1) Name some of the most common reasons why you send a story packing back home to its owner?
-- A weak opening with no immediately apparent conflict
-- Lack of a clearly defined, sympathetic protagonist
-- A story setting that is vague or too generic
-- Too much world-building at the outset of the story
-- The story is longer than it needs to be (i.e. lack of focus)
-- An ending that fails to bring the story together or resolve the central conflict in some way
2) And what automatically tips you off that a story isn't ready for publication, besides bad writing?
If an author isn’t able to grab us within the first paragraph, or at least the first few pages, then in all likelihood the story isn’t ready for publication. In a few instances, we’ve been able to work with the author to fix problem beginnings, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Authors need to polish their whole story, but particularly the opening.
Another common tip-off that the story isn’t ready for publication is flat or unnecessary character description. For example, we see far too many characters who are running their hands through their blonde hair or staring at x with their green eyes.
3) And what continually aggravates you to no end about submissions from new writers? Things like: No SASE. No return address. Phone calls asking about submissions, etc.
We like to see cover e-mails with at least the bare minimum of information, such title and word count. An e-mail with nothing but “please consider the attached” leaves us with guess work we don’t like to do. We could also do without information about pets (number of cats or dogs) or relationships (married, children) in the cover letter. Angry responses to rejections are also a frustration but fortunately not that common.
4) What kind of stories do you see way too often and don't care to ever see again in your slush-pile?
I don’t think there are any stories that we don’t ever want to see. Many times we have been surprised by fresh takes on well-worn topics. However, the following are tough sells:
Aliens land on earth.
Aliens land on earth and attack humans.
Aliens land on earth and have sex with humans.
A person is changed into a vampire.
A person is killed by a vampire.
A person has sex with a vampire.
A robot is built.
A robot attacks one or more people.
A robot has sex with one or more people.
Someone kills his or her spouse, girlfriend, mother, etc.
Light speed travel (or cryogenic sleep) has caused the protagonist to return to earth after some sort of space mission to find the world changed
Lots of fighting (e.g. sword fighting, space duels, laser battles) and not much else
5) What do you look for in a story--the things that make you sit up and say wow!
- Unique protagonists with unique problems
- Unique settings (either on our world or others);
- Writing that is smooth and tight, without extra words or plot developments