Nectar for Rejectomancers

Writers hasten toward rejectomancy like buzzy things to Venus fly traps. Who am I to deny our nature?

Here are the answers to all the questions I’ve been getting about the issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction that I’m editing.


1.       So Many Stories

751 submissions. The submissions window was only open for 2 weeks.

It felt like the mad, life-threatening rush for general seating at a 1970s rock concert. I felt like a guy at a hot dog eating contest. It felt like the whole world had been waiting for F&SF to take electronic submissions.

But this leads to my second point.


2.       So Many GOOD Stories

473 out of 751 listed one or more previous pro sales. 63% of you are already writing at this level.

But that's just the established pros. You have attended Clarion, Clarion West, Odyssey, Taos Toolbox, Viable Paradise, Lambda, and other workshops. You’ve got MFAs from Stonecoast, Seton Hill, Vermont, and elsewhere. You belong to online workshops like OWW and local groups whose names I forget.

So you’re not only writers. You’re mostly experienced writers who are, overwhelmingly, committed to getting better.

That’s great for me. 

That’s great for F&SF readers. They’re going to get an issue with great stories.

But it sucks for writers. About 20% of your stories ended up in my Maybe Pile for the issue. These were stories I enjoyed, that did something for me emotionally, that I wanted to put in front of other people and say, “Hey, you might want to read this.”

Bad news: I don’t get to publish 150 stories. It won’t even be 15.

Probably 100 stories that I rejected are going to get published somewhere else. A couple of them are going to be great stories. Some may even win an award, and then the writer will want to come back and rub their Hugo or Nebula in my face, and say “SEE, SEE WHAT YOU MISSED OUT ON, MR FIRST TIME EDITOR!” Because I’m a writer too. And I know what I’m like.

And when that day comes, Rejected Writer, I’m going to shake your hand and be genuinely happy for you.  


3.       Before I Give You All The Stats

I didn’t look at the stats until I was done reading and making notes on all the stories. I love the stories I love. I really like the stories I really like. And the stories that didn’t click for me just didn’t click for me. I can’t change that. Not this time.

So why bother collecting stats?

Because we all have unconscious biases when we read. The more privilege we have, the more invisible our biases are to us. And I’m not going to pretend that I don’t belong to a privileged class. So I collected stats because I want to see what my unconscious biases are. Maybe next time I edit something, I can break down my biases and open my eyes to some amazing story I didn’t appreciate enough before. 

Heck, even if I don’t edit again, I think it’s worth doing.


4.       All The Stats

Keep in mind, this is raw, unrefined, unchecked data, because my main concern was (is) reading and replying to stories. Maybe later, I’ll go back and clean this up and make corrections and add some analysis. But here are the highlights for now: 

a) 751 stories

To reiterate: OMG.

There were 105 submissions on Day 1. Which I thought was a lot. Then I got 198 submissions on Day 14. Yes, 26.4% of all submissions came on the last day. There was a wave of submissions, then a trough, then a tsunami. 

But don’t rejectomance too much here. There were stories I loved on the first day and the last day, and on days in between. 

b)  473 (or 63%) were from pros

Since it’s self-reported, this number may be low. For what it’s worth, being a pro isn’t make or break. A lot of previously unpublished writers made it to my Maybe Pile.


c)  341 (or 45.4%) were from women

Apart from all the problems with binary gender distinctions, this is hard to verify. I did the best I could because I think this information is still valuable.

45.5% feels like a much higher percentage than normal for F&SF submissions. I think the last time I saw data, F&SF was closer to 25%. So this number made me very happy.

One new, unpublished writer sent me a really moving cover letter:  "I have been an ardent reader of the FSF genre my entire life, but as a queer trans woman there are things about my experiences and those of my friends and loved ones I have had to come to expect not be reflected in the fiction I read." And I thought, “holy crap, YES.”

I was glad that writer submitted and said something. And you know what? I also really want to read stories that reflect the diversity and experience of people that I know in the world. And people who I don’t know yet.

d) 178 (or 23.7%) were from writers outside the United States

This was the big reason to do electronic submissions and I was so glad I did. I was overwhelmed by the amount of gratitude that many of you expressed at being able to submit to F&SF easily for the first time. If I ever do this again, I’ll take electronic submissions just for that reason.


e)  374 (or 49.8%) were in-my-face science fiction according to my notes, 270 (or 36%) were miscellaneous fantasy, with the rest jotted down as humor, horror, ghost stories, fairy tales, steampunk, slipstream, or literary stories with little or no discernible fantastic content

This completely destroys my “never gets enough science fiction” comment in the submission guidelines. Next time I’ll know.


