.
  • rescue me: a variation on fix problem or you die inasmuch as the person at risk from the problem cannot solve it.
  • rite of passage: another fiction staple, though given that the sort of fiction I wanted presupposed protagnists who were professionals, I hadn’t expected to receive any.
  • small town blues: even after we’ve colonised the other worlds and moons of the Solar System, some people will not be happy with their lot and will want to leave their settlement / colony for bigger and better things.
  • what happened?: I had this classified previously as “mystery”, but what happened? is, I think, a better label. The actual mystery varied by story.
  • left behind: I had expected more of these, given the remit of the anthology, but perhaps it’s lack can also be put down to the influence of Analog – after, all almost all of the fix problem or you die or rescue me stories had happy endings…
  • test flight: I had only one example of this and I wasn’t really sure how to classify this story. In the end, I decided to give it a category of its own.

In a few days, I’ll publish the same charts but based on Rocket Science‘s table of contents only.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Submissions: the full breakdown

  1. I just love reading these breakdowns, it’s endlessly fascinating to see what other people are doing.

    I’m impressed by the people who tried four times, whether they got in or not. It’s hard enough to write one story within a 3-month timeframe, to be able to do “Don’t like that one? Bang! Here’s another! And another!” is quite impressive in terms of sheer determination. It must be a bit of a downer if you have to keep telling them ‘no’ though.

    I’m particularly interested in your overseas submissions and one or two of the more unexpected story options like ‘kids these days’ and ‘small town blues’. Also hope some of the AI/robot protags made the final cut, we don’t see enough positive depictions of such people, they are commonly treated in a manner akin to the way colonial era fiction treated non-europeans, I feel. (Most people think this is unimportant because they’re ‘made up people’, I vehemently disagree, but that’s a rant for another time and place)

    # The Kuiper Belt obviously attracted several writers,
    # despite there being very little there.

    There’s lots there, probably more than in the inner solar system! It’s just very spread out.

    Surprising that so many people went for it though, I wanted it, I thought I’d be the only one, but in the end I couldn’t think of a story that fitted there. But strange how things work out, if I had have come up with something I’d have been vying for a place with the other ‘kuiper belt’ people, so I lucked out in the end!

    # the author of the one heist story admitted to me he wrote it
    # because it wasn’t there as a category of story on earlier charts
    # during the reading period.

    I was admitting nothing, I was boasting of how I cleverly leveraged your graphs to produce something that would ‘get in’!

    If my protag is the ‘intersex’ character on the chart, well she’s not really intersex, nor is she a nongendered alien or AI, she’s a nongendered human. And she does have a nationality, it’s “Jovian” or “Ganymedian Republic”, but I don’t know the nation suffix for those. .jov maybe?

    Colum

    • No, the intersex character wasn’t yours. I put yours down as N/A, though I suppose I should have created a separate neuter category.

      As for the overseas submissions, well, you’ll get to read one of them when you get a copy of the book 🙂

  2. Madison Woods

    I enjoyed the breakdown of your submissions categories. It seems I should be able to write hard sf given the nature of my dayjob (metals analyst), but none I start ever turn out to be that way in the end, lol.

  3. Thanks for crunching the numbers and presenting them for us.

    Like the other commenters, I enjoy reading your “statistics” and comments about the submission process.

    And I’m surprised that Earth turned out to be such a popular setting.

    Does it count badly when people resubmit several times within the reading period? Does it make you think: “Oh no, not again from that person”.

  4. Jed

    Just belatedly came across this entry. Thanks for posting all these stats! Good stuff.

    One nitpick: my understanding is that 20% submissions by women is a little lower than average for the science-fiction-and-fantasy genre as a whole. The only stats I have from the big magazines are from a few years back: (http://www.strangehorizons.com/2007/20070820/1women-update-a.shtml).

    (Strange Horizons has always gotten between 30% and 45% submissions by female authors (the variance is due to the number of unknown-gender authors), even when we were just starting out and weren’t known as being a female-author-friendly publication.)

    But I would guess that 20% is probably somewhere around average for hard SF; see Analog’s listing in the abovelinked article.

    • The figure I’ve seen bandied about for science fiction only is 20%. I wasn’t concerned with the “genre as a whole” since I wasn’t after anything but sf. I suspect that different venues will report different percentages, as it’s more than just genre alone which affects it.

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