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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. Its 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 wasnt
working. I admit that to get started, I "cheated." I didnt 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 wasnt 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 didnt 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
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, "Its 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
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 writers 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, Im 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
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, Ive
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 isnt 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
With the acceptance of this article, I dropped
to 12 manuscripts in circulation. I better get back to work. After all, I dont
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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