I've been very lax about keeping up my reject-o-meter on this blog. The reason I started it was to give people some idea of how many rejection letters it takes to get a sale. I.e. my short story, Coyote Discovers Mars was rejected by SciFiction (though Ellen Datlow did later give the story an honorable mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror), F&SF, Asimov's, Analog, Talebones, Interzone, Flytrap, Polyphony, Cicada, Glimmer Train, The Black Gate, twenty academic publishers, Orson Scott Card's IGMS, and Strange Horizons, and I queried Ellen Datlow to see if I could submit it to her anthology, The Coyote Road, she said no. I sold it, five years after I wrote it, to Coyote Wild, and you know? That's not really that brutal a list of rejections. Not by a long shot. My rejection lists tend to be short because I focus more of my energy on my novels, and so after about 30 rejections, I usually put the story aside and move on.
One of the rules of submission is that you can rarely do a simultaneous submission, so before you send the story somewhere else, you need your rejection letter from the last market you sent it to. Chasing down those rejection letters can be a nightmare. Sometimes you just send a couple queries, then a letter saying that you withdraw the submission, and move on. One market can hold onto a piece for a year or more - though lately I've been withdrawing my subs after 6 months from any market where I've never met the editor.
Novels are like this, but can be even harder, because it isn't unheard of for a novel publisher to take a year to two years to respond. There's a huge backlog - and this is why my next novel's going to agents first because that's the only way to get around it. I do submit straight to publishers in the LDS market, where the number of writers is smaller and agents are almost unheard of. My first LDS novel got rejected by Deseret Book, then picked up by Covenant (really easy compared to national market short stories, no?) My second novel was rejected by Covenant and Deseret Book, and I decided to shelve it because I had issues with how it had turned out anyway. My third novel was under contract with Covenant, until I blogged my frustration about their contract guy not returning my phone calls for four months at a time. So I started sending it around again. I sent it to Scott Card, then three months later asked for a progress update. Kristine Card told me to go ahead and send it elsewhere because they weren't on the verge of starting up their LDS publishing line just then, so I sent it to Deseret Book, where the response time is supposed to be 8 weeks.
Only, right after I sent it, I moved 3 times, so once I was settled in the UK, I sent them an updated SASE and assumed my rejection letter would be in the mail shortly. It had, after all, been nearly five months. When no rejection letter arrived, I emailed them, getting rather annoyed at how hard it was to get my rejection letter so that I could move on.
They emailed back that day, apologizing for taking so long, and let me know they were still considering it and it had passed a round or two of review already. This was a blindside. I was getting pretty worn down with writing (this happens pretty regularly) and was stunned to learn that the novel I'd put a ton of hard work into was still holding its own. After so many years of working so hard, having my career show any sign of a heartbeat, even a faint one, is not what I expect.
This still will most likely end with a rejection letter, but that's okay. This is how the business works.