A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part five)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Mar. 1st, 2018

The fifth story was an exploration of dragons.

The first thing the buying editor admitted to was the fact that she did not articulate what she wanted as well as she thought she had. Unfortunately, that wasn’t apparent until she got the stories and it was too late to do anything about it. This brought up another important point about things that influence editorial decision-making. When they get a lot of stories that aren’t quite right (for whatever reason) the pressure on their time increases. They need to keep an eye on these time pressures, so they are more likely to buy stories that don’t need work.

So, one editorial lesson learned was that articulating the requirement/expectations for the stories is critical to not getting a bunch of stories that are an automatic no. For example, clarifying that the dragon be essential (rather than incidental) to the story would’ve avoided some automatic no’s; another element that should have been clarified was the requirement that the story could not be one where it was just a human in dragon form.

We also found out that sometimes a rejection is more about what’s going on in an editor’s life at the time than anything else. One editor had just lost a friend to cancer and could not bring herself to read any stories involving hospitals. Another editor was too close to a national disaster and could not read anything related to that disaster. The details don’t matter, just know that sometimes your story may hit a note or a chord that is too painful for an editor to endure and your story will not be read. Nope, there’s nothing you can do about it, and no one is going to put all their issues into a submission call for the world to see.

There is also the chance that an editor knows too much about a subject and will reject your story because it’s their area of expertise and something in your story didn’t work for them. A non-expert, on the other hand, would never get tripped up and think it worked just fine. The area of expertise could be anything from actually having lived in a town you described, the editor writing in that historical period or sub-genre, or being a subject-matter expert who did their thesis on the subject.

As far as my own story for this anthology, I knew right away that I wanted to do something Arthurian. I loved The Crystal Cave and the movie Excalibur. One of the elements I wanted to use was the idea that the Land was the Dragon. I loved the scenes where Merlin calls forth the breath of the Dragon (the fog) to stage Arthur’s conception. But I also wanted to twist it and not make it about Arthur, but about Merlin.

Summary: Zimeu—a dragonkin—travels to Alwion (Britain) in disguise, to help save mankind from a coming dark age, but he arrives too early. On his way back, he crosses paths with a woman who is about to die in childbirth, and uses his magic to save her and her son, leaving mankind with a guide (Merlin) rather than the leader (Arthur) he’d originally intended.

  • Editor 1: Doesn’t read dragon stories (If you’re wondering why some editor who hates dragons was reading here, it’s because they each were part of this workshop, but were not buying for this anthology.)
  • Editor 2: Despite hating dragons and dragon stories, pulled in by dragon in lab/library; quality of the writing pulled him through the rest of the way; loved element of shift and balance; loved tension and dialogue; loved birthing scene; strong maybe.
  • Editor 3: Loved the dragons; loved Arthurian overlay; writing felt rushed; needs more emotion; would’ve sent it back in for rewrite for emotion.
  • Editor 4: It was great; liked idea of dragon culture as root for Arthurian legend; intellectually appealing; maybe pile after 1st read but read for emotion; would need to take the context of entire anthology into account to see if it could fit.
  • Editor 5: Not up on Arthurian legend; still liked it without recognizing references.
  • Buying editor: Agrees with Editor 3; minored in Arthurian legend; no because dragon could have been a mages and the story still could have worked; needs to be more fleshed out.

Post-mortem:

I was not surprised to hear that the writing felt rushed (it was) or that it didn’t have enough emotion. These deadlines were just brutal. I came in under 5000 words and had a 6000-word limit and should’ve pushed up against that limit and given it another pass. I should’ve written a clearer ending.

Emotion in fiction:

One of the things I’m reluctant to write about is the definition of what passes for “emotion.” There seems to be a preference for characters who are overly dramatic, who are damaged and traumatized on a deep level (preferably on multiple levels). There is almost no recognition of the fact that some people just get over it and move on (or aren’t overly emotional in the first place). Emotion is, after all, a spectrum. But if you’re going to require that the story NOT have a human disguised as a dragon/alien/monster, then it does beg the question, wouldn’t the emotions of the non-human be NOT human or at least different than ones you’d expect from a human character?

