What Editors DON’T Want

29 Oct

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

I’ve written several guest posts about what editors are looking for in short stories when reading through the slush pile.  This time, I’ll list things we’re never looking for.  Submitting any of the items below is almost certainly a waste of both your time and the editor’s. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I have, all of them.


Submission calls are always accompanied by submission guidelines—they may be long and detailed or short and simple, but they’re there.  If your story doesn’t fit the submission guidelines, don’t submit it!  If you submit a 10,000-word story when the required word limit is 5000, it will get rejected.


I think most editors don’t mind a few minor typos (almost everyone gets “its” vs. “it’s” wrong at some point).  But reading a manuscript filled with errors is jarring, annoying, and will almost certainly bias an editor against your work.


…is NOT a short story. It’s all exposition with no resolution. Readers will be annoyed by the “short story” not really going anywhere, and wonder why they wasted their time reading it.  There are always exceptions, of course—the first chapter of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, for example—but they’re few and far between.  So unless your first chapter is essentially a self-contained short story, don’t both submitting it, it will get rejected,


Wow, that’s a truly excellent romance story with a five-handkerchief ending.  Unfortunately, this is a horror anthology.


Editors can tell when a story wasn’t originally written for our magazine or anthology, but was hastily rewritten to “fit” by changing a few key names here and there.  It’s kinda obvious.  Besides, do you really believe simply changing the name of your magical school from “Starlight Academy” to “Miskatonic University” automatically transforms your urban fantasy into Lovecraftian horror? (HINT: It doesn’t.)


I’m not talking about a “moral of the story” or even a “message”, but a full-on lecture about the author’s personal (often controversial) socio-political views, either by using a character as a mouthpiece (bad) or speaking directly to the audience (worse).  Even if the editor agreed with you 100%, why would they risk publishing your story if it might alienate half their audience and lose all those sales?  If you absolutely cannot stop yourself from including contemporary political opinions in your short stories, then for God’s sake at least keep them subtle, nuanced, and preferably metaphorical—or better yet, write a non-fiction opinion piece for a newspaper, magazine, or blog.


It may be the best Star Wars story ever written, but the editor CAN’T publish it unless they own (or leased) the copyright to that franchise.  If they do, they’ll definitely mention that in the submission guidelines.  Otherwise, assume they don’t, and post your story on www.fanfiction.net instead.


A brief, tasteful sex scene in your story might be acceptable, but erotica (a story revolving mostly around a long, detailed, graphic sex scene) is almost never a good fit. Unless the editor is specifically requesting erotica stories, assume they don’t want them.


Do I even have to explain why?

There are always exceptions to these general guidelines, of course.  Fan fiction that uses characters in the public domain (Don Quixote, Frankenstein, Tin Woodsman, etc.) is acceptable.  Sometimes a resubmission IS a perfect fit for a different anthology.  Some magazines or anthologies DO want fiction with a prominent political slant (like Trumpocalypse).  So take these guidelines with a (tiny) grain of salt, use your best judgment (and common sense), and hopefully you can save yourself some wasted time, wasted effort, and the pain of an unnecessary rejection letter. 

Do you agree with Editor Ed? What do you think he missed? Let me know in the comments below!

3 Responses to “What Editors DON’T Want”

  1. endorsum October 29, 2020 at 10:48 am #

    thank you! 😊

  2. spwilcen October 29, 2020 at 11:24 am #

    Ships. Now you’ve done it. I’ll have to come BACK to re read this as I’m over budget on time allocated to WP. Thanks. Not even going to suggest I’ve a single thing to add or know enough to spot something missing.

  3. Silk Cords October 31, 2020 at 1:53 am #

    2/3 of this you would think would be obvious, lol. 🙂

    Nothing is so uncommon as common sense however.

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