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Story Rejection

  • May. 30th, 2008 at 9:18 AM

 I rarely blog about rejections I receive for my fiction.  Telling a bunch of writers you received a rejection isn't exactly news.  But every once in a while I receive one worth mentioning.  Yesterday I received a nice rejection from Edmund Schubert at Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.  Here's the money quote:

I'm going to pass on it, but I have to say your writing is very smooth these days. In fact, up to page 14 I thought there was a good chance I might be buying this one. But then the piece veered off and though the writing was still smooth, the story itself wasn't working for me.
I'm pretty much past the point where I get excited over personal rejections.  I've gotten the "almost" rejection, the "try us again" rejection, the Gordon Van Gelder "alas (plus feedback)" rejection, and even the "requested rewrite but still got rejected" rejection.  Been there and done that.  And while I know how busy editors are and always appreciate any feedback they care to give, the "moral victory" of a personal rejection doesn't get me too excited either.

This one mattered though.  Why?  Because he called my writing "very smooth."  Style has been one of my biggest bugaboos.  Before I took the Odyssey Workshop back in 2000, I was a complete rookie.  My style was weak, plain(-jane), uninspired, sloppy, etc.  After Odyssey I went in the opposite direction.  I ended up trying too hard, and went through a very frustrating phase during which my writing became over-stylized, i.e. the dreaded purple prose.  I attended Orson Scott Card's workshop a year later and he called me out on this.  And that began the long journey toward achieve clear effective writing.  

OSC is a big proponent of clear writing, and one of the biggest reasons he dubbed Edmund to be the editor over at IGMS is that he was he confident Edmund would select strong stories that reflected his own tastes.  So to have Edmund call my writing smooth means a lot.  I have by no means conquered style, and am not even close to satsfied with where my style is, but it's good to know I'm noticeably improving.  It's been a battle to get to this point, and the fact that I appreciate lush prose (ala George Martin, Robert. E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Dan Simmons to name a few) and unusual imagery (see the names I just mentioned) probably made it all the harder to get here.  Both of these things can easily contribute to overwriting, I think. There has been a lot of stuggle involved to achieve a sort of balance.

So while it's not an acceptance, it's an important step in my writing career.  Now if I could just get some editor to tell me my plotting is flawless ...             

More On Submission Policies

  • Apr. 26th, 2008 at 12:25 PM

Poll #1178009
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 34

If you live outside the U.S., how do snail-mail vs. email submisions impact your personal submission habits?

View Answers
They don't. I always submit to what I consider the best market first, regardless of their submission policies.
9 (26.5%)
Snail-mail only? No submission for you!
4 (11.8%)
Snail-mail only? Only if it's in my own country.
2 (5.9%)
I'll use email first to save $$$ on postage
19 (55.9%)
  Thanks for the all recent interest guys. I'm posting another poll, this one just for international authors.  Please keep it civil  

Some stuff to keep in mind:

--I've published in Interzone, a highly respected magazine in the UK.  I originally sent the submisison via snail-mail, then later email (long convoluted story why).  It's not the same as living in Australia or the UK, but it's something.  One reason I get along so well with most authors is because I know how you guys think.  I am you guys, but I'm also working at ROF.  And the writer in me understands that blogging about this will help me the editor in me understand the international auhthors' stance here a bit better.

--Please remember I don't have to blog about this at all.  But I'm interested in hearing your views.  Not just because some guy from Australia was annoyed.  No one person would make me spend this much time on the issue.  But after working three years at the magazine, you notice stuff.  I'm sure this conversation would've happened sooner or later.

--To people this hans't occurred to, please remember it isn't just about what the writers want.  That's so easy to forget, because there are a lot more writers than their are editors and publishers, but editors & publishers are just as crucial to the success of a magazine.  If a certain method works best for them, that is crucial to the process, even if it seems unfair or antiquated.  Publishing isn't a democracy  That may seem like a harsh thing to say, but it's also the truth.  Places that have gone the email route have done so because the publishers and editors decided it was in their best interests.  It may have made writers happy, but it wasn't why they did it.  Magazines sticking to postal subs are also doing what they consider best too.  They have that right.  Just because email is faster and more cost effective for writers, it doesn't mean it's the best route for every single magazine in regards to our submission policies.  We're not all the same=different process=different policies.  I know a lot of you understand that, but clearly some people don't.  Or won't.           

--Remember that editors have to read all the time.  How an editor likes to read matters a whole lot.  A WHOLE LOT.

Just some stuff to think about.       

On Submission Policies

  • Apr. 25th, 2008 at 9:51 AM

Poll #1176874
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 84

How do snail-mail vs. email submissions policies at the magazines impact your personal submission habits?