I think this is why aliens (or any other non-human creature) whether anthropomorphized or not, really is just human, with one exaggerated attribute. The best analogy I can think of is Star Trek. Exaggerate logic in a human and you have a Vulcan. Exaggerate aggression in a human and you have a Klingon. At the end of the day, whether the Hollywood prosthetics come off or not, we relate to a disguised human trait.

Would an alien based on broccoli be anywhere within the realm of our experience?

This is a separate issue from emotional impact to the reader.

The lack of character emotion was discussed in the context of some military stories, bringing up the same question: are military people so used to dealing with traumatic things that they don’t react emotionally? I think the answer is “yes” in some cases. In real life, people distance themselves and build up emotional callouses in order to be able to function. But in fiction, the preference seems to be for people who don’t do that, even when the story context calls for it, as in a military piece. I suspect that some editors get that and the standard for a military-themed anthology might be different.

Yes, genre matters. A lot.

Part Six

A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part four)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Feb. 28th, 2018

 

The theme for story four was “chances,” and although there were plenty of clues in the submission call that it was to be a romance anthology, it was never explicitly stated. Two people that take chances to be together didn’t say “romance” to everyone in the group, and I can see why that would be the case. If you don’t write romance, your version of “two people taking chances to be together” could manifest in other ways—a father and daughter trying to find each other when war comes to their world. Therefore several well-written pieces just didn’t make the cut because they were not, technically, romances.

Others had romantic elements, but the romance wasn’t the main focus, but a sub-plot.

But romances are right up my alley and since one of the examples in the call was “Anthony (conquerer) and Cleopatra (conquered)” that was the first plot bunny I chased down the wrong hole. For four days. Yep, I gave up on it some time late on Thursday and went to bed knowing I’d have Friday and the weekend to start fresh. Fun times. Fun times.

Read the rest here: Rejection 101: A Writer’s Guide

Part Five

A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part four)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Feb. 28th, 2018

 

The theme for story four was “chances,” and although there were plenty of clues in the submission call that it was to be a romance anthology, it was never explicitly stated. Two people that take chances to be together didn’t say “romance” to everyone in the group, and I can see why that would be the case. If you don’t write romance, your version of “two people taking chances to be together” could manifest in other ways—a father and daughter trying to find each other when war comes to their world. Therefore several well-written pieces just didn’t make the cut because they were not, technically, romances.

Others had romantic elements, but the romance wasn’t the main focus, but a sub-plot.

But romances are right up my alley and since one of the examples in the call was “Anthony (conquerer) and Cleopatra (conquered)” that was the first plot bunny I chased down the wrong hole. For four days. Yep, I gave up on it some time late on Thursday and went to bed knowing I’d have Friday and the weekend to start fresh. Fun times. Fun times.

I woke up on Friday knowing exactly what I wanted to write — another prequel story in my space samurai saga WIP, this time focusing on a tid-bit of the origin. Since the novel I’ve been working on takes place some time later in the timeline (in medias res and all that) this gave me the opportunity to go back, not quite to the beginning, but to explain some of the why that leads up to the events in the novel (no, it’s not out yet; sorry folks, but this is what happens when an idea that’s been rattling around in your head for years begins to take form and what you think will be one novel becomes five—some ideas are like tribbles).

So, almost three thousand words over the  8000-word limit, I was done. On Sunday night.

Synopsis: Tearjerker romance (yes, it has an HEA) in a space opera setting where two foot-soldiers from rival Houses are thrown together as they struggle to save their species from extinction. In order to survive the hand dealt them by history and fate, one must conquer and one must surrender.

  • Editor 1: Tough to wade into it; starts slow like a literary piece; work on pacing.
  • Editor 2: Bujold vibe; massive paragraphs stopped her; gave up and went to middle where pacing got better; didn’t have emotional hook because the opening was bad; hit the paragraph key more often; it’s all there, but presentation was wrong in paragraphing; well done; too much work to fix the beginning; fix pacing.
  • Editor 3: Names and details were too much; got interesting on p. 5; got kicked out around p. 18.
  • Editor 4: 100% my kind of story; great world building and setting; all comes together; loved it; loved the concepts like the genetic engineering; super-resonated with him.
  • Editor 5: Had trouble getting into it on 1st page; really liked despite it being SF;  agrees with co-editor.
  • Buying editor: Bujold-type of story; read the set up aloud to get a better sense of where to put the paragraph breaks; repaginate with new paragraphs; adjust sentence length; should be a fast read; plot is fabulous; no buy because of style points; nothing wrong with plot or characters or the way it was set up but first seven pages were tormenting.

