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Better writing through condescension


Hey, I knew there was a reason I hated Asimov!

After the last time my story "The Curse" got rejected (from a magazine called Time and Space), I was hesitant to send it to Asmiov's Science Fiction because long ago I'd entered one of their contests and though I didn't make the cut, they sent me this like two-page letter on common reasons that stories suck, I guess in the spirit of making me a better writer. Of course, I read through this thing and it has suggestions like "Please don't try to solve all the world's problems in your short story." When did I ever do that? Most of the other advice was just as off-base, and the general comments that might have applied were just too vague to tell if they really did. But Asimov's Science Fiction had an entry in the Writer's Market and it was one of the few that would take a story as long as mine (almost 10,000 words) and though I figured they publish harder stuff (this story borders on fantasy), I decided to try.

I was rewarded with like the most condescending form rejection letter I've ever seen. Here I'll reprint it for your pleasure.

Dear Contributor:

Thank you very much for letting us see the enclosed submission. Unfortunately, it does not suit the needs of the magazine at this time.

Your submission has been read by an editor, but the press of time and manuscripts (about 850 per month) does not permit personal replies or criticism. For your general information, though, most stories are rejected because they lack a new idea or theme. A great many of the ideas that may seem innovative to an SF newcomer are in fact overfamiliar to readers more experienced in the field. The odds greatly favor this being the cause of this rejection.

Another common cause (all too common, we're afraid) of rejection is the obvious lack of basic English compositional skills on the part of the author. By this we mean that the writer has misspelled or misused everyday words, and/or mispunctuated same. Stories are rejected on this basis because a writer must be familiar with the tools of his or her trade, just as an electrician or carpenter must.

Finally, your story may have been rejected, not because it lacked a new idea, or was misspelled or mispunctuated, or because the writing was not "professional" enough, but simply because it failed to rise above the other 849 seen that month.

So, basically, first paragraph: Sorry, you suck. Second paragraph: You, as an obvious newbie to SF, are just rehashing boring old themes WE have seen a billion times. Third paragraph: You probably can't spell or write worth a shit. Fourth paragraph: We sure have a lot more to do than waste our time on your crap, lookit how many manuscripts we get! Also it's interesting to note that while there was space left for a signature and the editor's name was typed below it, there was no signature. "Dear Contributor" wasn't enough; they couldn't even sign the paper. Guess I'd have a cramp too, after signing 850 times.

I'd say I was probably rejected because it didn't really fit the hard nature of the magazine, and maybe the story just didn't grab their interest. What bugs me about this letter is that it's set up to so totally cover its own ass that it's entirely unhelpful. By all means, use form letters. But would it be that much extra trouble to maybe send different form letters to people when certain situations apply?

How about this. Some yokel sends in a story where a kid goes back in time and accidentally kills his father, and oh no, now he has to do something about it before he disappears! Yeah. Send THAT guy the form letter for "Sorry, that's an SF cliché, thank you for playing."

And then maybe another yokel sends in a story with sentences that end in the middle, an average of six misspelled or misused words per page, and an obviously poor vocabulary. Send that guy the form letter encouraging him to improve his compositional writing skills. (I certainly was rather steamed to read THAT in my rejection letter. Editing happens to be something I do professionally; I don't particularly enjoy being told my story may have been rejected because I can't construct a sentence.)

And yeah, I can understand not getting personal feedback, it's rare that an editor has time for that (though I got personal feedback from the last magazine). I don't expect it. But I am not helped by this crappy "tips for writing" list, it's insulting to those of us who actually do know our craft.


You tell it, sistah! :) [shambles]

Damn right. They deserve a pole up their ass! [katqueen]

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