13 January 2010

An Incomplete List of Reasons I Rejected Stories

I just read 46 stories in a row while clearing out my inbox. Life events (the start of snowboarding season, releasing a book) have kept me from my duties here. For those of you who are interested, the process took me about four hours of reading and emailing.

I don't mean this post to criticize the stories we get; you all continually make my job harder because I find myself reading deeper and deeper into a story until I realize it's not quite right for us. (Hence the four hours: I'm a fast reader.) But I do realize "not quite right" isn't all that helpful. So please consider this a learning opportunity.

The numbers won't add up because I found multiple issues with some stories, and others were fine, writing-wise, but either cliched or of no special interest to our publication. Sometimes that's just the reason, darn it. This is not to say those stories won't be special to some other editor out there!

Here goes:

Weak writing: multiple usages of past progressive in first graph, constant improper punctuation, weak verb choices, mixed tenses, misspellings like there for their, lacking clarity. I didn't count these, but I'd put general Weak Writing at about (10).

Starts with cliché: phone call (2), first line a variation on "it seemed like any other day" (3)

No cover letter. Instant rejection, we don't open files unaccompanied by a letter (3)

Telling over showing and/or summary over narrative (4)

Lacking plot or story problem (4)

Cool narrative and set-up, but lacks satisfying end and/or clarity (7)

Mostly dialogue with no action (2)

2nd person. I admit a strong bias against 2nd person for contrived melodrama (3)

Too leisurely of a start (5)

Too high a word count. 7000 is our FIRM limit and yes, we do check (3)

Couldn't identify with protagonists (2)

couldn't identify protagonist (1)

Extra notes:
quotes at start of story (6) - No problem with that; I just found it an interesting trend.

Words to the wise:
Consider using standard formatting. I had lots of improper formatting to actual typesetting with colors. Not always a deal-breaker, but typesetting is an editor's job. The last thing you want is for us to think first about all the things we have to undo in your story to ready it for publication. (9)

General failures in professionalism:
Three writers wrote me back to tell me their had been picked up by another magazine, even on rejections. Problem is, they hadn't notified us of that. (A fourth wrote me back to let me know that, too, but that was our error.) We take simultaneous submissions because we understand lead-times hinder writers' sales. But you hardly want me to remember that you wasted my time with a sold story when I read your next submission.

A withheld number of writers have since written back to basically thank me for their rejections. (At least I got no berating, which is really unprofessional!) Um, how to put this nicely? There's no need to reply to a rejection.

Also, we accept simultaneous subs (stories sent to other markets), but this does not mean we accept multiple subs from the same author. Look at it this way. Writers generally have a stable of stories (I'm currently circulating 7.) If all 46 writers in my inbox had sent us multiple submissions, my slush could easily be quadrupled or more, paralyzing our lead times.

We have three editors, but only one of us divides up the stories for reading, and we talk often. You might pull that trick on us for awhile, but not forever.

Okay, hope this helps. You have a couple of days before the deadline for the next issue, so get 'em in!


lesleylsmith said...

Wow, Editor Betsy, you are kinda' harsh. FYI- we do NOT have an official cover-letter-is-required policy, so if you want to implement this, you should announce it and put it on the submissions page.
...just saying...

lesleylsmith said...

Okay, I checked the submissions page and it does say we require a cover letter...my bad. :(

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I didn't want this to come off as harsh, just honest. I don't think it's any worse than agents are listing as year-end rejection stats or other markets listing overused plots.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I don't think this list is harsh at all. It's informative!

Also, I am SO glad you hit on the simultaneous sub vs. multiple sub issue. It's a bit of a pet peeve of mine--SO many people I know get those backwards. Including a lot of publishers!

Betsy Dornbusch said...

Thx Kat. Actually, I'm getting to be such an old hand at this I think I forget some people don't know the difference between simultaneous and multiple submissions. So I'm glad I thought to throw that out there.

LEMONS! said...

This was exceedingly helpful - if a bit late for me, since I just submitted my story approximately four minutes before reading this handy-dandy blog.
Ah, heck - it looks like I missed the major faux pas, actually.
If all editors would be courteous enough to lay it out like this, life would be much easier for all of us.
Thank you!
(and I now find myself rather nervous)

Unknown said...

I thought this was really interesting, particularly the point about replying to rejections. From this side, one might think it was the polite and professional thing to do.

Actually I was about to say it's like responding to a rejection from a job interview to thank them for considering you - then I realised I've never done that!

writtenwyrdd said...

It's always helpful to hear What Not To Do from editors. So thanks for sharing!

LEMONS! said...

I have a question for the editors - and I hope I am not asking an obvious question - but are rejection letters personalized per submission, or does everyone rejected receive the same generic form letter? I know that Asimov's doesn't do individual rejection letters anymore, but I have no idea what Electric Spec does. Thanks in advance!

David E. Hughes said...

We generally use the same letter for all first round rejections. Some of our editors will occasionally add a "ps" with a personal comment. Once in a while we will remove the "please try us again" language is the submission is particularlly off-base or inapproriate.

LEMONS! said...

Ah - thanks, David.

Unknown said...

On the subject of multiple subs:

I think I am one of those people who sent you two or three stories in a row without waiting for an answer. The reason is simple: I never got any automated response (yes, I did check my spam filter), and since your guidelines said "please submit again", I kind of ended up showering you with submissions... I thought you might want to know this, in case there is anything that needs fixing!

Otherwise thanks a lot for the advice!

Betsy Dornbusch said...

Thanks Cecile. I'm running a test on that now.