After the verdicts came, the editors of the “Strange” anthology said they wanted to put it on their maybe list and Dean Wesley Smith took me aside on the next break and took me through re-paragraphing and fixing the opening. He basically told me that “When you think you’re over-paragraphing, you’re probably doing it right.”

Interesting little story from the old days when manuscripts came in manila envelopes. Basically, they’d pull out the first page. If it was formatted correctly, they’d keep pulling it up past the title in the middle of the page, and keep going for a few lines. If there were no new paragraphs, they’d slip the first page back in and send the manila envelope back to the author. The manuscript didn’t even get pulled all the way out of the envelope, much less read!

Despite the no’s from both editors who said it had a Bujold-vibe I was thrilled at the comparison because that’s exactly what I was going for. I want to be the next Lois McMaster Bujold. And it was a relief that no one said anything about being confused. Later, in my conversation with Mr. Smith, he told me that all my information-flow issues (people getting confused) were actually a paragraphing issue. The information was all there, but I’d buried it. I had the most wonderful sensation of light bulbs turning on, gears clicking into place, and fireworks going off.

At lunch, I had a chance to talk to Ron Collins, one of the editors for “Face the Strange.” He thanked me for writing Dominion, said it hit all his reader cookies. I asked him, “You really think it fits Strange?” and he said, “Oh yeah, two people from rival Houses dealing with each other. Sure it does.”

After four days I had a “maybe” on what I thought was my strongest story (despite it being written in far too much haste) but from a different anthology, one whose theme I hit entirely by mistake. Now, some of that had to do strictly with preference (he liked that type of story and the paragraphing was not enough to stop him, and the strange names and sci-fi terms were things he got into rather than turned him off) and some of it was just pure dumb luck.

I’ll take it.

Since it’s a “maybe” and the final table of contents for “Strange” is still being assembled, I won’t find out until the end of the workshop if I’m really in or not. But I’m in the running. And if I don’t make it, I know exactly what to do next—I’m going to fix the paragraphing issue and send it off to another market. I’m told that most of the rejections from this workshop tend to sell well to other markets.

Time jump to three days later:

I won’t keep you in suspense on this one. It’s just too exciting not to share. This story went from the “maybe” list to the “buy” list, making it my (officially) second sale. Remember what I said about sci-fi being about characters. And word-counts being pirate code.

Part Five

A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part three)

Part One

Part Two

Feb. 27th, 2018

The story for the third week had to do with strangers dealing with each other. And it was another one of those that made me scratch my head, especially the part about not wanting to read anything icky since it was a parent-child editorial team. No definition of “icky” was provided.

In retrospect I realize that my fear of putting in any details about sexual attraction actually kept me from adequately fleshing out the emotional aspect, which was something they did want. But, apparently, I can’t write anything that doesn’t tend towards having a romantic aspect of some kind—yes, it’s a personal flaw and probably not one I will fix since I like my romantic tensions too much.

This story started with an image of a blonde woman in a white suit and pumps, holding a pearl white briefcase, getting ready to go through a stargate.

I had no idea she was going to end up in Hell, no idea I was going to use a character I’d used in another (unpublished) story, no idea it was going to be about what it ended up being about, no idea that I was going to play off the Persephone/Hades myth. I had no idea I was going to bring in the concepts of war being hell, of military traditions, or a statement on totalitarianism.

Read the rest here: Rejection 101: A Writer’s Guide

Part Four

A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part three)

Part One

Part Two

Feb. 27th, 2018

The story for the third week had to do with strangers dealing with each other. And it was another one of those that made me scratch my head, especially the part about not wanting to read anything icky since it was a parent-child editorial team. No definition of “icky” was provided.

In retrospect I realize that my fear of putting in any details about sexual attraction actually kept me from adequately fleshing out the emotional aspect, which was something they did want. But, apparently, I can’t write anything that doesn’t tend towards having a romantic aspect of some kind—yes, it’s a personal flaw and probably not one I will fix since I like my romantic tensions too much.

This story started with an image of a blonde woman in a white suit and pumps, holding a pearl white briefcase, getting ready to go through a stargate.

