OUCH!

yousuckRemember the goal with submitting Woman’s Best Friend? I was going to have so many other balls in the air by March (when a reply was due) that I’d almost forgotten about this story, thus let the circle of new submissions continue unabated.

Well, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction got back to me early. REALLY early. Barely 30% into my next story, I got their reply in the mail.

It says:

Dear Mr. Peters:

Thank you for submitting “Woman’s Best Friend,” but I’m going to pass on it. This tale didn’t grab my interest, I’m afraid. Good luck to you with this one, and thanks again for sending it our way.”

Remember the stage fright I described when I painstakingly formatted this baby, addressed the envelope and so forth?

Smackdown! “You’re no good, kid!”

Megan (unintentially) added salt to this fresh wound by unwittingly and hopefully asking, “Pass it on to who?” (That should’ve been “to whom,” but nevermind.)  Not pass it on to someone, pass on it, I explained to her.

Past rejection letters have been phrased very generally, and my first one even encouraged me to send more work. They’re usually signed “the editors” and use the less blunt pronoun, “we”. This note (though perfectly professional by industry standards) came across to me as:

Why did you waste my time with this lousy story? I personally found it quite boring. I’d rather watch grass grow, or paint dry…or better yet, race the growth of grass against the drying of the paint and take bets on each. I can’t tell you it isn’t right for us at this time, or that I want to see more work. Maybe when you finally write something interesting, you’ll have a career as a novelist. Until then, I try to keep my desk full of compelling stories, and clearly you don’t have one.

That’s all very extreme, of course, and the editor said no such thing. But that’s the flavor rejection takes. It hurts mostly because — even if this IS just a form letter — it isn’t phrased generally enough for me to assume that I may have formatted wrong, have irreconcilable grammatical errors, or be too similar to four stories they just ran. It says quite clearly, “didn’t grab my interest.”

Well <foul expletive deleted>.

Here’s the problem being a writer, too:

I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THIS STORY READS.

I begin the story behind the curtain; I’ve never read ONE WORD of it without knowing how the scene and story would end. I have no idea how much suspense it creates — or doesn’t create. I have no idea how scary it is — or isn’t. I have no idea how interesting it is — or isn’t. (I’m sure the masters know, but I don’t yet have enough experience.)

This is where I must rely on friendly readers to be test subjects, and to be brutally honest. A co-worker said this story “started slow” — that’s the closest thing I have to a fix for this story being uninteresting so far.

What else could improve it? I realize having already finished it, some of you are already behind the curtain with this one, but you at least had one first impression I never got.

What can I do to make it more gripping?

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  • Mr. Snuggles

    Yeah, that was a little blunt. The good luck comment is nice, but I think the “thanks for sending it our way” could be considered pretty nice as well. The opposite of this is, “please cease and desist from sending us any work!” These people of course need submissions, and they know better than anyone that somebody could write something they don’t like, and then turn around and write something that blows them away. I’m sure they like that you chose to send them your work.

    Also, I am going to go ahead and send this story to my Aunt, like we discussed. Maybe she will say something of value. I will also re-read it, but as you said, I am now compromised…haha.

    Completely un-related point, but I am wondering if in the story you described any smells? I don’t remember. I only mention it because I am reading a book where the author does a bang up job on this front (the story is set hundreds of years ago, so no one is saying the smells described are pleasant). Good to hit all the senses, though.

  • Jason R. Peters

    @Mr. Snuggles

    Well, they ALWAYS say, “good luck”. But “good luck” can itself be interpreted two ways: “Best of luck, you’re well on your way!” or, “Yeah right, good LUCK.”

    I don’t think any editor would dare say “cease and desist” for the reason you mentioned. A flop writer one day may well be the next bestseller.

    I don’t think I described smells specifically, but my style right now is very lean. I just started “Insomnia” by Stephen King and I’m amazed by the amount of description he packs in per paragraph, yet still keeps the story moving. Yet the same style applied to WBF would make it insanely long. Smells are always a good idea, as are random tactile senses too. Unexpected metaphors are perhaps the most powerful descriptors of all, but they can become quickly unwieldy if you’re not careful.

  • Beth

    I’ve been working on my review of your story– doing with it what I do with the screenplays I work with and write down everything that comes to mind. With my current work schedule this is making for slow going- of which I apologize but things are just crazy.

  • Beth

    One problem that I had in sending rejection letters out to people was that if I was too specific about what they did wrong then they would all come back wondering if they fixed it if I would accept it– that just simply wasn’t possible. We got so many submissions at even the small press that I was answering submissions 3 years behind their mailing. You can’t give every submission equal time. Many times you don’t read past the query or else you’d never get through the stacks. For the editor to say he wasn’t interested, it could well be your cover letter or title that held flaw with that individual– ti’s a very subjective business.

  • Jason R. Peters

    Beth :I’ve been working on my review of your story– doing with it what I do with the screenplays I work with and write down everything that comes to mind. With my current work schedule this is making for slow going- of which I apologize but things are just crazy.

    Thanks, Elizabeth. No rush whatsoever.

    Beth :One problem that I had in sending rejection letters out to people was that if I was too specific about what they did wrong then they would all come back wondering if they fixed it if I would accept it– that just simply wasn’t possible. We got so many submissions at even the small press that I was answering submissions 3 years behind their mailing. You can’t give every submission equal time. Many times you don’t read past the query or else you’d never get through the stacks. For the editor to say he wasn’t interested, it could well be your cover letter or title that held flaw with that individual– ti’s a very subjective business.

    Many people have asked me why editors don’t say, “X is the problem”. Obviously because then EVERY amateur writer would try to fix X and send it right back.

    No query letter or cover page in the case of WBF: The magazine of F&SF requests full manuscripts. But I am painfully aware that editors and readers and interns may toss a story at ANY time they decide it didn’t hook them, hence Noah Lukeman’s book, “The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile” (which he quickly admits should probably have been called, “The First Five Sentences”).

    A reason to reject so they can move on to the next work, a story has to grip an editor from the first word to the last punctuation.

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