Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wordcraft -- Why do stories get rejected?

I check in often with other bloggers to see what they’re writing about and lately there’s been a lot about what kinds of stories get accepted and what don’t.  British writer Deborah Walker ( ) noted that she was thinking about horror writing lately.  (Could it have anything to do with THE WEDDING?) but also shared a link to the late Marion Zimmer Bradley’s discussion ( ) of what really makes editors buy a story.  “The first sad truth about marketing fiction of any kind,” MZB confided, “is this, and you are just going to have to deal with it:  editors do not buy stories because they are well written.”

On MZB’s site, that was capitalized in boldface print, so I think she really meant it.  After a few doses of smelling salts, I recovered enough to read further.  It’s not that editors actively seek out badly written stories.  It’s that they’re more interested in salable stories.  Salable as in, primarily, stories that will give their readers a satisfying reading experience of the kind their magazines were intended to provide.  The italics here are mine.  And MZB has a few more pages of things to say about that satisfying reading experience, but I’ll let you read her words for yourself at  For now I’ll focus on the “of the kind their magazines were intended to provide.”  In other words, what genre readers would expect from the magazine.

One of my writing friends recently confided that she did not initially know what genre she wrote in.  Which brings me to the discussion by social media maven Kristen Lamb ( ) about the distinguishing characteristics of genre fiction.  Why? she asks.  Because, among other things, “each genre has its own set of general rules and expectations.”  A writer who writes a story beginning with a murder (often signaling the mystery genre), will have a hard time marketing her story as a romance if the murder victim is the protagonist’s love interest.  (Unless he comes back as a ghost, but that’s really another subgenre.)  Kristen does a thorough and thoroughly funny job of explaining genre characteristics, including the dreaded one of literary fiction which is not, she assures us, just anything that doesn’t fit anywhere else.

Does following genre rules mean your stories have to sound the same as everybody else’s, as some writers fear?  No, says middle grade writer and hockey mom Kris Yankee ( ).  Kris has been brave enough to blog her way through the alphabet this month, and this week’s “U” entry is for “unique.”  “I’ve read that there are no new stories, just different (unique) takes on the same one,” she says.

I’ll add that there are limits to how unique unique should be.  Cycling back to MZB’s focus on “a satisfying reading experience of the kind their magazines were intended to provide,” let me add her caveat to read the magazine’s submissions guidelines.  And the magazine, if possible.  Read it even if not possible.  After all, a lot of on-line subscriptions are free and instantly accessible, so we’re running out of excuses.  And take the stories to heart.  They provide the kind of reading experience – satisfying and unique – their readers expect.

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