I had no idea she was going to end up in Hell, no idea I was going to use a character I’d used in another (unpublished) story, no idea it was going to be about what it ended up being about, no idea that I was going to play off the Persephone/Hades myth. I had no idea I was going to bring in the concepts of war being hell, of military traditions, or a statement on totalitarianism.

If you’re not familiar with Abigor, the Duke of Hades, I suggest you google it. I loved the idea of the Devil having his own Secretary of War and that Abigor was always portrayed as a handsome knight. And I just couldn’t pass up the idea of a demon being a handsome knight and having a former angel fall for him. Yes, it should’ve of been more of a romance. Hindsight, thou art 20/20, you useless little …

The story ended up as former angel meets demon (because they would be strange to each other).

Summary: Eir, a Verity (a human lie detector who used to be an angel) ends up in Hell, when Abigor, the Duke of Hades, snatches her from a time stream. After confirming the truth of his vision about a threat to all of Creation and the battle plan needed to win, she partakes of the food at his table so that she can return to Hell and join him in the vanguard.

  • Editor 1: Not his kind of story
  • Editor 2: Beautiful writing ; not interested in a hell story.
  • Editor 3: Really enjoyed it; enjoyed concepts; loved Missing Man table; ending wasn’t emotionally connected; enjoyed the writing; maybe pile.
  • Editor 4: Liked it; she was such an interesting character; needed more of a reaction more to the Devil and to Hell; she’s not traumatized enough; maybe pile.
  • Buying editor 1: By middle the feeling was on theme; interactions between angel and demon are kind of core of everything that’s going on; loved ideas and politics within hell; loved commentary on totalitarian fascism but ending wasn’t deeply connected; didn’t understand why did she ended up with him; didn’t get the relationship; reluctant no.
  • Buying editor 2: Reactions to hell should be more intense; present problem at the front; interesting, but not enough.

The word limit was 6000 and I actually came in at 4700 but mostly because I ran out of time. I think if I would have had more time, I would have pushed past the word limit. A truly excellent story over 10,000 words was bought for this 6000-word limit anthology.

Post-mortem:

The take-away for me here was that I need to tell more (cringe) or I need to add more word count with showing and just look at word limits as suggestions or perhaps pirate code. I also need to write the story as it wants to be written rather than approach it with constraints. It might’ve gotten rejected for being too icky, or it might not. Now I will never know, but I think that if I’d told my critical voice to shut up, I would have made the characters more emotionally engaging. I could’ve always gone back and cut any ickiness  (which I later realized meant explicit sex) and just kept the emotional aspects.

Tid-bits:

Again, without going into specifics since I’m not at liberty to discuss who said what about whose work, the following things were said about different stories, as well as for the same story:

  • I expected one kind of story but your story went in the wrong direction. No buy.
  • I knew how it was going to end. No buy.
  • I like how you twisted the end and surprised me. No buy.
  • I loved this story and you kept me reading until the end, but sorry, no buy.
  • I hated everything about this character. I wanted to strangle him. Buy.
  • There’s a lot of manuscript level problems, but it’s a buy with a rewrite.
  • Your story has several issues, but if you’d be willing to make some changes, I might be interested. But I might not, since the changes I’m asking for may make the story a different story that wouldn’t fit.

Some of the “no buys” came down to “no matter my personal opinion” there are other considerations such as I already have too many stories of this kind and can’t fit yours in. Or the story is too unique and doesn’t fit with the others. There were also other minutiae that are impossible to know ahead of time, all coming down to editorial taste. For example, “I don’t read stories set in hell.” Now that’s a tidbit that would be impossible to know unless you knew the editor or heard them speak on a panel.

I know that it’s going to surprise many of you to hear that editors are human. Yes, they are. They have preferences. They have biases. “Not my thing” and “not for me” were often heard. As was, “I kept reading because it was a [insert author’s name] story.”

Veterans of this workshop obviously had an advantage. They knew the preferences of editors with whom they’d worked with before and could write for them better than someone new. I’m not complaining, I’m just stating a fact, acknowledging reality. If you think about it, it’s just the way things work, everywhere, with everyone.

So, not only is taste a key factor, so are relationships. If you became a writer so you wouldn’t have to network, you’re in for a surprise. Let’s take the editors out of this entirely and think of this from the perspective of a reader. A reader who liked your previous work, whose trust you’ve gained, will give you more leeway with your next work than a reader who has never read you. If they liked your last book and you insert something they might not love in your new one, they’re more likely to set aside those things they don’t like and/or to trust you to deliver in the end.