View Answers
They don't. I always sub to what I consider the best market first, regardless of their submission policies
39 (46.4%)
Snail-mail only? No submission for you!
11 (13.1%)
I'll go with email first to save $$$ on postage
33 (39.3%)
I won't do email submissions. I don't trust spam filters, computer crashes, etc.
0 (0.0%)
They don't. I just write novels.
1 (1.2%)
Anyone following my blog lately knows I got into a bit of a brouhaha with a miffed author.  The cause of the author's ire?  He's from Australia and was none too pleased that Realms of Fantasy doesn't take email submissions.  I do understand his point (if not the method in which he expressed himself), but as I've pointed out on this blog already, I don't make the rules, nor do I have the power to change them.  Holding me accountable gets you nowhere.  Still, I am interested in giving people a fair chance to express themselves on this issue.  Don't expect anything to change, but so long as everyone plays nice in the sandbox, please feel free to take part in the poll and have your say under comments.

And once again for the record ...

While I didn't make the rule, I do happen to prefer reading off the page.  Not only do I find it easier on the eyes over a long stretch of time, but the tactile pleasure of turning the page to learn happens next tends to make it a more engaging reading experience for me.  It doesn't mean I can't enjoy reading off the screen, but it's probably a good thing for most writers I'm considering your manuscripts in the manner I'm most comfortable with, don't you think?

Edit: Why is LJ putting my post beneath the poll?  That's never happened before.       

My recent posts have revolved around my back and forth with a particular author and some of the fallout that resulted on a forum thread.  I've been checking that thread from time to time, and actually thought I was checking it more than I should.  Now I'm glad I overindulged myself, because I want to correct an erroneous stat that was posted.  In one of my recent posts, I provided old links to slush stats I provided for my one and two-year anniversaries at ROF, sort of a submission round-up.  

Someone did some extrapolations based on those numbers, and while most of them looked right to me, one of them made me crinkle my brow enough that I went back and checked my personal records.  I'm uncertain how the guy crunched his numbers (or if maybe he meant something else by his post, or misunderstood one of my figures, which would mess with his figures), but they stated that only slightly over 17% of all automatic passes to ROF got rejected.  I'm assuming this figure is based on totals extrapolated from both years, but again, I don't know what formula made him reach this figure.

Regardless, the % is quite off.  I'd like to address this ASAP, as our community is small and information travels fast.  Based on my records, which have logged every automatic pass since I've been with ROF, if I factor in every story I know Shawna has come to a decision on, 80 out of 365 automatic passes have been or are slated to be published.  That means 285 out of 365 failed to be accepted for publication.  Break it down and that's 57 out of every 73 automatic passes that has been rejected.  Granted, my personal records are more up to date and are accounting for almost another whole year of submissions to the magazine, but that's a signifcant difference in the percentages.  If I toss out the most recent year, the % would fluctuate a few points at most, I think.  If we rejected just 17% of our automatic passes, we'd be so overstocked with stories we'd have to close to submissions for ...for ...well, I'm not going to do that math. :)

And before people do further extrapolations and post more figures, we've received more submissions than 365 these past three years that have been automatically passed along to Shawna (or will be, since my official anniversary isn't until May 10th).  These are just the ones she's reached her decision about and has informed me. 

I Want to Explode (a Myth)

  • Apr. 24th, 2008 at 11:49 AM

 I want to blog a bit about slush.  Big surprise, right?  Seems there's always something to say on the matter.  Like today, for instance.  While perusing a forum, I came across a statement that ...well ...made me want to blog.  The poster didn't single out any markets, but in reference to the short story markets, he claimed that for markets demanding you go the IRC route from abroad, the truth of the matter is that a good many of these markets receive 99% of their material from writers they already know or who are commissioned or on spec.

Naturally this got my slush hackles up (picture sheets of fantasy manuscripts, rippling along my spine in the breeze).  I've posted slush statistics before (and here) If you crunch the numbers, maybe the top 1% or so of all the slush gets accepted for publication.  But the accepted material overall?  I'm afraid the % is much higher.  IMNSHO, this is a major distinction.  Also, define writers these markets "already know."  I knew 4 of my slush survivors (though only 1 in person) before they were accepted by us (and for every slush survivor I've known, I've rejected at least 50 times that number I've also known, so no cries of favortism please).  And just because a writer has published a novel with a major house like Tor, Bantam Spectra, etc., it does not mean we've heard of you.  There are a lot of novels published every year.  We can't keep track of everyone.  That's why cover letters are sometimes helpful.  So if we take a story from these people, where do they fit in regards to that 99%?

Now granted, this is all in regards to Realms of Fantasy.  But do you imagine it's like this with just this magazine?  And as to "commissioned and on spec," these are far from uniform practices among magazines when it comes to fiction.  Many mags rarely go these routes, especially after they've established themselves.  Magazine editors like finding slush survivors.  We like choosing stories according to our tastes.  On spec or commission has its place, and more than that depending on your business model.  But grouping a bunch of (unnamed) mags as part of that aforementioned 99%?  Come on.  Off the top of my head I can think of just a few established genre mags that are strictly or mostly commissioned or on spec with their fiction on anything resembling a regular basis. 

Sometimes I wonder where people get their information. 

Borg Writing

  • Apr. 8th, 2008 at 10:38 PM

As per my reply to Dandyfunk's comment under my post concerning Brand Writing, I'm changing the term from Brand Writing to Borg Writing.  Thanks again, Daddyfunk!

