Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Letters from the Editor(s)

Editor's comments – what do they mean? It used to be that I either had work accepted, or rejected – but mostly accepted funnily enough. That was when I was writing either whacked-out comedy, or flash. Now that I’m trying my hand at genuine 2,000-10,000 word short stories of a more serious flavour, I find myself in a strange kind of limboland. It’s a grey zone in which I’ll get editor’s comments indicating they like the story – but not enough to publish it. Or that they would have published it if only they’d had the space, or the time, or if my ending had been a little cleaner (but please don’t re-submit).
I suspect this is partly because I’ve thrown myself in with the ‘great unwashed’ rather than trying to pick underrepresented sections of the market. But perhaps the great unwashed is where I need to be for the time being. I mean, I don’t really have a choice if I want to write this sort of thing, and this sort of length.
So I’ve had very nice rejections from all sorts of mags this year, like Andromeda Spaceways, like Necrotic Tissue, Albedo One, Ray Gun Revival and Aurealis but what does it all mean?
I can’t read too much into my failure with Necrotic Tissue because it folded with one of my stories shortlisted, but the others, not so much.
Here’s a not-so-random selection of feedback in no particular order from editors of the above mags:
·        Interesting story, nice use of landscape. To my eye there are some moments that could be tightened up and I think it would be stronger if some things were directly said rather than alluded to...
·        Chuckle! How deliciously silly!

·        Well written, suspenseful.

·        I so wanted to give this a 1 but the ending really disappointed. The writing flows with easy turns-of phrase and the characters are very clear and well-voiced. The humour is well sprinkled and the pace of the story is great. I found myself seeing the world through the protagonist's eyes and really rooting for her as she was easy to empathise with However I found the ending disappointing (which should be taken as a compliment as I had 4357 words of loving this story so much I was deeply invested)...

·        I really enjoyed the story but unfortunately it's not quite what we're looking for at the moment. Please think of us if you've got something else you think might be suitable.

·        I regret to inform you that I am closing _____ and that issue #14 will be our last. Sorry that I held up your story and I hope you find a good home for it.

·        Nice narrative style and pace, but probably not appropriate for ____. Also the twists are a little too obvious.

·        Thank you for submitting your story to ______ magazine and I'm sorry for the delay getting back to you on this story. I'm afraid I won't be picking up your story and you should find another market for [it]. It's very cute, very funny and not at all like any other story I've published in _____. This is a story for [another magazine]. "Know thy market". For the record, I did submit this short to the suggested mag and they also rejected it, saying:

the ending is a bit lame, and the beginning very slow…

If you’re reading this blog as a writer, this is shared pain. Some (if not the majority) of the above words are encouraging and many are even helpful, but in the end none of the shorts to which these comments were attributed have so far made it into print. It seems there are many reasons to reject good work, and few to accept it.

But what can I take away from it? Well, there is a common thread regarding endings, and I sympathise with this because I hate reading stories with lame endings. On the other hand I love enigmatic endings which are strongly suggestive of a particular outcome, while leaving open the possibility for others and that has been my goal up to this point. ClearlyI need to re-evaluate this strategy.

There is also a bit of a horses for courses issue in that at the beginning of the year I was probably submitting to mags I wanted to be published in, rather than mags who might accept my style and content – well, I think I’ve addressed that issue but it still doesn’t guarantee publication. I guess it gets me a little closer though and every little bit helps.

I’ve got to believe that or what’s the freak’n point?

I mean really…it’s not like I make money out of this…

So rather than accepting every editor's comments as gospel, or simply tearing them up in a fit of artistic pique, the best way for me to interpret them is to look for patterns. Once patterns are identified, I'll do what I can to address the issues and keep trying.

And trying.

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