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The Rule of 13
by Sue Marquette Poremba

A year ago, I was in a chat room, lamenting that I never had an acceptance. Another writer in the chat room asked me if I knew about the Rule of 13. I said I did not.

"The Rule of 13 is simple," she said. "Make sure you have thirteen submissions in circulation at all times. Whenever I have thirteen pieces out, I get an acceptance. It’s never failed me."

Thirteen submissions? That number seemed awfully high and a little scary (all those rejections!). But I figured what the heck, my then-current plan of sending out an article whenever the mood struck me wasn’t working. I admit that to get started, I "cheated." I didn’t begin by writing thirteen new pieces. I revamped a half-dozen rejected items and found new markets. Then I resurrected some old free-writing exercises and sent them off. It wasn’t until I needed an 11th manuscript that I wrote something new. By doing this, I was able to get to thirteen submissions in a three-week period.

My first acceptance didn’t come in until I had nearly 20 submissions in circulation. The second acceptance came with 14 submissions. The third acceptance came in, and a fourth. Then it dawned on me: the trick to the Rule of 13 was that I constantly submitted my work to publications. The Rule of 13 was simply a goal, and it worked because I kept achieving it.

The downside to the Rule of 13 is that all of those submissions meant more rejections. The upside to the Rule of 13 is swift turnaround time on those rejected pieces. In my home office, I have a little sign that says, in bold letters, "It’s Not the Rule of 12," a not-so-subtle reminder to make each rejection a new submission.

Being a goal- and deadline-oriented person, I expected the Rule of 13 to have some positive effect on my writing. What surprised me was how it transformed me from a dabbling writer to a budding professional freelancer.

To get 13 submissions out in a relatively short period of time, I had to fit writing time into my day regularly. Because I work full time in a non-writing job, I approach writing like a second, part-time job, with regularly scheduled hours. If I hit a writer’s block during that time, I do market research or editing or anything writing related.

I had to become more efficient. In the past, I felt like I revised every manuscript, each query letter, a dozen times. To keep up the Rule of 13, I must put my writing time to better use. Now, I’m willing to send something good, rather than something perfect.

When I had one or two articles out, it was easy for me to toss the envelope in the mailbox and forget about it until I got the rejection slip. To keep 13 articles in the mail at any time required organization. I set up a spreadsheet on my computer, which not only helps me keep track of my submissions, but also any income or expenditures I have.

When I first started this venture, I worried that I would run out of ideas. Instead, the opposite has happened. The more I write, the more ideas I generate. In fact, while writing this paragraph, I’ve had four more essay and article ideas.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, as I strive to keep the Rule of 13, my writing improved. In the past, my query letters rambled and promptly got rejected. As I wrote them more frequently, I got into a rhythm and developed a flow. I may not get the go-ahead every time, but I get a lot of personal responses rather than photocopied form rejections.

Thirteen is a random number, and for someone like me, who isn’t freelancing full time, a doable number. Each writer needs to find a goal that works for herself. A full-time freelancer might twist the rule to mean thirteen submissions in a week. A weekend writer would want to pick a lower number or revise the rule to fit his project (i.e., Rule of Two Chapters per Saturday).

With the acceptance of this article, I dropped to 12 manuscripts in circulation. I better get back to work. After all, I don’t want to break the Rule.

© Copyright 2002, Sue Marquette Poremba

Sue Marquette Poremba is a full-time freelance writer based in
Central Pa. She writes for trade and consumer publications on topics
like construction, engineering, technology, energy, and
sustainability/green issues. She is also the author of The Phillies
Fan's Little Book of Wisdom

Other articles by Sue Marquette Poremba :

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