5.       Before I Get To The Rejections

No slush readers were harmed in the making of this issue. I did all the reading myself. CLEARLY I AM INSANE. So if I ever do this again… I don’t know if I’ll ever do it the same way again.

From the beginning, I decided to treat the issue like an anthology that feels like a magazine. What does that mean?

First of all, it means that I read all the stories and took short notes – sometimes just 2 or 3 words, sometimes more – before I started sending out rejections. I had a couple of anchor stories that I knew from the beginning I wanted for the issue. From there it was a matter of finding the right balance of stories to fit around them.

It also means that sometimes stories were going to compete against each other.  If I got 6 astounding time travel paradox stories, I was only going to pick one of them, so that it didn’t feel like a Time Travel theme issue. If I got 3 amazing stories that all took place in Omaha, Nebraska, I was only going to take one so that it didn’t feel like the Cornhusker Chamber of Commerce Special Edition.

This issue is coming out in July. Print has a long lead-time. So it also means that when I’m winnowing down the maybes to the stories-I-love to the stories-I-take, the stories I take have to be ready to read. There’s no time for major rewrites.

There is one story I can’t take, and it makes me kinda sick and sad. My stomach is still in knots about it. The story is beautifully written, it is compelling, it is like no other story I read for the issue… and it is not quite there yet. I feel strongly that it needs a couple of not-easy fixes to be the story it aspires to be. That it needs to be. So I won’t take it. But I’m going to second-guess myself on that decision right up until the day I see it in print somewhere else.

All of you are welcome to imagine that it’s your story. And when it turns out to be great, and wins an award, you can come rub the hardware in my nose.

I’ll be genuinely happy for you.

The whole conga line of you, if that’s what it turns out to be. Because that story OMG.


6.       The Rejections

There were a few stories that struggled to accomplish anything. I tried to say something helpful. If you’re reading this, you’re professionally engaged enough in writing that your story was not one of them.

For the rest of my rejections, I used templates.

Template 1 is the “didn’t grab me” template. The beginning of the story did not grab me. Sometimes, early in the submission period I kept reading until I noticed the page where it did finally grab me, and I may have included a note about this. By the time the tsunami of submissions hit on Day 14, I was sitting on a mountain of reading, and if your sub didn’t grab me, then I probably didn’t leave a note.

Template 2 is the “didn’t work for me” template. Your story was good, I read it all the way through, but some big thing didn’t work for me, usually the ending. I know, endings are hard. But the emotional payoff, what you remember most about a story, is how it makes you feel at the end. So you have to be an Olympic gymnast and nail that dismount. If I could put my finger specifically on what didn’t work for me, then I tried to note that in your letter. Sometimes I couldn’t. Sorry.

Template 3 is the “didn’t win me over” template. Look, you’re probably a pro. This is a good story. You know it’s good. You’re probably going to sell it elsewhere. Maybe I can tell you the idiosyncratic reasons why it didn’t make me all hot and tingly so that I can’t stop thinking about it day and night, night and day. Maybe I did. But either way, you probably don’t care. It’s a no. You’ve already got your next market lined up and you’re ready to send it out again. AS YOU SHOULD.

There are enough good stories here to fill three magazines. At least. I can’t take all of them.

So in the end that’s going to leave me with the stories I loved so much I have to share them. 

(Which is what I now realize editors do all the time. Dear editors, I’m sorry I didn’t understand that before. When I was submitting to you, all I ever cared about was my story.)

These stories are the ones that, if I wasn’t editing this issue, and I read them somewhere else, and you and I were talking at the con bar, I would grab you by the shoulder, shove it under your nose, and shout, “Hey, you really have to read this!”

So as the rejections go out, and the acceptances too, and the issue comes together, get ready to hear that refrain from me. Hey, you really have to read this!

Because it’s going to be an amazing issue.

Thank you for letting me read your stories.


© C.C. Finlay 2018