I mentioned that I sent a query after not hearing about a story. I’ve now heard and the rejection I received was the kindest, most encouraging and informative rejection I’ve had to date. It made me thoroughly happy.
Happy? About a rejection? Absolutely.
Stories are rejected for all kinds of different reasons. Looking past the past rookie mistakes (not following submission guidelines, or submitting bad writing) the story might just not fit the market, or be similar to something that featured recently, or have unsuitable content.
Mine was rejected because it was a cliché.
Most rejections don’t come with a reason, so finding out is a boon. And mea culpa, the story was a cliché, I just hadn’t realised. And that’s a problem. I should have recognised the pattern when I was writing it.
The editor liked the story a lot and was very close to running it. But that would be an open invitation to the world to fill his slush pile with more of the same. And that’s no fun for anyone. Fair enough. I hold on tightly to the pretty words, words like “your writing is first-rate“. Those are words that warm the cockles on a cold night. I might have them embroidered so I can hang them on the wall. And I take great comfort in the fact that the story was good enough for an editor to take the time to tell me why he wasn’t running it. It’s a huge compliment.
Unfortunately, that story was not my first cliché. I recently retired a story when I came across a description of the plot in a list of stories a magazine (or was it an anthology?) didn’t want*. There is was, among lists of plots that made me think “but surely no one would...”: my plot. The poor thing didn’t even make it out the door before it was retired. There was a reason for that: Julia’s Dream I knew for a cliché. But I liked it, mostly because it used a dream I had for one of the scenes, but also because I had fun playing with senses when I wrote it. It was good practice.
The conclusion is that I need to think of better plots. Original, interesting plots. Stuff with ideas. At the moment, I’m not writing much because all of my ideas feel unformed: I have a bunch of scenes but they don’t go anywhere.
I need to practice idea generation. I need to read more speculative fiction short stories.
I need to learn to recognise the ideas I shouldn’t run with.
* Strange Horizon’s list of what they see too often makes interesting reading, as does the list of the horror stories they see too often. (Neither of these is the list I found my dream plot on. The story I had rejected this week fits loosely into three or four categories. Ouch.)