100 REJECTION LETTERS IS NOT THE POINT...
While meandering through the Internet (which I will capitalize because it's a place, sorry Associated Press), I stumbled upon this blog post by Kim Lao in which she bragged about getting 43 rejection letters in 2015 - her "best record" since she had started shooting for 100 rejection letters a year. “Collect rejections," she writes. "Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.”
This blog post fell under the category of "Why are people writing about completely logical things?" Racking up 100 rejections a year is a pretty easy task. I'm not submission-shy. I've never been like J.D. Salinger, who told the New York Times in 1974 that "publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.” (Incidentally, Liao's boyfriend, a poet, apparently feels the same way).
Collecting 100 rejection letters is easy in the digital age, especially since 90% of publications have moved to online submissions. Even if there's a minor submission fee, it's nothing compared to the days of paper, stamps, and self-addressed stamped envelopes.
This ease, however, makes it easy to carpet-bomb the world with your article, short-story, or list of ten best books Jane Austen ever wrote (given she only wrote six, that's a list I'd love to see). In her blog post, Liao remarks that she sees "rejection as a conversation. For every piece that is rejected, at least one other person read it, thought about it, and really considered whether it would be a good fit for publication."
Given Liao's credentials (MFA etc.), I'm sure her work is always getting due consideration, but the novice writer may not be so lucky. Carpet-bombing journals with your submissions is only a fine idea if a) your work is ready to be published and b) your work / style fits with the publication's mandate. Sending out first drafts or submitting your science-fiction story to Tin House is a sure fire way to ensure that even though someone else is going to read it, they aren't really going to consider it for publication.
The truly important statistic to consider when submitting is not the number of submissions you make but the quality of the responses and the length of time it takes them to respond.
I keep a spreadsheet that details all my submissions and among the data I enter is the date I submitted the piece and the date of expected response. If a journal says they respond in three months and they reject you after two weeks, you know that your work has one of the two issues above. On the other hand, if a publication takes longer than three months, that might suggest your work is truly receiving due consideration (it could also suggest that they're backlogged, of course; after a while, you start to get an instinct for which magazines are on top of their game).
The quality of the rejections is also important. Email has allowed for the form letter to become highly impersonal ("Dear Writer: We have read your submission and have decided it does not meet our needs....") Anytime you get something else, pay attention. AGNI has a nice policy of adding a line to their rejection emails in which they say they enjoyed your work and invite you submit again. "Please note," they add, "this is not our customary response...."
I've actually hit the hat trick with AGNI: I've received their standard rejection, the one inviting me to submit again, and a personal note that read "Lots of charm and finesse, but not quite right for the AGNI mix....thanks for sending." This last note is what I aim for. It shows I didn't waste my time or theirs: my piece was a contender.
Don't aim for 100 rejections. Aim for 100 personal notes like the one I received. Then you'll know you're on the right track.