Monday, July 1, 2013

Why the nasty editor rejected your story

I’m one of those unfortunate souls who wear both the author and the editor hats. I know what it’s like on both ends of the scale, so I reckon it’s time I dish three of the main reasons why the nasty editor rejected your story.

The story wasn’t ready for publication
I know authors. They see a call for submissions. They get all hot and bothered and quickly dash off a short story. Then *maybe* JUST MAYBE they’ll get a friend to read it over and go over one more time to see if there are any gremlins. Then they press SEND to inflict a MS that is riddled with all sorts of awfulness.

Or the author’s been writing for a short while. They still have loads of bad habits, be it head-hopping, inability to punctuate dialogue or basic, technical writing skills that need to improve. Let’s face it. Some people aren’t natural writers. To them it’s a mechanical process, yet they yearn, with every squeeze of their little black hearts, to be the next Stephanie Meyer or Dan Brown. And yes, given time, they might overcome their technical issues, but JK Rowling and George RR Martin they are not. Yet they persist in writing stories that need more than just a little bit of spit and polish to remove the rough edges—which are many and varied.

It could also be a matter of story craft, of developing characters, balancing narrative summary with action sequences. Perhaps a story has reams and reams of exposition. These are all things you learn as you gain more experience.

But with all the aforementioned issues, the plain and simple reason why the editor rejected these stories was because they simply weren’t ready for publication. It’s not always easy seeing what’s wrong with your own writing, but that’s why it’s important to learn whenever you receive critique from your fellow writers or, if you’re even luckier, have an editor write you a personalized rejection letter.

It bored me
Sometimes an editor will read a story and it just won’t hook them at all. I’m sure you’ve heard agents and editors say this before: This is a highly subjective business, and it doesn’t reflect on your personal capabilities but…

There’s always that big BUT (or a butt if you're feeling particularly nasty). Plainly put, an atheist editor won’t relate to Christian inspirational fiction, and there’s a good chance a romance fan won’t want to read hardcore military SF.

Be honest with yourself. Are your characters three-dimensional? Does the dialogue flow naturally? Are the action sequences believable? Are you certain your premise isn’t just another Twilight clone?

Everyone’s got likes and dislikes, and you need to understand that you’re not going to please all of the people all of the time, no matter what you do.

Follow submission guidelines
It’s simple. Whether you are querying an agent or submitting a short story to an anthology, READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES AND FOLLOW THEM.

You have no idea how many authors submit material that is not to spec. I’ve had 23 000-word novellas submitted to an open call with a limit of no more than 3 500 words. And I’ve had Christian inspirational fiction submitted to a horror anthology (I kid you not). Not to mention thinly veiled flash fiction based on whatever TV series or movie is popular at the time. Don’t even get me started on The Walking Dead or the Saw films… These are out-and-out rejections. Why? Because you evidently don’t read. That’s why.

Lastly, if an editor rejects your story, don’t try to get snippy with comments like “Ah well, it’s your loss” or “You don’t know quality when you see it”. (Yes, I’ve had THOSE authors too.) You’re really not doing yourself a service, and if I see your name crop up again in future calls, I’ll hit the delete button without bothering to read.

* * * *

[deep breath and tucks away the spleen]

I am currently looking after the Tales of Darkness and Dismay imprint (Dark Continents Publishing) and am open to queries of short story anthologies and novellas. From time to time I also take on select clients for developmental edits. Anthologies I edit include the SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment (eKhaya, Random House Struik), Dark Harvest (Dark Continents) and The Sea (Dark Continents). Query me at

No comments:

Post a Comment