Rejectomancy

Many magazines that buy short stories only use form rejection letters because of the volume of stories they receive each day.  These form letter rejections tell the author virtually nothing about why the story was rejected.  The only time to get excited about a rejection from one of these magazines is when you don’t get the form letter, but a personal rejection from the editor.  Personal rejection letters tend to have at least a little information about why the editor is passing on the story.  It also provides the author with the opportunity to take that information and perhaps improve the story before sending it on to the next market.  When the rejection is a form letter the writer has to apply a little magic, a little rejectomancy, to try a figure out for themselves why the story didn’t survive the slush pile.

I have been very excited to get a few personal rejections with comments from the editor.  In each case I have learned something about writing.   For me the only thing better than a personal rejection letter is and acceptance letter.

Today I was happy to get a form rejection letter.  Let me explain.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) is a market I really want to crack.  Of the big three science fiction genre markets, the other two being Asimov’s and Analog, it is the toughest to sell to.  They also are one of the markets that has a super fast turn around on stories–a full month faster than most other magazines.  Yet despite this fast turn around they have a system for communicating with the author that is very helpful.  Unlike the other markets mentioned above, F&SF uses multiple form rejection letters.  Using a little rejectomancy (and some common sense) it is easy to glean at least a little information about a rejected story.   The slush pile readers at F&SF seem to use three standard form rejections: 1) The story didn’t grab my interest, 2) The story didn’t hold my interest, and 3) The story didn’t quite work for me.

Form letter 1 means that perhaps the opening is to slow or awkward, but could also mean the entire story doesn’t flow well.  I assume by the wording that the slush editor didn’t finish the story.  This is perhaps why F&SF is very fast with turn around on stories; they don’t read every story to the end.  I have accumulated several of these rejections.  A lot of hand wringing and close editing rejectomancy is needed for these stories.  In each case I have made an attempt to make the opening of these stories a little more exciting or interesting before I sent them on to the next market.

Form letter 2 means that perhaps the story was boring or slow in the middle.  What I assume that this letter means is that maybe they finished reading the story, but felt very ho-hum about it.  I know that one of my weak points currently is that my action scenes are slow.  Head scratching rejectomancy is needed for these.  I’ll try to punch up the story, speed it up and keep it interesting, before sending it on to the next market.  Yes, future tense.  I have not received any of these form letters yet.

Form letter 3 means that perhaps the story was just fine, but didn’t work (fit) with the intangibles that give a particular magazine its voice and style.  I think that this is a valid assumption because rejection letter that is a step up from this one is a personal rejection letter from the editor.  I got form letter 3 in the mail today.  The story in question has two previous rejections: a personal rejection and a uninformative form rejection.  Very little rejectomancy is needed here.  I am going to tweak it just a smidgen, but only because I thought of a better way express a bit of one scene after I sent it out, not because of the rejection letter.  As always it will get a close re-read before I send it out to the next market.

There is a problem with rejectomancy.  Use too much of it and you can destroy a story.  Robert Heinlein supposedly gave the advice to only edit under direct request of an editor.  Good advice for a writer that has already honed his craft.  For those of us still improving our craft, we should use a little rejectomancy and then edit with care.

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