Rejectomancy: why are editors rejecting your stories?

Rejectomancy = over-worrying about rejections, trying to analyse, no-matter-what, why the editor didn’t buy your story, a compulsion to ‘learn from each rejection’ in order to find the holy grail to publication.

ASIM 53 has gone to print! This finishes up another editing project. Being on the other end of the rejection process gives you some insights on why stories are bought and why they’re rejected. Apart from the regular slush reading gig, this is my second editing project, and the more I’m involved with editing, the more I realise that the acceptance, or rejection, or stories is a pretty random process.

Just to be clear, at ASIM, stories that have been ‘approved’ by three slush readers go into a pool from which editors, sometimes several editors at the same time, can choose for their respective issues. These stories have already been vetted against standards of grammar and plotting.

Why do I choose one story and not another?

Of course, the story has to be well-written. But, actually, more important than well-written is a kind of spark. If the story has enough spark, I’ll put up with a certain level of pedestrian writing. I want spark.

And, here comes the rub, what is a spark for me is not a spark for someone else. And that someone else can also be an editor, who would have chosen a completely set of different stories. I like hard SF (there is some of that in the issue), I like space opera (some of that, too), and I like concepts that make me laugh.

A good number of the stories that I looked at and didn’t choose will be returned to the authors with a rejection letter that says that the story was good enough to go into the pool and may well sell elsewhere. There will also be reader comments. Each of these comments are the opinion of one person. They may not even be the reason that the story was rejected. The reason that the story was rejected may not be that the story wasn’t any good. It was just that no one felt any spark while reading it.

A rejection means one thing, and one thing only: the editor couldn’t use the story at that time.

Whatever the rejection letter says does not matter. A line like ‘please consider us for your next story’ may be standard for that magazine. Or it may not. Either way, it means nothing. Regardless of what the letter said, you’d likely send them something else anyway. You may think you’re getting closer with that publication, but that doesn’t mean you’ll actually sell something there. It doesn’t matter whether the editor says this or that, or whether you got through one round and was passed to the editor-in-chief. It doesn’t matter that they kept your story for a month where the average rejection time is two weeks. It doesn’t matter…

It just doesn’t matter.

They didn’t buy your story. At this point in time, your best hope is to send the story elsewhere and send that particular magazine another story.

Some data points from my own stack:
magazine 1: first story I sent them got a personal rejection. I’ve been unable to raise a peep from them since.
magazine 2: never received anything except form rejections. Then a sale.
magazine 3: I have a string of (quite rare) personal rejections longer than my arm, but cannot seem to sell anything there.
magazine 4: two rejections, then a sale
story 1: everyone likes this story. I have a string of almosts from every big magazine. Still unsold
story 2: my WOTF non-winning finalist. Do you think I can sell this story?
story 3: sold on first submission

These data look random, because they are random. Editors are people, and they have preferences. Preferences are not set in concrete and will change from issue to issue. They will depend on what else is in the issue.

Stop worrying about the meaning of rejections. Just send the story somewhere else, and write another story.

4 comments on “Rejectomancy: why are editors rejecting your stories?

  1. Pretty discouraging for a newbie but I suspected as much. It seems to be partly a numbers game – 1000 submissions, space for only three. I also think genre is a factor. I write old world style epic fantasy – not terribly popular. But those who read my work have only great things to say. Sigh. I feel like the wannabe starlet waiting tables at greasy spoons in Hollywood waiting to be discovered.

    • I don’t know that I’d call it discouraging. I think you need to write new stories continuously, not get too hung up about the brilliance of one particular story, and then just send them out, again and again.

    • Writing and sending, that’s all there is to it. Finish it to the best of your current ability, take a deep breath, and send it. When it comes back, send it again. Until it sells, or until you no longer believe in the story.

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