01 January 2022

2021 in Review


Another strange year behind us. Maybe not as challenging as 2020 was, but we all know we're not yet "back to normal." I'll resist the temptation to discuss Covid politics here, and will just say Happy New Year to everyone. I hope 2022 turns out great for all of us.

Since it's always easier to look back at what's been done than to look ahead at what might be, I can tell you it's been a fairly good year for me, writingwise. My wife and I stayed close to home and continued to avoid trips and most public gatherings, which gave me a lot of time to dream up new stories. I usually did that via (1) long walks and (2) long sessions of staring blankly out the window. Number two was harder to justify ("No, I'm not asleep--just working out plots"), but both were effective. I came up with a boatload of ideas, turned most of them into stories, and sent the stories off to editors, though not always with the hoped-for result.

Good or bad, I keep a count of what I write and sell and publish, and once a year I look back and see if I can learn something from it. I probably don't, but digging out the numbers makes me feel like I'm trying. So, here's what I came up with. (BTW, I know sentences aren't supposed to begin with numerals, and in my stories they don't, but here it makes the reporting easier. Apologies to the Grammar Police.)

2021 statistics

This past year I had 61 short stories published, I wrote 38 new stories, I submitted 73 stories, I received 54 acceptances and 32 rejections, and I withdrew 6 stories from consideration. The reason the math doesn't work is that some of those stories that were accepted, rejected, withdrawn, and published in 2021 were submitted in 2020. And some of my 2021 submissions haven't yet received a response.

12 of my published stories this year were less than 1000 words in length, 31 stories were between 1000 and 4000, and 18 were longer than 4000. The shortest was 100 words, the longest was 11,000. That 11K story also had the most scenes--10--although one of my 4K stories had 9.

Genrewise, 39 of the 61 published stories were undiluted mystery/crime, another 11 were cross-genre (5 mystery/western and 6 mystery/fantasy), and 11 were other genres: 2 straight westerns, 6 fantasy/science fiction, 1 humor piece, and 2 romances.

22 of my published mystery stories (plain and mixed-genre) involved robberies of some kind, 17 involved murder, 6 involved both. The remaining 5 were about other kinds of crimes. As I've said, none of the 11 so-called non-mystery stories involved a crime at all.

26 of my published stories this year appeared in magazines and 35 in anthologies. 

6 of my stories published in anthologies were the result of invitations to contribute, 9 were selected by editors afterward for best-of's and other books (like Bauer Publishing's 2-Minute Mini-Mysteries) without my knowledge, and 20 were via open-call submissions. If it matters, 19 of my anthology publications and 21 of my magazine publications involved editors I've worked with before.

14 of my published stories were written in first-person POV and 47 were third-person. Of the third-person stories, 37 were third-person singular and 10 were third-person multiple. As if any of that matters.

All 61 were written in past tense, none in present.

12 included paranormal or other-worldly elements of some kind and 7 were set in the Old West. 

17 had a female protagonist, 30 had a male protagonist, 14 had a mixed team of equal protags. In 9 of those stories, the bad guys (depending on how you define "bad") win.

13 were published in markets outside the U.S.

50 were published in paying markets.

23 of the 61 were reprints.

18 of my 73 submissions were sent via online submission systems, the rest via email. As usual, none were snailmailed. 8 of my 32 rejections were stories for which I never received a response, yea or nay.

55 of my published stories appeared in print publications and 6 were online.

21 appeared in new (to me) markets, the rest in places where I've been published before.

Things I've learned, from all this

Six of the stories I wrote in 2020 and 2021 contained references to the pandemic. Of those, one was accepted and the other five were rejected--promptly. Worth noting: I changed all but one of those stories (the one that was accepted, which was written and submitted in 2020) to remove all references to Covid, and those five were then submitted elsewhere and accepted. I recently wrote a SleuthSayers post about that, here.

Several things have remained the same: there are still plenty of markets for reprints, I'm continuing to write more third-person-singular stories than anything else, I still haven't written any present-tense stories (although I'd said I would try), and most of my mysteries involve a robbery or burglary.

As for differences, I wrote fewer flash stories this year than before (half of my published under-1000-word stories were reprints). I'm not sure what the reason was, for that; my new stories just seem to be running longer than before. I also published more stories in anthologies this past year than in magazines, which is unusual for me. Last year it was the other way around. Oddly enough, though, most of my accepted-but-not-yet-published stories are upcoming in magazines, not anthologies.

