Sunday, November 23, 2014

Averting Rejection: An Editor's Perspective

As a writer, I've taken my share of rejections and will continue to be rejected. It's part of the process and I understand that. Sometimes someone else has a better piece similar to yours. Sometimes the judge likes another piece better or the judge just wasn't in the mood for my avaunt guard psychoanalytical thesis on the plight of the red gilled eel. Life happens. Get over it. Write more. Submit more.

However, as an editor, I'm now on the receiving end of entries submitted to my anthology Building Red: The Colonization of Mars, and I am the big "meaner" (as one of my former students put it) who has to send out those horrible emails, "Sorry, your piece doesn't fit the 'vision' of our anthology." The experience has been educational and humbling at the same time.

I've learned so far that I cheer for the great stories and groan for the ones who don't make it. Seriously, I'm a softie like that. I've learned that when faced with a sudden influx of 20 stories in one day that I'm not quite sure I can face my inbox, but a cup of hot cocoa and some soft electrotrance helps. I've learned also what I've known for a long time: people don't read directions.

That. Drives. Me. Insane.

Therefore, as an educator, it strikes me as my responsibility to share with anyone who cares to read such things, WHY so many submissions are rejected. Maybe it will help one of you get accepted next time.

1. READ THE WRITING PROMPT. If it's an open submission, you don't have this issue, but my anthology, you had to write about colonizing Mars. The writing prompt is specific in what I want and how I want it formatted. I received MANY well-written stories--publishable stories--that either had NOTHING TO DO with Mars or could have been on ANY alien planet. If the editor/publisher wants something specific, don't send them just any story. Send them what they want. And if they want prose, don't send poetry and vice versa.

2. USE STANDARD FORMATTING. Generally this is Times New Roman, 1" margins, double space, tab or 1/2" indents for paragraphs, but editors/publishers may have specific formatting they prefer for their reading ease. Yes, yes, I can, in a matter of 60 seconds or less, re-format a piece so it is readable, but then I'm already unhappy that the writer didn't follow directions. That predisposes me to not like your story. Most of us have full-time jobs and are doing this after a long day of work. We don't need one more annoyance. Hint, hint.

3. IF WE ASK FOR AN UNPUBLISHED STORY, DON'T SEND A PUBLISHED STORY. You see, this isn't just being persnickety, here, this is a matter of legal responsibility. If I ask for First North American Publishing Rights and you've published anywhere, including on a blog, it's possible there could be some legal ramifications, then lawyers get involved, and...nobody wants to deal with that. So, please, be honest, because in the end, everyone gets hurt if we have to go to court.

4. HAVE SOMEONE PROOFREAD YOUR STORY. Seriously. Don't throw down then send your first draft. Yes, I'm going to be working with my writers to polish their work, but I'm NOT going to mess with a piece that is clearly a first draft. I don't have time. I have a full-time job that pays the bills and this gig is supposed to be FOR FUN. In a few stories submitted I saw potential, asked for a rewrite BEFORE I accepted them, and when they sent in the rewrite, I saw that they could either 1. revise well or 2. still had a long way to go. The ones in the #1 category were chosen, in the #2 did not. It's a matter of how much time I have to help coach and a matter of how much time you're willing to do the work. Period.

5. BE SENSITIVE OF LANGUAGE/SEX/VIOLENCE PREFERENCES. Now on this one, I made the mistake of being too vague. All I said was "no erotica"  but I didn't define what I meant. Several stories described sex acts that to me crossed the erotica line. Another used the "N" word and lots of "MFs". (Thankfully, that one was NOT about Mars and I could reject it because it wasn't written to the prompt.) But, as I said, I didn't specify what I didn't want.

Here are two suggestions to keep in mind: 1. Consider that most anthologies written for adults are generally PG-13 to R rated, not beyond, and 2. Don't make the sex/violence/language THE story or THE focus. It's the setting. The window dressing. The color. When it becomes a distraction to the reader rather than helping tell your story, it's too much. And yes, I know, this is a subjective matter, so go back to point #4 and get some second and third opinions if you're not sure.

6. YOUR STORY ISN'T WELL-WRITTEN. There. I said it. I'm the big "meaner" and you can yell at me all you want, but many of the stories sent to me simply were poorly executed, head-jumping, shallow-character, grammar-error-filled nightmares. But in my defense, I've sent out a few stinkers in my time, so, I'm guilty of this as well. Writing is an art that takes years of practice and FAILURE to master. Yes. Failure. Bloody noses are the best teachers. Do NOT let rejection convince you that you're doomed to be a newspaper delivery person the rest of your life. Keep. Writing. Get in a critique group. Get in a writers' guild. Go to conferences. Practice. Get rejected more. I know this sounds like I'm advocating masochism, but you don't learn if you don't try.

I'm down to the last few entries to choose from and it's heartbreaking. I hate telling people "no" but again, it's a matter of what fits the prompt, how much time I have to work with the writer to polish the work, and the quality of the story. I can't wait to see how this collection turns out!

Revision. It's not just for writers. Editors have to change how they view the world, too.



Building Red is due to be published summer of 2015 by Walrus Publishing.
Watch for updates and announcements.

If you haven't yet, check out Paradigm Rift a new book by Randy McWilson.
Conspiracy, alternative history, time travel, sci/fi, and thriller never had it so good!

Looking for some steampunk? Check out Brad Cook's Iron Horseman
(I'll be writing a review of it, soon.)