Part Four

A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part two)

Part One.

 

Feb. 26th, 2018

The workshop’s second assignment was another difficult one. The theme was “Broken Dreams” and the editor specified that she didn’t want the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Even with the 8000-word limit, I wanted to skip this uncomfortable subject.

But I had to try. Otherwise, I’d be wasting my time and money, and losing a chance at getting some valuable feedback and insight on how to do it better later.

I’d been researching privateers for some reason (probably because something shiny flew by and led me there) so the first thing that came to me was to do a story about a guy that got cashiered and lost his opportunity for command. This turned out to be one of those cases where I was doing pure discovery writing (I had no end in mind at all) and no idea how to get there. I started with a character and waited to see where he took me.

After a couple of false starts, the character took 5500 words to take me here:

Read the rest here: Rejection 101: A Writer’s Guide

Part three.

A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part two)

Part One.

 

Feb. 26th, 2018

The workshop’s second assignment was another difficult one. The theme was “Broken Dreams” and the editor specified that she didn’t want the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Even with the 8000-word limit, I wanted to skip this uncomfortable subject.

But I had to try. Otherwise, I’d be wasting my time and money, and losing a chance at getting some valuable feedback and insight on how to do it better later.

I’d been researching privateers for some reason (probably because something shiny flew by and led me there) so the first thing that came to me was to do a story about a guy that got cashiered and lost his opportunity for command. This turned out to be one of those cases where I was doing pure discovery writing (I had no end in mind at all) and no idea how to get there. I started with a character and waited to see where he took me.

After a couple of false starts, the character took 5500 words to take me here:

Romantic space opera about a cashiered naval officer turned privateer who takes a job to hunt down and destroy a ship with bioweapons. Instead, he finds the dead sailors betrayed by his government, and the woman trying to bring them, and the truth behind their deaths, back home.

  • Editor 1: Not SF; not enough setting; fake details; didn’t read that far into it.
  • Editor 2: Liked opening; Lucy reminded him of HAL; light sci-fi; enjoyed story; not sure why it didn’t become a buy; maybe list
  • Editor 3: Absolutely loved first line; middle was confusing; loved the ending. Still a no.
  • Editor 4: It is SF: it works; loving it as I go through 1st half; lost setting at explosion; information flow issues on manuscript level; lost towards end so it went from a maybe to a no.
  • Editor 5: Got confused in the end; feels like it’s not done yet; the characters had just discovered conspiracy; questions about what happens next; needs to be a longer story.
  • Buying editor: She sets the bar for SF higher than for other genres; this story can be quite powerful but manuscript has no setting; needs more details; there are town-level details but no planet-level details; needs to be longer; over-write it and over-describe it so we can see it; setting and characterization is not there; no buy.

Post-mortem:

In addition to the discomfort of the subject matter, I allowed previous input from other writers/editors to get into my head. I’ve been told—more than once—that I shouldn’t put novel-level setting details into my short stories. On more than one occasion, someone I trusted has hammered me for over-writing and over-describing and not getting to the plot quickly enough. Because it’s sci-fi and sci-fi readers read for plot. This is grade-A gold-plated BS. I’m a sci-fi reader and I don’t read for plot. I can’t be the only one. And I knew that. And I still let it influence me and get into my process.

Writing this story turned out to be an important object lesson about not allowing others into my process and writing the stories I want to write. Because while some sci-fi readers may not care about characters, I do. And my stories are better for it, as you’ll see later (guess which one I did sell?).

But I was, again, not surprised that this particular story didn’t make the cut. The whole theme of broken dreams turned me off. It calls for tragedy and sadness and I like to write happy endings. What was interesting is that at the end, the buying editor did actually chew us all out for not wanting to deal with this difficult subject.

Her main complaint was lack of emotion and keeping characters at arm’s length. We didn’t want to go there. We didn’t want to be there, suffering with those characters. And I think that’s definitely true.

Like with the superstition story from the first week, I would’ve never touched this subject, not even with a ten-foot pole. And now that I know that I should be over-writing and over-describing, I will. And anyone who rejects my sci-fi for that reason, well, it’s their loss…

Several pieces that were intellectual rather than emotional were also rejected despite being solid and well-written. Again, we are back to what the editor wanted.