Speaking of which . . . 

Coming in 2022/2023

Looking ahead, 38 of my short stories have been accepted but not yet published, and 20 have been submitted but have not yet received a response. Already-accepted stories are in the queue at AHMM (5 stories), Black Cat Mystery Magazine (2), Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine (1), Mystery Tribune (1), Woman's World (2), Mystery Magazine (6), etc., and several anthologies.

As for genres, all my accepted-but-not-yet-published stories are mysteries, either solely or cross-genre, and--as mentioned--most of those will be in magazines.

I've been invited this year to submit stories to seven anthologies due out in 2022 and 2023, four of which have been written and three of which are unwritten or in progress.

No review of this kind would be complete without my (1) thanking the editors and publishers who gave me an opportunity to get the crazy things I create out into the world, (2) thanking my writer friends for their ongoing advice and encouragement, and (3) thanking the readers who make all this possible. I'm also sincerely grateful to the Private Eye Writers of America for my Shamus Award this past year and to editors Lee Child and Otto Penzler for my inclusion in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021.

How about you?

Was 2021 a good year for your writing? Better than 2020? Let me know about your high points. Were most of those successes with magazines? Anthologies? Any awards or nominations or best-of appearances? Were most of your stories mystery/crime? What's forthcoming for 2022?

Whatever good fortune you've had and whatever stories or novels you have in the queue, congratulations on sitting down and writing those and sending them off. That alone is an accomplishment. Congrats also on any of those stories that are marinating in your brain now and not yet written. That's future money in the bank. 

Once again, I hope you all had a great holiday--and I wish everyone a healthy and prosperous new year.

Keep writing!


  1. John, your stats are amazing and inspirational as always. Congratulations on another strong year. That hit rate is incredible.

    My '21 stats are much more humble. Still, '21 was my second best year ever for acceptances (5), with my best hit rate since '15. 4 stories pending response, and I have a couple more almost ready to go.

    I hope everyone has a great 2022.

    1. Thanks, Bob. Congrats to you as well. Sounds like your success rate's going up steadily. I always enjoy your stories.

      I hope and expect '22 to be your best year ever.

  2. John, you are a marvel, and a sign of what is possible. I'm always interested in how you break down the high number of stories you write. Best wishes for continuing success.

    1. Best wishes to you also, Susan. We at SleuthSayers are always grateful for your comments here.

      As for the breakdown of stories, I'm always surprised at exactly how those turn out. For things like POV, genres, subgenres, etc., I never consciously think about those things when I begin a story, and--as you know--every story is different and often takes it own way. Several things I know I need to do is experiment more with tenses, do more research into foreign markets, keep a better eye out for anthology calls, etc.

      Thanks again, and take care!

  3. Congratulations on another outstanding year, John. I thought I was doing well--I certainly had my most productive year yet--but you continue to put us mere mortal writers to shame. When do you sleep, man?

    Since you asked: in 2021 I wrote 26 new stories, 20 of which have been accepted, 16 for anthologies and four for magazines. I saw 17 new stories published, plus two reprints, one in "Mysterious Press Presents the Best Mysteries of the Year" (alongside your own excellent "Biloxi Bound"). Of the 26 stories I wrote, the shortest was 1700 words, the longest was 15,600, and the total word count was 121,000. I currently have 13 stories scheduled to be published in 2022.

    All of which is to say that if there were two of me, we might have caught up to you!

    1. Joe, you're too kind. You have some great numbers--and I think the best thing about your last year's record is that you said it's been your most productive so far. I'm sure that trend will continue.

      I believe I've read most of the stories you've published--we have indeed appeared in a lot of the same books and magazines--and I'm always impressed by them. Keep up the great work!

  4. Your record is awesome and inspirational. If I had a fraction of your success, I'd be thrilled.
    2021 was an off year for me, 6 publications with 3 scheduled. (My excuse is that I had a minor medical issue that kept me away from the keyboard for over two months. And not writing for that period of time bummed me out more than anything else. Proof that, successful or not, I'm a writer.)
    Here's to a better 2022.

    1. Thank you, Bob--and I know what you mean. I've often heard that you're a writer if you can't bear not to be writing.

      Sorry to hear about the medical issue, but sounds like that's behind you and you're back on track. And I suspect you were dreaming up future stories and novels even when you weren't putting them "on paper."

      I wish you the best, old friend, for the coming year. Stay healthy and keep writing!

