Here are a few verbatim excerpts from some recent rejection notes I’ve received for different stories from different markets. Hopefully the editors and first readers who wrote them don’t mind — any advice or encouragement they take the time to send is always gratefully received. But it just goes to demonstrate that having an editor or slush reader like or even love your story isn’t enough. As well as being flawless, the fit and timing have to be just right.
Note: I’ve omitted the inevitable qualifiers, the list of perceived faults and deficiencies, the particular reasons the submission wasn’t appropriate for that market at that time, etc…so the skew here is obviously to the positive.
“This is well written, and riveting. The characterization is strong, the ending is just right. Your descriptions and narration were great…A beautiful story, expertly told…”“I think this idea has great potential and I hope it finds a home. Your story made it quite far in our process and I’m sorry to let it go.”“This is a perfectly good story…”“… this piece is fantastic. Absolutely amazing. I really enjoyed the read…I loved this story — and I really do: the prose, the idea, the pace — …”“…This is a very fine piece of sf…”“…all the staff agreed that this story was very good…”“…It had good imagery and the prose is fluid, so you can write well for sure…”“This is a good story and I enjoyed reading it…”“This has an inventive setting and the main character is interesting, and there are some beautiful bits of prose…”
So if all the above are true, what, then, does it take to achieve a sale?
Research the market you’re submitting to. Read what it publishes. Always follow the submission guidelines. Don’t forget that any story can always be improved: carefully consider the advice given, even if it can sometimes be contradictory (different editors have different tastes, target audiences, and visions for their market). If a common criticism emerges from different readers then take particular note…in the end, you can’t buck the market.
And always take this piece of advice to heart, because very few of my published stories sold to the first market they were submitted to, or to a market I had never been rejected from before:
“Please consider submitting to us again. Best success selling this story elsewhere.”
Great post — thanks for sharing! It’s especially interesting being on the other side: having to reject great stories!