Feedback summary:

Without giving you the details of the submissions (they are not mine to give), or the source of the comments, I would still like to share the substance of why stories were rejected.

1. Story/characters at arm’s length—in other words, we were not in the characters’ heads/hearts, feeling things with them. It’s an issue of narrative distance, one I’ve often talked about, and a specific pet peeve of mine as well. This is why I personally don’t enjoy stories written with narrative distance (omniscient, distant third, 1st person, present tense). We were told that 1st person present tense is the second most distant narrative tense (second person being the most distant). It is appropriate in one instance–PTSD. Like first person in general, 1st present tense distances the reader from the story, but even more than first person past tense. I’ll be the first one to celebrate the death of this “1st person present tense” fad; it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me and those were the only stories I couldn’t read.

2. Lack of setting. The “fake details” mentioned above mean that the writer didn’t give enough of a description of things to make the setting solid and specific. It’s an issue of showing vs telling, as well as information flow, i.e. requiring a reader to rethink an assumption they made based on too little information.

3. Lack of clarity.

4. Loss of point of view.

5. Needs to be longer (i.e. feels superficial, not enough detail; reads more like an outline).

Conclusion:

I hope you’re detecting a trend here, even among subjective opinion. Some things work better than others when the submission requirements call for emotion, i.e. character over plot; setting over talking heads in a white room.

What’s a white room? Image a stage with white walls, a white floor, white furnishings, upon which people in white Morphsuits (full body suits that cover everything, including the head and face) are going through the motions and delivering dialogue. You can have plenty of plot in this white room full of talking heads. But you won’t have emotion because your characters are no better than cardboard.

I have yet to see a submission call for talking heads in white rooms. Maybe you’re into those kinds of stories, but that’s not what any of these editors wanted.

Part three.

A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part one)

“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” – Norman Vincent Peale

One-point-two million words.

Two-hundred-and-seventy stories.

Six editors.

Why sign up to write six stories in six weeks without knowing a single thing about what you were going to be asked to write? Well, one answer is, to see if I could do it. The other answer—the real answer—was that what I really, really, really, wanted was the feedback.

I went into this expecting to sell nothing. As a first-timer, I knew that the likelihood that any of my stories would make the buy pile was going to be extremely low. And I was fine with that. What I wanted was an insight into the editorial process of some real pros, people who have been doing this for decades.

When you want to learn, learn from the best.

Read the rest here: Rejection 101: A Writer’s Guide

Part Two.

A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part one)

“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” – Norman Vincent Peale

One-point-two million words.

Two-hundred-and-seventy stories.

Six editors.

Why sign up to write six stories in six weeks without knowing a single thing about what you were going to be asked to write? Well, one answer is, to see if I could do it. The other answer—the real answer—was that what I really, really, really, wanted was the feedback.

I went into this expecting to sell nothing. As a first-timer, I knew that the likelihood that any of my stories would make the buy pile was going to be extremely low. And I was fine with that. What I wanted was an insight into the editorial process of some real pros, people who have been doing this for decades.

When you want to learn, learn from the best.

So what exactly did I sign up for, beside the time-crunch and terror of writing six to-be-determined stories in six weeks? I signed up to read everyone else’s stories as well, and then determine which stories I would buy.

The rules were very specific. No discussion of the stories amongst ourselves. Our opinions didn’t matter. The only opinion that mattered was the opinion of the person writing checks. This is something that writers should tattoo on the inside of their eyelids, preferably in bright glow-in-the-dark neon colors, lest we forget.

The first thing I learned was that I could indeed write a story in a week and on a subject I had absolutely no interest in. I mean none. The first topic was “superstition” and it had specific guidelines, including one for uniqueness. In other words, if you sent in a black cat story, it was going to have to win the cat-fight with all the other black-cat stories.

After some research, I picked a Japanese superstition regarding numbers. Four is for death. Nine is for pain. That’s why Japanese hospitals don’t have rooms with the number four in them, just like buildings don’t have thirteen floors here.

Feb. 25th, 2018

Summary: Inherited from a Japanese ancestor, the superstitions about the number four (associated with death) and the number nine (associated with pain) have come to life for twin sisters. Each finds her own way of dealing with the pain and loss that define their lives—one with meds; the other with something more risqué.