  5. Happy New Year, John! I'm as much in awe of your honesty and humility as I am of your proflificness (prolificacy?) and success. What I most appreciate this time is your telling us that you have 38 accepted short stories still in press. I find that very comforting indeed, since I'm waiting for a mere seven to appear: two in AHMM, three in BCMM, one in the SleuthSayers anthology, and one in the if-I'd-held-my-breath-I'd-be-long-gone-and-forgotten (but it is coming and it will be great) Jewish Noir II.

    1. Happy New Year to you too, Liz. I recall that several of the stories I had published this year appeared alongside yours, and I'm always happy when that happens.

      The thing that strikes me about your upcoming stories is that five of those seven are in high-profile magazines, and I'm sure you're proud of that (as you should be). I hope we'll be together in some of those.

      I too am looking forward to our SleuthSayers anthology--that should be a fun book.

      Thanks as always!

  6. Happy New Year! And Congratulations!
    I have a few in the pipeline, but nowhere near yours - or anyone else's, apparently. My husband's health issues wrecked March and April (and now December), the prison finally reopened and there was a wave of catch-up activity, but hey - I kept writing, and am writing, I swear to God, Josh, I am, so...
    Huzzah to us writers! We take a licking and keep on typing!

    1. Eve, I'm glad to hear you've kept writing and are still writing, after all you've been through this year. I think creating fiction really is, or can be, therapy--I know I've used it that way many times.

      Keep up the great work!

  7. All of you inspire me! I hate to admit that I am so unproductive that I have a 100% hit rate for 2021, of the submissions that have received a response. Those two stories are 100 words each & one of them won an award in the BOULD anthology. My excuse? A disabled husband takes up quite a bit of my time, besides which I'm still recovering from sepsis myself.

    We went on two short vacations in 2021, one to visit family in Virginia. We were supposed to go to Puerto Rico in October but did not because of covid & related problems, so we went on a road trip to visit friends & family. Knock on wood, we're going to Puerto Rico on March 4!

    I have one (count 'em! one!) submission at a magazine that is known to take a long time to answer. It's been eight months so far.

    1. Elizabeth, I hope this year'll be much better to both you and your husband--but any year in which you win an award's never all bad, right? And if your current submission is to the market I suspect it's to, maybe you only have three or four more months before you get an answer! (And I'm hoping it'll be an acceptance--if it is, it's well worth the long wait.)

      Keeping fingers crossed that your Puerto Rico trip happens! Best to you in both your personal life and your writing. Happy New Year!

  8. I'm sharing my numbers in my Tuesday post (Preview: They aren't as good as yours.), so I'll just say congratulations on another successful year!

    1. Michael, you're too kind--I'm well aware that you have a lot more going on than I do. I find it hard to edit my own writing, much less the writing of all those other authors that go into the anthologies you produce. Also, you've been successful in this crazy business for a lot longer than I have.

      I look forward to seeing your year's wrapup, and I wish you the very best for the coming year!

  9. Happy new year, John, and congratulations on another incredibly fruitful year. 38 upcoming stories boggles the mind. I have seven, maybe eight, but I'm not sure if one proposed anthology has found a publisher yet.

    Thank you for the data on Covid-related stories, too. I have not used it in any story because I thought it would date the story too specifically. Now you've shown that for that or some other reason, it's the right choice.

    1. Thanks, Steve. I look forward to seeing those upcoming stories of yours.

      I'm honestly not sure I'm right, in my choice not to include Covid references in my stories (at least for the moment). I just know that the editors I've submitted those stories to did not like the fact that the virus was even mentioned, and told me so. That's still a little surprising, to me, but I learned my lesson.

      Once again, Happy New Year, and best of luck to you in all writing endeavors!

  10. Wow! Congrats, John! Me? Well I wrote more full-length (as opposed to flash) mystery short stories this past year, and I intend to write a few more. I actually had a (non-mystery) story reprinted from a zine into a small,(small!) press anthology. As Hemmingway said I'm going back to the grindstone! Happy New Year everybody, and thanks for the good reads!

    1. Thanks, Jeff! I don't know why I'm nor writing as many flash stories, but sounds as if you're not either. I guess our latest ideas just take longer to write about.

      Pleased to hear that you're getting some reprints into anthologies. Why let 'em sit around idle, right?

      Yep, back to the grindstone. I plan to try to start a new story today. Best to you and yours, old friend, and have a great year. Thank you as always for your support of SleuthSayers!


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