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Solving for X

PUBLISHED: February 8, 2008

Last November, Poets & Writer’s Kevin Larimer proposed reconsidering how literary magazines calculate their total volume of submissions:

Do literary magazine editors ever tire of answering the question, “How many submissions do you receive?” Probably not. […] But just how useful is knowing such a number? Does it really indicate one’s odds of getting published? Maybe not, because what is so often left out is the x factor: the percentage of submissions received that are so far off the mark—a mediocre sonnet sent to American Short Fiction, or a dashed-off sci-fi tale e-mailed to American Poetry Review—that they are shuffled into SASEs or deleted faster than Bradford Morrow can say, “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?”


The x factor would be truly useful information, though, because knowing it, one could calculate the number of misfires, subtract it from the total number of submissions received, and get a truer sense of the scale of the playing field.

We thought Larimer was on to something with that question, and so a few weeks later we began tracking the x factor ourselves. We let our readers select from a few broad reasons for declining a work, and one of those reasons is that a work is utterly inappropriate for VQR. This system has been in place for ten weeks now.

The x factor is, at VQR, 4.6%. Assuming that this figure can be extrapolated, of the 5,988 works submitted since our reading period began in September, 275 can be assumed to be invalid, leaving us with 5,713 submissions that are, by Larimer’s standards, worth claiming as our total submission volume.


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