…is an inevitable part of the aspiring author’s life. I recognise this. Rationally I acknowledge it. In a sense I am glad that it is as common as it is; it means that when (not if) I am successful in a submission I will know its worth.

Often when the rejection comes through it is a cursory note, or a proforma e-mail, or some other sort of standard ‘thank you but unfortunately…’ kind of response. That’s fair enough too. I imagine that the slush-pile of any publication accepting unsolicited submission doesn’t really allow for a detailed analysis of the story’s strengths and weaknesses. There are other support services for that after all.

One of my submissions, to an Australian Fantasy / Spec-fic magazine (now gone digital) was an exception.

I submitted my short story “The Green Monkeys” and was unsuccessful. The reader’s response I got was:

“While this story is competently written and has a cute title there is little new going on in what is essentially short fantasy adventure story. I was constantly nagged by the lack of explanation as to why a young man in a medieval-esque Ireland would call a goblin a monkey. This is “classic” story telling without a good zing in the tail to grab attention.”

My initial reaction was, of course, disappointment. That’s natural. If I wasn’t disappointed I might as well give up I reckon. With a bit of distance though I can’t really argue too much with the comments.

  • “competently written” … well could be worse I suppose. ‘competent’ still seems workmanlike and uninspired, but it’s better than incompetent.
  • “cute title”… I’m not sure what is meant by “cute”, but if the title has attracted attention then its served its purpose, so not too unhappy with this.
  • “nagged by lack of explanation”… I think it’s always a difficult balance to strike with Fantasy (or invented worlds generally) between plotting and exposition. In other forms of fiction I might say “1943 in France…”, or “she was an African-American living in the deep south…” and the reader will bring so much knowledge that it’s unnecessary to explain the connotations of those settings / characters. This is not true of Fantasy. Often the reader will bring very little knowledge to the author’s world, especially in a short story. The flip-side of this is that the reader doesn’t want to get bogged down in characters telling each other what they already know for the sake of the reader. The “as you know…” conversation might pass muster on CSI, but I doubt it’s my path to publication.
  • “classic” story telling … that sounds really nice, except for the tone imparted by the quote marks over ‘classic’
  • “without a good zing” … and that sums it up really I reckon.

So that’s what I’m taking away from this rejection: got to make it zing, got to grab attention.

It’s not enough to be competent, cute, or a classic story. It’s got to have something which sets it apart for the reader from all the other competent classic story-telling in the slush-pile.

Now all I need to do is figure out how to make my stories ‘zing’.

Easy as that huh?

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