Friday, May 19, 2006

Why Some Good Stories are Rejected: Thematic Grouping

The number of fiction submissions I am receiving is increasing, and my managing editor tells me that the viewing meter on the magazine’s web site has increased, "exponentially" in the last two months.

I’ve gone from receiving 2-3 stories a week, to 2-3 per day. More importantly, not only have I already made several story selections for June’s issue, but I have stories lined up for the July and August issues as well.

Also, I won’t be taking stories now that require as much editorial tweaking as the first few stories I had selected for publication. It would be rewarding to continue to give writers a "second chance", but it’s not practical.

Of course this all means that the number of rejection letters I am sending out is increasing, and my correspondence files are growing. I now have a file for the receipt of manuscripts, a pending decision file, a nay file, a yay file and a maybe file. The "maybe file" has taken me by surprise. It seems the stories coming my way are taking on a life of their own, seemingly imposing the grouping of a particular theme or tone.

For June’s issue, all the authors are women, and the unintentional theme that has emerged was generated by the story title of the first piece I selected for the issue.

July’s issue is shaping up in the opposite direction with a line-up of male authors with "manly themes". Never, I mean NEVER would have I set out to intentionally shape those two issues in such a stereotypical way, yet it happened. And one very good story is being held over for August’s issue because it’s simply not a good fit for July’s issue.

There is room for more stories in July and August and even June’s issue, but the emerging themes of each issue has influenced my decision to include or exclude other fine stories. Building an inventory of stories for future issues makes my job easier, but I don't think it is fair for me to be hanging onto stories for more than 2 or 3 months, pending my decision to allow a particular theme to emerge.

While I’m delighted to be a part of the growth of a wonderful literary magazine, as a writer I am a bit disappointed to discover "up close and personal", how even a strong, well crafted story may have to be set aside—or worse—rejected, because of the varying tone, themes and timing of the increasing number of other well-written stories coming in.

As a direct result of my "insider" experience as a fiction editor, I am now sending my work out at a record volume, because it’s looking more and more like I am going to HAVE to live to be a hundred years old, just to realize all my publishing goals.

If fiction writers want to have their stories published in an increasingly competitive publishing environment, they have to "exponentially" increase the amount of time they spend creating, refining and submitting their work. The competition is tough, even in a literary venue that has only been accepting fiction for the past two months

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