Long-term readers of this blog will know that I’ve been searching for the best SFF magazine to subscribe to. That search (still in progress) led me to submit a couple of my own SFF stories to magazines.
I received a form rejection last weekend, from Strange Horizons. Rejection isn’t surprising, as I’m not claiming that I’m the greatest living SFF author (not yet!). The surprising events preceded the rejection. I’ll lay out the facts, and then propose two alternative interpretations.
Strange Horizons has an unusual submission protocol. They open submissions on Monday, and when they think they’ve received too many stories, they close the submissions system for the week. I tried to submit my story on a couple of Tuesday nights, but found the system already closed. I finally got home at a reasonable hour on a Monday night, and made my submission.
I was busy at work, and ignored writing-related stuff for a couple of days, but then I clicked on a link Strange Horizons had emailed me to see my position in the queue. There were slightly more than 300 people ahead of me. I checked back the next few days out of curiosity, and while I didn’t take notes, my memory tells me no more than 5-8 stories were being eliminated per day.
OK, so what’s fishy about that? Nothing, yet. However, I’ve been using The Submission Grinder as a resource during my magazine quest, and it currently reports an 18-day median response time for Strange Horizons. My (limited) data had me guessing that a 27-day median was more likely (assuming I was one of the last in the queue), and this difference made me more curious. I continued to check on my submission almost every day, although I didn’t record the queue’s numbers.
On day 12 after my submission, the queue took a nose-dive of around 150 submissions. On day 13 (when I was rejected), at least another 100 were burned off. Quite a difference from the preceding days.
I’ve come up with a negative interpretation and a positive interpretation of this set of facts:
Negative interpretation: my story, along with hundreds of others, may have been rejected without ever being read. In this scenario, the editors at Strange Horizons worked through the queue until they found enough acceptable stories to fill their next issue, then bulk-rejected the remaining stories. If it were a pure auto-rejection, I’d have expected my rejection on day 12, so perhaps they briefly scanned the stories to look for the names of well-known authors, or maybe they read the first sentence of each story, in case there was some flash of literary genius.
If this is correct, then anyone submitting to Strange Horizons should fire off their submission early on Monday. I’m not sure if it’s an automated opening where you could submit at 1AM, or if you have to wait until someone opens the site in the morning, but earlier would seem to be better under this interpretation.
Positive Interpretation: my story may have survived at least two rounds of cuts before being rejected. In this scenario, those 5-8 stories that were disappearing each day were submissions that were so atrocious, a first reader felt comfortable sending them to the wastebasket instead of the editing staff. Then, on day 12, the editors got together for a powwow, and agreed to dump around 150 of the remaining stories. My story didn’t survive a second powwow the next day, which may or may not have been the final cutting step.
If this is correct, then it’s evidence that my writing, while not worth publishing so far, at least has some merit. The timing of another rejection made me believe that I had made it past the initial round of cuts, so maybe I should get back on the keyboard and pound out a few more stories.
Which scenario do you think played out? Do you have another interpretation of the facts? Leave a comment below.
OK, enough fishy business, on to some monkey business:
The rejection from Strange Horizons was the third for this story. This is not the AI vs aliens story I’ve mentioned previously, it’s a shorter story in a different genre. Here’s the story of the story:
I was writing an intro for one of my magazine reviews, but it had gotten too long, at around 1,000 words. I looked at it and said, “It doesn’t have enough punch (literally or figuratively). This is like something they’d print in Asimov’s.” I spent the next few seconds swatting away a cartoon light bulb that appeared over my head, and then I said, “hey, why don’t I submit this to Asimov’s?”
After some editing and a pass by my beta-reading team, I did submit it to Asimov’s, and received a rejection 160 days later. There aren’t many magazines that will look at such a short story, so I decided to make it longer. I doubled its length by adding a second set of events, and in my opinion (and if I remember correctly, those of my beta readers), the story improved. I wish I’d had the idea before sending it to Asimov’s.
Next, I submitted it to an anthology, Strange Beasties. It was rejected 74 days later. I’m buying a copy of the anthology when it comes out, to see if my story wasn’t weird enough (it’s a slipstream anthology) or wasn’t good enough. I’m hoping my story wasn’t picked because the accepted authors kicked my butt. I want to read something good.
Yesterday, I sent the story out again. At 2,000 words, it’s a bit under the minimum requested length, but I made sure to mention this in my cover letter. Perhaps I should have lengthened the story before submission, but there was a limited time window, and once again, I’m busy at work. I did think of a couple ways to lengthen it, but this time, I don’t think they’d make it better, only longer.
Chime in below about submissions, rejections, story length, the markets I’ve submitted to, or any other writing topic that I’ve made you think about.