  • Editor 1: was pulled in on the second try; opening was off-putting
  • Editor 2: title does nothing for the story which is really well done; very interesting; ending comes too fast; needs a longer ending, could have written another thousand words (limit was 6000, I had 6027)
  • Editor 3: liked it; needs better development; liked family situation; bought the secret, but not why the father kept it secret
  • Editor 4: held interest; if the curse was understood, what was the value of holding it secret?
  • Editor 5: original; on target; would buy with rewrite if she had room for the word count
  • Buying editor: liked the idea of superstition from other cultures; prose was good (pulled specific lines he liked); still a no buy

I was not surprised that it was not bought. First of all, I struggled with this story because it had an unreliable narrator and I could absolutely see why the opening would be off-putting. And I totally agree about the title — titles are hard and I threw in the towel and just went with the obvious yet obscure (I do that; some people have accused me of oblique writing).

I also totally agree with the ending coming too abruptly. I knew the editor for this one was going to be tight-fisted with the word count, so I found myself up against the limit, and didn’t write a proper validation. If I’d only known that I could push up against 7000…

What about the other forty-four stories? Well, I’m not going to give you specifics, as they are not mine to give, but I will give you a wrap up of the decision-making process.

The editor already had three stories that he’d reserved space for. The rest of the word-count, he wanted to spread out through as many stories as possible. As the editorial panel went through the stories, several stories with problems went on the “strong maybes” and “maybes” list, while others that were not problematic went into the “no” pile.

Take-away:

So the first take-away is that it’s as much about taste and preference as anything else. In other words, a rejection is not a death-sentence. It is an opinion. An opinion that matters ( when the person is writing checks), but not a death sentence and not a reason to get upset that your story didn’t sell. Even well-received, well-crafted stories didn’t fit the bill for one reason or another.

Those stories that didn’t go into the “no” pile, went on the board under “strong maybes” and “maybes.”

Then the editor went down the list and filled the rest of his word count with a preference for shorter stories, including ones that would need major rewrites. He rejected an excellent long story because saying “yes” to such a long story would mean saying “no” to several short stories, and he wanted as many “flavors” as possible in his anthology.

So, let me re-iterate: a rejection is an opinion, influenced by many factors totally outside your control and knowledge. It is NOT a death sentence. I can vouch for the fact that no one died, even after being told to their face, and in a room full of other writers. In fact we were told up front, don’t send your stories to other markets until the week is over, as the editors may want them for other anthologies. In some cases the editors rejecting the story even told the writer what markets the story should be sent to.

Other factors that influenced editorial decisions:

Was your story one of the first ones they read? If so, they might put it in a read-again pile once they have them all, because at the beginning, they just don’t know what else they are going to get. Sometimes a second read works in your favor; other times, not.

Was your story memorable? Unique? Did it fit?

Was your story formatted correctly, or did you make the editor work really hard? Each hurtle you throw in the editor’s way is a reason for them not to keep reading. Really. Honest. So learn to format, punctuate, and use grammar. In other words, be a pro. And if you’re not a pro, fake it ’til you make it by at least working on the mechanics and aesthetics so that you’re not taxing precious editorial time and patience.

Ugly truth:

Some editorial buys were made purely for commercial reasons, i.e. the author’s name on the anthology would sell copies. This includes a story with problems. Why? Because this is a business, not a vanity project. Is it fair? No, but it IS reality.

This is one reason why it’s hard to learn JUST by reading—this goes for anthologies, magazines, and probably everything else being published today. Unless you know the inner workings, you won’t know why something is there. Just because you don’t know the name of John Q. Writer doesn’t mean that his story isn’t in there purely for commercial reasons. Your story of the same caliber probably wouldn’t have made it in. Or John Q. Writer could be really good and worthy of study. You just don’t know.

Basically, even in the world of letters, there is a senior varsity and a junior varsity. The senior varsity gets more leeway because their names sell tickets. So they get away with doing things you can’t, whether their writing is “good” or “bad.”

Beautiful truth:

I would be remiss not to mention two lovely ladies who came to check on me after my story got rejected (Leah Cutter and Laura Ware). It was an unexpected, but much appreciated, show of concern and camaraderie—the veterans of these workshops do look out for the newbies. I was really touched. Thank you, ladies.

Part Two.