Brand Writing

  • Apr. 3rd, 2008 at 7:03 PM

I don't know if the subject line of this post is the best term for what I'm blogging about.  If anyone has a better term, please inform me.  Anywho ...

If any other editors (or heck, anyone for that matter) would like to comment on this, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  After almost three years at Realms of Fantasy, I've noticed something in the piles that (for the moment) I'm terming as brand writing.  By brand writing, I'm referring to work I recognize as being of a certain sort.  Before I go any further let me state that by no means is this a hard and fast rule.  That said, it crops up a lot.
The "it" in question deals with the writers' authorial backgrounds.  Some stories are written in such a way that I can tell they've been workshopped (and sometimes I can recognize what workshop).  Others are written in a way that makes it abundantly obvious this author's natural playground isn't fantasy, but writing novels in the [blank]* genre.  There is also one magazine I can think where a lot of its regular contributors all seem to write in a very similar manner.  All these areas share the common theme of having a certain feel, or brand to them.  I know certain individual authors can be instantly recognized by the way they write, but what I'm talking about here is somewhat different. 

Have any other editorial types out there encountered this?

*I am being intentionally vague because I imagine these sorts of topics can be sore spots with some people.  I mean no offense, but here in the blogosphere people get into twists over all sorts of stuff.  So better to keep things vague ...


Robin Hobb Rants Against Blogging

  • Mar. 13th, 2008 at 3:18 PM

If you keep a blog and you also write fiction, this is worth reading.  I think Hobb makes some fair points, and I applaud her for having the guts to post her feelings on the topic.  I think what she writes applies to some bloggers, but certainly not all of us.  This post will be a bit lengthy (which would certainly support her points), but I want to raise some points of my own:

1) If you like to blog, blog.  There's nothing wrong with using this as a constructive outlet, so long as you don't let it rule you, as some people clearly do.

2) If you post infrequently, you don't have much to worry about.

3) If you keep your posts short, you don't have much to worry about.  As a general rule, most of my posts are short.  The big exception is when I post another edition of my ROF Retrospectives.  Those take time.  That said, I like doing them and I'm not about to stop (I've come too far!)  But if I'm going to be fair about this and take Hobb's essay to heart, then I realize I should post these retrospectives when I have extra time, i.e. after I've already completed my fiction writing for the day.  So that is the way it shall be from now on.

4) Just because someone friends you, remember you don't have to friend them back.  I have 261 friends on my LJ account.  If I friended everyone back and read all their posts, I wouldn't get anything done.  Don't feel guilty over not friending people back.  Do what's best for you.

5) You don't have to read every post that your friends put up.  Seriously.  I skim or skip so much of what I come across.  I read what interests me.  Basically, I take an editorial approach here.  If you don't keep my interest, I move on to the next piece of slush (er, blog).  

6) Don't blog just for the sake of blogging.  These are times you can be writing instead.

7) Ask yourself what the point is of keeping your blog.  Personally, I like to use my blog to meet other people in the industry, and to get my name out there, i.e. use it as a marketing tool.  So I tend to keep these things in mind when I blog.  You'll note that about 95% of what I blog about has to do with writing or editing/Realms of Fantasy, or  news related to these things.  The other 5% usually falls into the realm of books I've recently read, movies I've recently seen, or the occasional blog post about blogging (like the post in question).  I make it a rule to never veer from these topics.  It lets my readers know what to expect when they visit my blog, and keeps me from wasting time blogging about the unnecessaries.

8) If most of your blog posts go on this long (and besides the ROF Retrospectives mine rarely do) and you're not making $$$ from blogging, then Robin Hobb's rant probably applies to you.

9) Discounting the ROF Restrospectives, I rarely spend more than a half hour each day in the blogosphere.  This includes time spent posting, as well as time spent reading and responding to other people's blogs.

10) Keep this stuff in mind and it should help keep your blogging habits under control. :)    

You Should be Proud of Your Writing When ...

  • Feb. 27th, 2008 at 10:10 AM

 your brain is soggy with sleep (yes, I meant to write "soggy"--I like it!) and you feel like the best you can possibly manage is to play couch potato and watch some mindless tv before calling it a night.  But instead you turn on the computer and start pounding those keys.  And you want at least 1,000 words, you really do, but you're so tired and when you check the word count you see you're at 865.  And you think to yourself, "Well, that's close enough, right?"  And you agree with yourself, but before you know it you're typing again, and you don't stop until you get that 1,000.  And you wake up the next morning, remember that stubborn determination you showed, which kept alive the recent momentum you've been building with your writing following one of the most turbulent periods of your life, which left you very little writing time, and damn it, you feel proud.

And then you feel like a lightbulb has gone off in your brain, because the word "discipline" is taking on a whole new meaning ...

Let Me Direct Your Attention To ...

  • Feb. 4th, 2008 at 7:24 PM

 Scott William Carter has started a blog that interviews first-time novelists.  Go check it out.


Douglas Cohen

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