jimvanpelt (jimvanpelt) wrote,

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A Rejection Letter: and Why Editors Use Form Rejects

I received a story lately from an author who I had bounced earlier, and rather than send a form reject, I told the writer why I rejected this one.  I don't know why I did that, other than it seemed to me I could offer some easy to apply advice, but the note took me about fifteen minutes to write, way more than I would have spent if I had just sent a pre-typed note.

It's probable that sending feedback will just encourage the writer to send more stuff, or, worse, to send me notes asking for me to elaborate on a point  or, even worse yet, to send me a note explaining in depth why I am full of it, but maybe, just maybe, it will help.

At any rate, here is the text of my note (with the title and other manuscript-identifying information removed):

Hi, (name removed),
I'm afraid this one won't work either.
Generally I don't offer any feedback on why a story wasn't accepted, but you've been persistent, so I hope you will take this in the spirit of one writer to another, knowing how frustrating the writing process can be.
As an editor, it was pretty easy to see early that your new story wouldn't get in.  In the first two paragraphs, there are 13 sentences.  Twelve of them begin with "Edmund," "he" or "his."  Sentence variety alone told me the writing wasn't as professional as I was looking for.  There were also five cliches or near cliches in the first paragraph, including the line that became your title, "scent of death," but also the "nostrils quivered," "like a bloodhound on the trail of its prey," "rubbed his hands together in anticipation," and "his eyes glowed with self-righteous zeal."
Although I've been writing and publishing for a long time, I haven't done much editing.  I hang around with editors, though, and they tell me that the only way to get through the constant flow of  manuscripts (600-800 or so a month at the bigger magazines), is to learn to reject a manuscript early because of the writing, not the story, since if the writing isn't at the level they are looking for the story won't matter.
I've been receiving four or five manuscripts a day since I opened for submissions.  That's no where close to the twenty to twenty-five manuscripts a day the big magazines get, but even so the reading piles up in a hurry and I have to read a bit for survival too.  If the writing isn't strong enough in the first few pages, I know I don't have to continue to the end.
I'm just one reader though (allbeit, an important one if you're trying to get into this anthology), and another editor might have a very different reaction to your story.  In fact, I'm no different than a member of your writing group, if you have one, who is offering a reaction to the story.  The story is your story, not mine or anyone elses, and my thoughts don't trump what you think is right for the piece.
For me, however, that's why the story didn't get in.
James Van Pelt
Editor, Hardboiled Horror
Guidelines at http://www.notoriouspress.com/?page_id=9

In the meantime, I was without the Internet for a couple of days (it's been so hot here that the circuits in our phone junction into the house fried), and I have fifteen new submissions to look at.
Tags: editing, publishing, writing
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