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Cat Rambo

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In the Hope This Is Helpful to Others [Mar. 18th, 2009|02:03 pm]
Cat Rambo
[mood |busybusy]

From my e-mail:

I'm very sorry to pester you, but I write to ask why I'm always being rejected by Fantasy Magazine
The rejection always reads something to the effect:  "It's not right for Fantasy Magazine."
Then, when you sign it, you say to send many more stories.
Cat, is there any way to know what is so bad about my writing?
I would really like to publish a piece at Fantasy, because at least then I would have some hope for the future.
But the feeling I get is that you and your readers regard me a worthless loser.
Is there any way that I could send you a piece that I'm presently working on and receive some feedback before I send in the final draft?

And my reply:

We get about 400-500 submissions a month currently, and we print 4-5 a month. You can see from that where, literally, a story has to be better than 99 of its fellows.

As a writer, I know that a rejection slip stings. But as an editor I also know that it's not as simple as good story versus bad story. Sometimes it's a case that the story isn't the right tone - maybe it feels a little too firmly in the territory of horror or science fiction or something else. Sometimes it's a case that we've published too many stories like it recently, or that we've already got five stories about pirates slated for the year and feel a little down on pirates at the time.

I also know as both writer and editor that thickskinnedness and persistence help a lot. In my pre-editor days, I had submitted at least four or five stories to Fantasy Magazine before they ever took one from me. I believe I'm on my 46th submission to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction right now - but I'll still keep sending, because 1) I know I'm getting better with time, 2) I know that sometimes it's about having a story there at the right time and 3) I'll never get anything in there unless I try.

One thing that I have found helpful is having a writing group that meets periodically and gives each other critiques. There are a number of online ones, if you're in an area that doesn't have a lot of fellow writers. Another is reading other stories and looking at how they work - what makes them stand out? What do they do to grab the reader and make them keep reading?

I hope that's helpful.

all the best,

I really don't want to sound pissed off, because I'm not, but I will also suggest to readers of this blog that letters like this are a bad idea. You run the risk of irritating an editor by asking for a chunk of their time and energy like this. In my case, I've got a hard enough time getting critiques done for friends, and right now I've got two interviews to prep questions for, queries to draft, a review to write, slush to read, and an e-mail from Lawrence that I need to read and respond to in order to explain why I'm having trouble with one of the stories for the collection -- along with a crapload of other work hanging over my head like a ten-ton sword of Damocles. Plus I'd like to finish this draft of Phat Fairy someday. Meanwhile, the living room calls out for cleaning and I suspect the kitties would like their litter box changed. Be aware that people's time is precious and treat it like the gift it is.

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[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2009-03-18 09:14 pm (UTC)
You should have sent him my way.
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[User Picture]From: catrambo
2009-03-18 09:20 pm (UTC)
The thought did occur to me. Are you still offering critiquing services for people? If so, I'll start just sending the details of your rates and contact info next time someone asks for this.
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[User Picture]From: j_cheney
2009-03-18 09:16 pm (UTC)
Is there any way that I could send you a piece that I'm presently working on and receive some feedback before I send in the final draft?

Oh, dear....

I don't think you could have answered this more professionally and civilly than you did.
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[User Picture]From: time_shark
2009-03-18 09:36 pm (UTC)
I've gotten a few like that for CP. I think sometimes people just can't comprehend the sheer volume of competition there is for just a few slots until they've finally seen it from the other side.

I think you handled this admirably.
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[User Picture]From: tchernabyelo
2009-03-18 11:15 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I never went to college and learned that.
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[User Picture]From: selfavowedgeek
2009-03-18 09:44 pm (UTC)
Handled with class.

RE: "But as an editor I also know that it's not as simple as good story versus bad story." I'd hasten to add that the gulf between a good story and the great story that gets accepted is rather vast. Reading slush for the past month as Farrago's Wainscot has been rather eye opening in that respect.
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From: silenceleigh
2009-03-18 09:52 pm (UTC)
Wow. I don't think it would have ever occurred to me to write a letter like this; it smacks of writing a letter demanding to know why you didn't get a job/date/prize/whatever.

