Analyzing a short story rejection

I haven’t been a big fan of editorial comments upon rejections. Some of that comes from the old paper submission days back in the ’90s, when I received several rejections from a Market That No Longer Exists And Will Not Be Named (but contained some Big Name Editors) where the comments were–well, I don’t know what planet they came from, but they certainly weren’t about the story I had sent to that market. At times I wondered if the editors just randomly grabbed a rejection rationale and slapped it onto the page. Other times, I scratched my head trying to figure out what they meant (wizard? What wizard??? I didn’t put a wizard in this story!!). Or I obsessively checked my widow/orphan settings, or margin settings, because dang it, I knew how to set them. Inevitably, my settings were in line with the market requirements.

Eventually, I just stopped submitting to that market, and started disregarding the editorial advice dispensed by the three editors because, going by the poor quality of the editorial comments I received, either the editors or their slush readers weren’t following their own recommendations. What was clear was that they wanted a certain tone, trope, character, and plot, and if you didn’t write in that strict formula, you weren’t going to sell to them. But since they were dedicated to commenting on each and every story, they had to come up with some rationale for the rejection. Even if it didn’t really fit. Honestly, the comment about the wizard was the point where I stopped submitting to this market. They had clearly mixed up manuscripts by that point, which was something I had wondered after the repeated formatting comments.

However, what I didn’t realize in my younger days was that rejection comments when done well not only reflect on issues with your story, but it also points out biases in the markets. That information can be useful because, despite all the comments about don’t pre-reject your story before submission, it helps save you time when sending out new work. If you are aware that a market isn’t going to be receptive to the type of story you’re writing, then why bother sending that story to them?

Hence, my reflections on this latest rejection, for a science fiction space opera story that integrated quilting as a major element of the tale.

First take: based on this and other rejections that fingered the “jargon,” the “technobabble”–I’ve not encountered this particular type of rejection in the past for using the same non-quilting technology in a story. Ergo, it’s the quilting terms that the editors are tripping over. Which is a revelation in itself. I’ve never encountered rejections before where the editors not only did not understand the terms but aggressively pushed back against their usage. Weird. I have theories, but that would be Joyce just blathering feminist conspiracies again. Though I have to wonder what would have happened if I had used knitting as the craft instead of quilting? Knowledge of knitting is more common within the genre.

Second take: this market in particular clearly prefers its in media res openings to not only be action (which we had action and engagement between the protagonists very early in the story) but active confrontation, or, in other words, pew-pew-pew rather than emotional conflict. Pretty telling, especially given the way that they write up their submission guidelines.

Third take: clearly this story isn’t working because the quilting parts are simply too alien for the market and I need to do something different to make the quilting more palatable if I want to publish this work traditionally. It happens. I have several trunked stories that I won’t even put into a collection because of flaws, or they aged poorly beyond the ability to rewrite them. Given that the use of quilting in a far-future setting is very novel, apparently I need to approach the story from a different angle. I won’t take the quilting piece out, but I need to contemplate just how I’ll use it in a manner that is apparently understandable to science fiction editors.

Eh, the story was an experiment, anyway. One of those failed attempts that needs to be put aside for a while. I still maintain that it’s possible to combine quilting with science fiction (originally a conversation in a quilting group brought up this story idea), but it’s clear that unlike the combination of quilting and mystery, there’s active resistance to the use of this particular craft in the speculative fiction genre. Which is a shame, because the quilters I know are heavy readers and would pick up a specfic story if it had quilting in it and wasn’t too heavy on the pew-pew-pew action elements.

Ah well, a learning experience.

(P.S. No, I won’t reveal the markets. Not even in private messages. Don’t ask.)

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