Why editors liked your story and still rejected it

Every so often someone e-mails me with one of the great questions in any writer's life, "How could you reject my story after saying you liked it?"

The answer to this question comes from Dena Harris, a writer who recently spent a day as an editor. As she writes, the hardest part about dealing with submissions was to separate "the very good from just the good."

While Dena writes about submissions to a speculative fiction magazine, what she says also applies to all fiction publications. It is easy to separate the horrible and excellent stories out of any submission pile. The hard part comes when one sorts the very good from the merely good. Add into that decisions on if a story can be saved through editorial intervention--and if a story is worth the time of said intervention--and you begin to get an idea of why an editor could like a story and still reject it.

Update on 2-16-06:

I failed to mention that I first read Dena's post on Side-Show Freaks, a blog by Edmund Schubert, the editor of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Unfortunately, Schubert has had some backlash over the posting, which is a true shame. I saw the post as an educational tool for writers, enabling people to learn about the submission process so their next submission will have an even better chance of being published.

Yes, there is humor in the post, but sometimes humor is the best way to describe and handle life. As someone who has read through tons of slush piles in his day, what Dena is describing is the truth of the slush pile. Yes, editors laugh over extremely bad submissions. But editors also live for the thrill of finding that one diamond in the pile of coal. Such is the duality of life. I should also note that a close read of the post will show that the editors are finding a number of diamonds in that slush pile--and that such finds are what drive them to endure reading through more short stories in a single day than most people read all year.

So I'd suggest people refrain from being offended by the post and instead see it as insight into how the editorial process works.


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Great post - it really resonated with me as an editor. Yes, separating the "good" from the "very good" - that's the challenge.