Thoughts for the day (editorial advice for aspiring writers--and for myself, on the days when I'm not wearing my editor hat and the short fiction rejections are getting me down):
"Perseverance and growth will pull a writer into the top 10% quickly. As far as publishing goes, however, the real challenge and the hard pull is to get into the top one-half percent. But the slush pile is thinner than it looks."
--Jim Van Pelt
"There is always room for excellence."
...does not stand out
--Realms of Fantasy BFoD (Blue Form of Death).
This ties into the earlier comments on craftsmanship and passion.
Editing, even a semipro zine has totally changed the way I look at writing and submitting short fiction. And this is something I've had a hard time explaining to other neophyte writers who haven't had the editorial experience.
Some of you know this already. You can skip this part.
To wit: It's not enough to submit a story that is "good enough." That is to say, a story that doesn't do anything wrong.
You have to write stories that do things right. That play to your strengths, and that take chances, and that wake the jaded editor up and keep him staring at the page until he's done, flipping pages madly. There is no such thing as good enough in short fiction these days (even in the semipro market.) There is "wow," and there is ...does not stand out.
And now the good news: One editor's "didn't stand out" is another editor's "wow." And one editor's "I liked this but I'm not going to buy it," is another editor's "Gimme."
But if you're getting more "didn't stand out"s than "I liked this but I'm not going to buy it"s, chances are you could be doing more right.
Right story. Right desk. Right day. Write better.
It's all about getting behind the rock and pushing, Sisyphus.