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bear by san

March 2017



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twain & tesla

Kids? Don't do this. Ever.

So, as some of you know, I read slush for Ideomancer. Which means I also reject slush for Ideomancer.

I am, in fact, a bottom-level slush reader, which means I get my share of what comes in over the transom, unfiltered and uncensored.

When I reject something, I try to explain why. Even if it is rejected in the first couple of paragraphs, it's generally because I know what the problem is, and I know why we won't be buying the story. The urge behind this, believe it or not, is charitable. One does not learn in the absence of feedback.

The professional thing to do when one is confronted with a rejection is to read it, shrug, internalize any useful comments, ignore any crazy talk, and go write another story.

The unprofessional thing to do is this:

>Dear [Author Name Redacted];

Thank you for sending us "[Redacted]," but I'm afraid this
isn't quite right for Ideomancer. I needed something more to draw me
into the story than exposition, no matter how clever the world you
created was, and I found this story lacked conflict and a stake for
the narrator.

Elizabeth Bear

Dear Ms. Bear:
You know, I have to take exception to your comment. It just shows that you didn't bother to read all of my story. It is not all exposition, though it is heavy in the first person format and I was going for an O. Henry feel, which you obviously don't care for. But don't say it's "all" exposition unless you read the entire story and actually felt that way about it. Considering the feedback I received from Critique Partners before I sent this story out, if you had read the entire story, you wouldn't have made that remark.  People bawled over this story because it touched them. And you're telling me it's all exposition. This tells me you never finished it.
I know you're busy. I'm not saying you should read all of everything that comes across your computer screen, but in my opinion, you shouldn't bother offering personal comments on other writer's work unless you have taken the time to read all of what they have written.  Otherwise just send a nice form letter saying it's not what Ideomancer needs right now, thanking them for their submission, please try again in the future. Form letters aren't bad unless they're badly written (such as the ones by SF&F that say casually, "I'll give it a pass"). 
You're an intelligent writer. You should understand these things by now.  Please do better next time.


First of all, if you're going to argue with a rejection, don't.

Second, if you are going to argue with a rejection, don't.

Third? If you are going to argue with a rejection, make sure you are arguing with what the rejection actually said, and not your projections thereunto. Also, don't put scare quotes around words that don't exist in the note you are ostensibly quoting.

Fourth, editors talk to each other.

Fifth, yes, I will tell John who can't remember the name of the magazine he works for, and who doesn't approve of his grammar.

Sixth, Ideomancer has a database in which we enter the name and author of every story, its disposition, etc. It has a comments field.

What do you all suppose the comment field of this author's story now says?*

(The UnSub's letter reproduced above for teaching/demonstration and educational purposes.)

*Hint: It's not "[redacted] is a real joy to work with, and should be encouraged to resubmit."



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Seriously, I am in sympathy with the frustration of endless rejections. But as you can probably tell from the Angry Note, per prose is not really up to snuff either.

Still I try to only comment on one flaw per rejection, and also to say something nice when I can.

I think I just added one to my list of "I may have done some pretty dumb things, but I never did THAT."
like to think of my slushing as charity work.

Some days I'm less charitable than others...

*blink blink*

This person looks like a candidate for the Federal Dumbass Protection Program, because that's the kind of stunt that follows you unless you change your name and move across the country.
*g* That little email made my whole night.
Somebody's a jackass! I wonder if he's been one of mine.

I will never, ever understand why people do these things. I mean, I grok that it's trying to shore up their poor bruised egos, but surely they must realize that you're not going to say, "Oh, you're right! Your piece is a marvel! I must buy it immediately!" Surely?
You'd think. However, these are also the sort that send in incredibly rude solicitation letters along the line of "I know you never buy anything that isn't crap, so I'm sending this in anyway to make you change your mind." Naturally, the story or article is so foul that if you did print it, you'd be confirming the suspicion.
Hhhhh. For all of the bullshit hype in Writer's Digest about how you, yes YOU, can make a grand living off writing science fiction, why won't WD bother to explain your very point to its readers? (Oh, I know the answer already: I'm being rhetorical. Writer's Digest presenting the reality of writing is like Entertainment Weekly noting that George Lucas's or Jerry Seinfeld's next project is going to suck as bad as their last.)
Dear [Redacted];

You may find that improving your reading comprehension scores results in a corresponding associated improvement in your writing.

Love, Bear.
I am reminded of the just-finished third season of Top Chef, won by an egotistical fellow named Hung. Tremendously talented chef, but obnoxious. His attitude when a given high-roller chef judged one dish or another of his lacking in some respect was to roll his eyes and say something like, "Well, that's your opinion."

Yes, it was his or her opinion, and they were collectively paid tens of millions of dollars per year for their various opinions, which had created hundreds of fantastic dishes and opened many successful restaurants, which is why they were the judges in the first place.

Finally, he got over the attitude, at least long enough to listen to their critiques and take them to heart... and he won it all.
It was Algis Budrys who taught me that editors really are rooting for writers to pull it off.

I got to thank him for that, many years later. It's probably the single thing that has made it possible for me to be a professional writer.
LOL, I have only ever disagreed with one rejection I received, and despite the fact that it was a BIG disagreement, I still didn't respond to it. I figured either someone got the stories mixed up, or even if that wasn't it, I didn't want to get the reputation of "Ms. Know-It-All-Pain-In-The-Ass" and have any future submissions rejected out of hand!

Sheesh. I have never heard of anyone *asking* to be sent a form letter!
I've come across that, and more than once. Both on Nick Mamatas' blog, and on the sfreader forums.

The simple answer, of course, is that if all you want is a form letter, just stop reading when you hit the word "sorry" or "afraid" or "regret".
Considering the feedback I received from Critique Partners before I sent this story out, if you had read the entire story, you wouldn't have made that remark. People bawled over this story because it touched them.

Also, [redacted]'s mom says that [redacted]'s a great writer!

Alas. Moms and critique partners let us down all the time.

Cory pointed out at VP that in general, he could figure out what the major flaw in any given critique piece was within a couple of pages, and it's true. Once you have read five or ten hundred pieces of slush, you kind of get a feel for where they are going wrong.

Is it infallible? No. But you know within a page if the story stands a chance of being bought.

Actually, I gave this one four pages, and then skipped to the end to see if I was right, because despite somewhat clunky prose, the worldbuilding was clever.
I know you're busy. I'm not saying you should read all of everything that comes across your computer screen "unless it's mine." Right?

If someone reacts this way to rejection, I don't think I'd publish them no matter how good a writer they are. =_=

Suddenly I don't feel as bad about all the rejections I've received, because I've never done THAT when I've received one...
You would be shocked how often this happens.
Now, now.
I have been rejected a lot.

I have been rejected by people who couldn't spell.

But good lord I really can't believe people do that. What the hell?
Well, it's certainly a LOT easier to send out the "kthxbye" form than articulating what threw me out of the story and why.

From that viewpoint, I'm grateful that readers tell me anything. Form letters are not helpful; criticism is -- even if I don't like it. Time to suck it up and move on.

But, yanno, I suppose it's like those early singers on American Idol who honestly believe they can sing. Easier to believe family and friends than someone in the trenches. And if you're fed a steady diet of how wonderful you are, I suppose that rejection can be a bit of a shock. ;)

Imagine how per would react to reviews?
Ah, I've read a lot of slush and gotten my share of those types of letters. On my bad days, it's all I can do not to respond to the response telling the author that responding to any rejection is bad form. I know better than to engage with them, but oh! I feel I should spread the word somehow.
oh! I feel I should spread the word somehow.

Thus the blog entry. *g*
How else could we answer queries?
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