As you know, I have been writing and submitting works to various unnamed markets for a couple of years now. I always politely ask for feedback when I get rejected. Asking for feedback is like taking a polite note, slipping it carefully in a bottle, and tossing it into the ocean. Sometimes, the very next wave throws it back to you, other times, the bottle disappears, and you have no idea what happened to it. Then, occasionally, a different bottle shows up on your desert island, with a reply. This happened to me two days ago.
There’s one market I submit to rather often—it’s a pro mag, and I very eager to be published in its pages. So far, I’ve submitted five stories, and have gotten to the final round at least twice. But…well, here’s how I put it to the editor:
I just keep missing. […] Do I show some consistent area where I fail? […] I remain stuck in the last couple of rounds of judging, and continue to come up short. If you can recall why my stories fail, I will definitely fix it, for I want to submit quality work. I know I am asking a lot here—if you are far short on time, I completely understand. However, if you could show me where I come up short, I would really appreciate it.
Also, I am quite aware that I might just not have what it takes. If so, please tell me. I’m not one of those idiots that abuse the editor. I value all of your feedback, even the harsh bits. Again, thank you for all of your time with my submissions.
I put that in the bottle, tossed it in the ocean. And waited. Four weeks. I had figured it was long buried. I wasn’t really worried. I had a hunch I was OK in my craft—not great, but not ‘reject before reading’, either. Then I got this from the Editorial Director—the toppest of top cheeses.
How can I answer this? It’s not so easy to explain why a story is rejected; it’s much easier to explain why a story is accepted.
She then went on to describe in great detail how she selects stories for the magazine. Then came this gem:
[…] getting to the final round out of hundreds of submissions doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing something wrong. What it means is that sometimes, your story just doesn’t work with the other stories I’ve already selected. […] So you see, there IS no quick or ready answer as to why your stories were rejected. […] each issue is so different there’s not any sort of standard that you should be writing to. If you’ve made it to multiple final rounds, then I’d expect your stories to continue to do so–and eventually, you’ll break through.
Just…wow. I immediately send back an email of thanks, both for her time, and the 400 word answer to my original question. I also asked if I could blog the email chain. She agreed in a further email, and added this.
To be honest, I really appreciated not only the question, but your reply tonight., having just had a personalized rejection thrown back in my face by an author who apparently feels an editor should overlook copious grammatical and spelling errors in a submission.
Say what??? Look, this editor gets ‘several hundred’ submissions per issue. If she takes the time to send a personalized rejection, it’s the height of arrogance and stupidity to burn a market the way this author appeared to do. Besides, these folks network. Names almost certainly get around—do you really want to burn so many of your bridges? The only proper response is a humble thanks for their time and guidance. Where’s “Politeness Man” when you need him?
She concluded with this:
And keep submitting. I went back and took a look at some of your stories. When you and [the magazine] meet under the right theme, you’ll make it in.
Thus, I am looking at an unusual mythological construct (the currently open theme) to get inspired.