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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rejection and what comes after


Dear D.A:

Thank you very much for letting me see "Clowns." We regret that we cannot make use of it at this time.

All submissions will be examined as promptly as possible, and if suitable, will be paid for on acceptance.

Many manuscripts are rejected because of fundamental faults.  Check these things:
—Since Analog is a science fiction magazine, we consider only science fiction stories—that is, stories in which some aspect of realistic science or technology plays an integral part.  We do not publish fantasy or stories in which the science is only peripheral.
—Science fiction readers are problem solvers!  Stories with downbeat endings, in which the characters have no hope of solving their problems, are strongly disliked by Analog readers.  In a good SF story, the characters strive to solve their problems—and even if they fail in the end, they go down fighting, not whimpering.
—Good fiction demands strong, believable characters who face powerful, intriguing problems.  Without these, there is no story, no matter how fascinating the ideas or scientific background may be.
—Some plot ideas have been so overworked that it’s virtually impossible to wring a fresh story from them.  These include “scientific” retellings of biblical tales, time travelers who unwittingly change their world when traveling into the past, UFO stories, and stories in which the “alien” world turns out to be Earth.
—Write about what you know.  Analog writers should be able to do sufficient research to get their facts straight, and they should be keen enough observers of people to write realistically about them.
—Please don’t ask for individual criticism.  With hundreds of submissions per month, it is physically impossible to answer them all personally.  Many writing errors are quite subtle, and extremely difficult to define clearly in a sentence or two.

Sincerely,
-------
Editor

267 Broadway, 4th floor
New York, NY 10007
E-mail: analogsf@dellmagazines.com
www.analogsf.com

* * * *

Okay.  I originally posted this rejection note, which I got yesterday for a short story I submitted early in October with the understanding I'd hear something about it in five weeks, on my other FB account.  The one with my real name on it.

Of course, I also posted my honest and unedited response to it, which, the world being what it is, would accomplish nothing but get me in trouble.  Honesty is a virtue rather like intelligence; everybody says they respect it, but in fact, most people despise it.

Over here, though, well, let's try this again:

First, it's possible the short story I submitted might suck.  I cannot objectively judge my own writing.  Whether it sucks or not, though, I can objectively judge my writing in comparison to the writing quality of other short stories published by various venues that have rejected my writing, and by that comparison, I will say this:  this short story is as good as most of what Analog publishes.  It's better than a lot of it.  And had this exact same short story been submitted by Stephen King or George R.R. Martin, I'm sure it would have received a very different response, along with a nice fat check.

But it is what it is.  That's just how any business goes, and I'm not feeling particularly pissy about that at the moment.  However, there are a couple of things in this boilerplate rejection note that do... well... IRK me, just a tiny bit.

First?  Well, let's start  here:

"—Science fiction readers are problem solvers!  Stories with downbeat endings, in which the characters have no hope of solving their problems, are strongly disliked by Analog readers.  In a good SF story, the characters strive to solve their problems—and even if they fail in the end, they go down fighting, not whimpering."

First, I'm a science fiction reader, and,  yes, I'm a problem solver when I need to be, but so are pretty much all humans, so, y'know, big deal.  It's hardly a defining characteristic.  Now, the editor of Analog is certainly in a better position than I am to state what 'Analog readers' like and/or dislike... but despite that, I flatly do not believe the statement 'stories with downbeat endings, in which the characters have no hope of solving their problems, are strongly disliked by Analog readers'.  For one thing, this would mean Analog readers are all a bunch of whiney little pissy pants crybabies, and I doubt that's true.  For another, it would mean that there is no Analog reader anywhere on this planet that enjoyed ON THE BEACH or 1984 or  "It's a GOOD Life" or "The Cold Equations" or anything H.P. Lovecraft has ever written or who watches and admires THE WALKING DEAD.  All of these are examples of works of fiction that are downbeat, in which the characters have no  hope of solving their problems, and in the case of the literary works, they are all enormously popular classics of the genre, and in the case of THE WALKING DEAD, it's like the most popular TV show since THE FUGITIVE.

Science fiction readers are imaginative, tough minded sons and daughters of bitches.  Any paragraph which defines them categorically as the sort of people who only like stories with happy endings is not only stupid, it's bad writing... the kind that any self respecting magazine editor should reject out of hand.   And when that paragraph is part of a rejection letter purporting to (pompously and condescendingly) explain just why a rejected submission might have been rejected... wow.   I mean... WOW.

Second:  If indeed the reason why the person who sent me this rejection note can't offer me individual feedback is that "Many writing errors are quite subtle, and extremely difficult to define clearly in a sentence or two", then he or she has no business editing a church newsletter, much less Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact Magazine, a long standing flagship in the SF magazine field.  Because another way of putting that is "I can't tell you why I don't like your story, because I don't really know, and if I knew, well, I can't really articulate it".  And that's not somebody who should ever have the authority to accept or reject another writer's work, because, frankly, that's not someone who knows how to write.

The short story I submitted is indeed a downbeat story.  It's a tale of an Earth that has been conquered by aliens, and what life under alien rule is like.  Now, the editor who sent me this note would have me believe that such a story is only acceptable to Analog's readership if it features doughty protagonists named Chip and Biff and Cathy who invent some sort of infra-wave projector in their basements that causes all the alien overlords to suddenly EXPLODE!!!  In my short story, the aliens are frightening and horrible and inexplicable; they can't be fought or even resisted, it's impossible to even comprehend them, and apparently, they're eating people and will keep eating people until there aren't any people left to eat.  My story is about what it's like living in a world like that... how people behave when they, essentially, have no hope.  It's a downer, but it's competently written and, I believe, emotionally and intellectually effective.

And, again... submitted under a more famous byline, I'm sure it would have received a very different response.

Whatever the case, I didn't really expect the story would be accepted.  I hoped, and where there's hope, there is, inevitably, disappointment.  I wish the publishing game wasn't as hopelessly rigged as it is these days against unknown newcomers; failing that, I wish I knew someone who worked for a publisher, or was better at kissing ass than I obviously am.

But, as I've noted, it is what it is.


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