Well, I Certainly Don’t Like to Complain

I got a rejection email the other day, which is hardly unusual – I’ve got enough stories out there that I’m getting quite a few a month, on average.  But this is one of those form rejects that lists the sorts of reasons the magazines usually rejects for, which rubs me the wrong way.  I certainly have no objection to a magazine listing the sorts of things they like and don’t like in their submission guidelines, and actual personalized criticism in a rejection is a wonderful thing.  But listing all the problems that some other story might have had in a rejection seems a bit unnecessarily insulting, I think because it implies that my story failed to have any science fiction elements, or featured no plot other than a serial killer offing people, or whatever.

It is axiomatic that even very good stories will get rejected many times on average before they are published for a variety of reasons that are not the author’s fault.  That’s fine (well, not fine, but something one gets used to), but given that listing reasons that really crummy stories get rejected in every rejection seems just a touch arrogant, as if the editor is saying they they work for one of those magical publications that buys every good story that comes their way.

In more practical terms, are the authors that actually make the sort of glaring errors that are listed in the rejection actually going to benefit from the list?  There always seems to be an entry like “Good fiction requires strong, interesting characters”, which makes me envision an author slapping his forehead and saying “Oh, I guess I shouldn’t send this magazine my stories with the boring, two-dimensional characters – I’ll save those for Asimov!”  If I’m using boring characters or cliched plots, chances are I don’t know it.

I understand why editors do this, because it is also axiomatic that magazines tend to get buried in horrible, unpublishable stories, and if rejections like this actually helped lighten that load I could see sending out something vaguely insulting.  But I suspect it doesn’t, and they might as well stick to “does not meet our needs at this time”, which has the virtue of covering a lot of ground.

~ by smwilliams on February 10, 2012.