A rejection! What were they thinking?!

by Karonda Barker and Dr Jones

Your story, the one you put tons of work into, gets rejected. But why? Donít the editors appreciate your genius...?

We thought you might find it interesting to explore some of the whys and wherefores of our decision-making process, and get an editorís perspective on the whole thing. We hope you find it enlightening!

Itís not personal

We donít know who you are. We donít look you up on google or facebook. It really isnít personal. Itís all about the story. We donít practice positive (or negative) discrimination. So, difficult as it can be, itís best if you donít take it personally Ė it honestly wasnít meant that way.

Having said all that, we do like to have a name to associate with the story for our submissions database, and so we can address our emails to a person. We do send personalised emails, so itís nice to have a name to send them to.

Guidelines (this is the rant bit!)

This is so basic, youíd think we wouldnít even mention it. But...
Itís so much better if authors read our guidelines. For example, we get sent poetry. The guidelines say Ďsorry, no poetryí... in bold red type, and yet it arrives! We get sent stories of 8,000, 10,000 words and more. The guidelines say Ďless than 5,000 words pleaseí. Some authors say they thought we wouldnít mind, and we do let stories slightly longer than this limit slip through occasionally (query us before submitting if you're not sure), but we have the limit for a reason (keeping response times at a sensible level), and we intend to stick by it. We also are sent several stories at once, when the guidelines request Ďone story at a time pleaseí. All of these happen quite frequently, in case you think we're picking on you in particular. We gave up expecting authors to format stories as weíve requested Ė perhaps it's written a bit far down the guidelines page! Ė and while that does mean that preparing stories for the website takes a bit longer, itís not a big deal. But in general, authors that read the guidelines tend to send us better work. We believe itís about being a professional and caring about your work, and how it will be received. Yes, even at a small not-for-the-money venue like Dark Fire!

Reasons for rejection

Readers who have sent us stories that have been rejected will know that we try to give a reason for our decision and/or suggestions as to how the story can be improved. We arenít a critiquing service, but we aren't fond of receiving standard form rejections either.

There are lots of reasons stories get rejected, but some are more common than others. From the bottom up, here are some examples:

  • Stories that are just plain bad. They have lots of errors (spelling, grammar, factual), the structure is non-existent, they show a complete lack of professionalism in the author. Itís not difficult or particularly time-consuming to proofread your story before you send it to an editor. Lots of word processor programs have a built in function to check your spelling. While we know the occasional typo can slip past the most attentive of proofers, an obviously non-proofread story shows a lack of care, and if you donít care about your story, why should we? On the other hand, there are some stories that are so awful that they're very funny. We have a giggle and then wonder if these are actually set-ups to test whether we are real people, or just computers sending out replies randomly... (hopefully you can tell which we are from the stories we do publish)
  • Common plots. There are some plot-lines we see very, very often. They usually involve revenge, or a serial killer being outwitted by a victim, or a vampire writing a diary or falling in love, for example. Sometimes authors can use these common plotlines well, and get a story accepted almost despite the plot, but this doesnít happen very often.
  • No plot. This is an exaggeration, but we do get stories where nothing much happens. If this is written in really nice language, then maybe itís the sort of thing that a more literary magazine would like, but itís no good for us. Along the same lines, we receive stories with a great start and then... no real ending. Nothing gets resolved. We reach the end and are left dissatisfied or annoyed (often because the start shows real promise, really good writing). It just peters out...
  • Flowery writing. We mentioned this briefly above: fancy writing may carry you far in more literary circles, but Dark Fire prefers straight talking. If you keep the language simple, readers can almost forget that theyíre reading Ė theyíre in there with your characters. And we think thatís a great thing.
  • Itís just not right. There are stories where there is absolutely nothing wrong with them from a technical point of view: theyíre well written, good structure and so on... but we just donít like them, or we donít think they suit our zine. Thereís not much to be done here, apart from sending it somewhere else. Magazines do have specific styles, and sometimes stories donít fit. At Dark Fire we like simple language and a plot type that doesnít differ too greatly from the standard beginning, middle and end structure. Weíre not keen on surrealism or stories that are all frills and no substance. We enjoy a good twist in the tale. We donít mind gore. We also donít mind purely psychological horror. But there is definitely a style, or a type, of story that we prefer. It can be seen in our back issues. Theyíre available on the website, for free, so thereís no excuse for not doing a quick bit of checking to see what sort of thing we like. We have encountered the idea: "Perhaps they havenít seen anything like this before, and thatís why they donít publish stories like this". It could be true. There are bound to be stories the likes of which we have never seen, but in most cases, itís unlikely. We publish the sort of stories that we enjoy and we hope you will enjoy, and that forms a guide for authors considering submitting their story to us.

Replying to a rejection

Itís not necessary, but you can if you like Ė though we hope itís not to argue with our decision! We have been told in the past that:

  • we are biased towards shorter stories (weíre really not)
  • stories we have published are rubbish compared to the arguing authorís story (in our opinion, it was the other way around)
  • we obviously don't like gore/vampires/zombies etc (whichever complaint it is, it's unlikely to be true, we've published all sorts of horror favourites over the years)
  • weíre too small an outfit to really appreciate their story (this may be true, but itís our zine Ė we publish the sort of thing we like)
  • we have rejected a really good up-and-coming writer, who isn't going to send us any more stories (considering the story we rejected, we weren't too upset)
  • and so on...

As you might guess, this sort of thing doesn't encourage us to look favourably on the arguing authors and we do have a list of authors, the extreme cases, whose stories donít even make it into the slush pile because itís just not worth the hassle we suspect will come our way. We know other editors who have this sort of list too. We understand that your story is your creation, beloved of you, but if we reject it, surely arguing and telling us how wrong we are is less productive than (secretly) deciding we're idiots and sending it out somewhere else, where it might be better appreciated?

Our process

Hereís a quick run-down of what happens to your story when you send it to Dark Fire. A submission arrives in our inbox, which is checked once daily (but not necessarily at weekends, it depends how busy we are), and a Ďgot ití email is sent to the author. The story is logged into the submissions database. One of us will read it and give it a score, with comments noted down to help us reply later. It is marked as a yes, no or maybe. Yes stories go through to a shortlist. Depending on the score of the no story, it is either rejected immediately or goes to the other editor to read, see if they agree itís a no, or if it should be upgraded. The maybes are also read by both authors and can be upgraded onto the shortlist, or downgraded to a no. The shortlisted stories are read by both editors and discussed. The schedule for the next few issues is then used to determine how many stories are needed, and which should go where, and which are ultimately not used. Rejection and acceptance emails are sent out and the submissions database is updated.

All of this can take some time. Both editors have full time jobs and people at home whoíd generally prefer us to spend time with them rather than the computer. So it can take up to a month to get back to you. Sometimes Ė not very often Ė it can take a little longer, if for example, your story just misses a shortlist discussion and has to wait for the next one, or if thereís an issue due to go live and weíre busy doing that instead of reading submissions. But on the whole, our response time tends to be less than a month, often around a couple of weeks.

So there we are, that was our quick run through of rejections at Dark Fire. We get stories from very promising writers that arenít quite right for one reason or another, and so end up rejected, but we do mean it if we ask you to send us other work in future. We hope our suggestions and the information weíve given here are useful, and if there are any other details youíd really like to know about the editorial process and our decisions, then send us an email and we could end up running more of these articles.






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