“Nice Story, But Not a Good Fit”

26 Sep

Today’s blog post is brought to you by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

If you’re an author who’s ever submitted a short story to a magazine/anthology/whatever, you’ve probably gotten this rejection letter: “This is a nice story, but it doesn’t quite fit our needs for this project.”  I got those, too.  And I always assumed they were a polite, diplomatic way of telling me the story sucked, essentially no different from any other rejection letter.  Then I became an editor.  And I had to reduce a slush pile of almost a hundred submissions down to only fifteen to twenty open slots (depending on word length).  And I had to send out rejection letters—a LOT of them.  And that’s when I learned the truth (and the value) of the “nice, but not a good fit” letters.

Sure, a lot of mediocre and even bad stories end up in the slush pile—but so do a lot of good ones.  Frankly, eliminating the bad and mediocre stories is the easiest part (and there are fewer of them than you might think!).  They all get a short, polite form rejection letter along the lines of “thanks, but we’ve decided to go with other options”. After that, though, the reduced slush pile will almost certainly still contain more excellent stories than can possibly fit in the anthology.  From this point on, winnowing down the pile gets much harder, mainly because the editor has to start disqualifying stories for reasons that have nothing to do with the writing quality.  This is when the (you guessed it!) “not a good fit” rejection letters come it.

Many, even most, anthologies these days are arranged around a theme.  It’s how the book is marketed, why readers buy it, and what they expect.  If the stories inside don’t fit that theme—even if they’re otherwise great stories—readers feel cheated (and leave bad review, which affect sales). Consequently, any story that doesn’t fit the anthology’s theme has to be rejected.  When I was selecting stories for “Corporate Cthulhu“, I had to reject one of the best story submissions for this very reason.  It was the creepiest horror tale I received, the only one that sent a shiver down my spine… but it had nothing to do with either the Cthulhu Mythos or corporations, so I had to turn it down.

The rejection letter I send to these authors was also a form letter, but a different one.  It said, among other things, that it was a good story, that I enjoyed reading it, but that it wasn’t a good fit for this anthology, and I finished by inviting them to submit more stories in the future.  But here’s the thing: I MEANT IT!  And I meant the part about submitting more stories, too.  A talented author is not a resource to be discarded lightly.  Never forget that editors are only rejecting one particular story you wrote, not you as an author. 

So if you ever get one of those “nice story, but not a good fit” rejection letters, believe it, and be proud of it.  They’re basically saying, “this IS good enough to publish, just not in this project.”  More importantly, keep submitting new stories to that venue. They already like your work.  Next time, it just might be a good fit after all.

I could go on and on for hours about what editors are and are not looking for, but this isn’t my blog.  Still, if you found this useful (or if you didn’t), let Marcus know in the comments—maybe he’ll invite me to do another post someday!

4 Responses to ““Nice Story, But Not a Good Fit””

  1. endorsum September 26, 2020 at 9:30 am #

    Ok, mi è capitato… 😒

  2. Sabiscuit September 26, 2020 at 9:32 am #

    Tried to start a project around rejected stories some time ago, but got absolutely no traction. Apparently, people were not interested in publishing their rejected stories.

  3. Silk Cords September 26, 2020 at 8:44 pm #

    That was an interesting glimpse inside the publishing world. 🙂

  4. Ashish - Proxywords September 26, 2020 at 9:01 pm #

    Well written from the perspective of an editor. Loved knowing the inside thoughts 😊

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