Rejection

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I’m working acquisitions for White Cat Publications, specifically sorting slush into something that will hopefully soon resemble a magazine of speculative fantasy. I think that editorial blogs help cut down on rejectomancy, that most terrible and dark of the eldritch arts, so for the enterprising persons who Google me before or after submitting to Conjurings, you’ll find a bit here about what turns me off.

Rejecting stories is hard. To be clear, it’s easy to understand when a story should be rejected. It’s the part where I have to tell a fellow writer that our children don’t need to be hanging out that hurts.

Certain painful habits make it hurt a lot less, though.

I’m snarky. Not in writing so much as in person. My slush reader is a foil for this, and we will occasionally get riotous. One of our submissions was accompanied by this letter:

Dear Fiction Editor,

Be sure to read “TITLE REDACTED,” a modern-day version of ALSO REDACTED.

That opening line seems to have been written with the idea that I’m a viewer at home and he’s a channel that I might just skim past. It doesn’t work that way. And the writer’s cluelessness jaded me going into the story. The first thing I noticed? His opening line had the exact same meter and most of the same words as the somewhat infamous line, There once was a man from Nantucket.  My slush guy and I were having fun with the story for all the wrong reasons, and I realized that I really, really needed to write a form rejection letter.

I’m perfectly fine with being addressed as “Fiction Editor,” incidentally. I just hope that anyone saluting me as such is prepared to see “Dear Fiction Writer” in the reply.

Mostly, though, I do not have fun in the slush pile–I have a hard enough time picking a flavor of ice cream, follow? So when a story appeals to me aesthetically but then does a bunch of stuff that annoys me, I get sad. Frumpy, I’ve been called. I had to turn down a perfectly wonderful submission the other day because–even though I liked the plot and the world the writer had crafted, the characters were flat and somewhat illogical, and the prose … I’ll say uncontrolled.

Good–even great lines–were scattered through the story, but the voice was all over the place and the perspective bounced around. I’d have been okay working through some of this in proofs, except the story didn’t have a money shot good, memorable scene that I could identify as the fulcrum that made the tale lift readers up and off into the place we go when we love reading.

That’s what makes or breaks a story, at least for me. A single scene–often a single moment that ties together the whole of the theme with the character and the plot. The stuff leading to that moment needs to be passable, though compelling is always better–but even the most masterful prose, the keenest sense of aesthetic  and even a n awareness of what your demographic wants to read will all fall apart without this moment.

I have a TOC to populate, so I’m off, back into the slush pile. Thanks for reading.

-B

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