You handled it very well, I think.
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From: silenceleigh
2009-03-18 09:53 pm (UTC)
(and I speak as someone who has actually had people ask her, "so why won't you date me?")
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[User Picture]From: amysisson
2009-03-18 11:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, there is so very much that one could comment on here....

But I'll stick with just this: "But the feeling I get is that you and your readers regard me a worthless loser." If this writer's fiction has never been published in Fantasy, how can Fantasy's readers consider the writer to be a worthless loser, since they don't know of his/her existence in particular?

Is there something going around these days? This is the second such story via LJ in the last week or so.
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[User Picture]From: tchernabyelo
2009-03-18 11:12 pm (UTC)
But it is sometimes helpful to know these things...

I think I now have a fairly clear idea of what WON'T sell to you, though I'm still not sure what WILL (a couple of pieces I thought were right didn't take; on the other hand the one you DID buy was probably the one I was most optimistic about).

I've always assumed that the "please send more" is editorial shorthand for "you can write; it's obvious you can write; when you write the correct story, we'll buy it". In other words, the mechanics and techniques are all there, it's just hitting the right content and/or tone.

And I will persist - but first I have to write more stories, because you've seen virtually everything of mine that's remotely suitable!
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[User Picture]From: catrambo
2009-03-19 02:29 am (UTC)
When I say outright that I want the person to send more, I always mean it. It may mean that I think that somewhere down the road they're going to produce a killer story or it may mean exactly what you say - not this one, but another may well hit.

Now go write some more, Brian.
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[User Picture]From: icecreamempress
2009-03-18 11:39 pm (UTC)
A) I think this is quite diplomatic and clear.

B) Have you thought about including a less-personalized version of this in the submissions FAQ?

Because the information that "we take 1 out of 100 stories we receive" is something that is well known to pros and comes as an INCREDIBLE surprise to many people new to the idea of seeking publication. If I had a dollar for every client who thought that magazines and anthologies were desperate for submissions in general, I would have many many dollars.

I once asked a college writing class what percentage of submitted short stories they thought The New Yorker rejected, and I swear to god the majority answer was "50%."

Which goes some way toward explaining what often comes off as hubris or entitlement to people who have been doing this stuff for years.
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[User Picture]From: catrambo
2009-03-19 02:30 am (UTC)
I think that's an excellent suggestion and I'm making a note to myself to do so.
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[User Picture]From: boonofdoom
2009-03-18 11:41 pm (UTC)
Very well said!

I have occasionally responded to queries somewhat similar to this, where the writer asks for more explanation than I had already given on a story I'd already read and rejected. But asking for a private crit *before* submitting definitely strikes me as going too far.

Also: never a good idea to put words into an editor's mouth when you're asking them for something.

But the feeling I get is that you and your readers regard me a worthless loser.

Something like this, to me, is a red flag that the conversation has moved beyond professionalism.
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[User Picture]From: jimkeller
2009-03-19 12:39 am (UTC)
It speaks very highly of you that you took the time to answer. Thank you on this writer's behalf (because the ones who would write a letter like that are generally the type who won't say it), and thank you for sharing it here, where I can point people who make this same complaint to their fellow writers....
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[User Picture]From: mmuenzler
2009-03-19 12:53 am (UTC)
That was a very classy response, and I hope the emailer appreciates the time you took in crafting it. :)
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[User Picture]From: jeanhuets
2009-03-19 12:59 am (UTC)
I don't think it would have ever occurred to me to write a letter like this

Same here, but I've done so many benighted things in my life, I can only cringe in sympathy.

Anyway, it's nice to see kindness happening. I hope your cats appreciate it. "D

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[User Picture]From: timwb
2009-03-19 02:24 am (UTC)
Well, I appreciate it.

Your response was kind and patient, and the timing in my case was impeccable.

It kept me from doing something I now see is silly.
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[User Picture]From: catrambo
2009-03-19 02:42 am (UTC)
I was hoping it'd be helpful to at least a couple of people.
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[User Picture]From: silviamg
2009-03-19 02:56 am (UTC)
Mmmm... with so much slush I tend to think editor's don't remember me, so I don't take it as a personal slight when someone rejects me over and over again.
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