Written by Eddie Generous
People ask me sometimes in a general sense why stories get turned down and others make it through, I'm also asked what are some strange things, the most annoying things, and the most frustrating things about considering work and running a publication. The answers to all of these sit in grey areas, so I can't really do a hard list. That said, there are certain things that get stories rejected almost immediately and a few actions that will generally piss off any editor.
Follow Guidelines: It's the easiest way not to frustrate an editor, just read the damned guidelines and fit your story where necessary and if your story can't fit, keep that in mind for a different story in the future. Simple. Unless a publication asks you to jump through absurd hoops (there are the odd ones that do), this is stupidly easy to follow, and doubly stupid to ignore.
Proofreading: Seriously, give yourself a few days, at least, away from your story before sending it in and give it an additional proofread. It's much easier to say no to a story clumsy with errors.
Passive Sentences: This is a style issue that is fairly common. An author can talk about personal style forever and it won't make a lick of difference in considering passive sentences. They slow down the reader, and most times, they're ugly. That is not to say one every two or three pages is a killer, but it might be if the race is even between two stories and only one spot remains. Tip, if you have trouble spotting them, let Microsoft Word do it for you. You'll get it eventually.
Stolen Goods: I enjoy reading. I read much more than most. The work of others is great for inspiration, but if you think maybe your story reads too much like another story/episode/movie, an editor might just notice and also might not care for the rehashing of tales that aren't an author's to rehash. That said, there is always room to grow and if done tactfully, while avoiding property infringement, spoof. Great authors become that way building on foundations, not gutting the building for its copper pipes and wires.
Trying to Buddy Prior to Submission: I get contacted via Facebook and Twitter (rarely on my personal account, thankfully) by authors who seem to find it prudent to give me a heads up that they plan to send me stuff. Don't do this unless explicitly stated (pretty much only reprints, or if we've worked together in the past, or if I've contacted and asked in the past for work directly). It is time consuming and I remember an incoming submitter for all the wrong reasons.
Platform: Respect an editor's view for his/her/their platform. Don't suggest what is right or wrong. Don't give business tips that you know nothing about. Don't get into a bloodbath over stylesheet settings (punctuation). Don't suggest large-scale sales ideas while putting down the current work.
Example, I had an unsolicited editor contact me offering his time to use Unnerving as a publisher for an anthology of novellas, while suggesting that short story anthologies were out and boring and that nobody read them. This while I was then editing the anthology Hardened Hearts… short stories. For real, if you want to hop into the game, pay authors, put together books, contact booksellers and bloggers, read mountains of submissions, run a website, and make or buy art… DO IT. Don't attempt to hijack someone because you want your name on a cover but don't want to grunt through all the less glamorous points.
Rejection Reply: Mostly, just don't. If it's personal and you want to say thank you… maybe, depending on the editor. If you're pissy (without reason I mean; once in a while a rejected author might have a reasonable complaint, but that's rare as a spirit bear in your garbage can), do not reply. Guess what, some editors have blacklists, and not only for submitters. It's so much easier to have nothing to do with annoyances that hold zero weight than to deal with them. Seriously, leave the ego behind.
Story Resubmit: Keep track of where you've sent stuff. If an editor didn't like your work enough to suggest rewrites, or ask about it later after a change of heart, they'll never like it. Mistakenly sending a story to the same reader twice is just as annoying, maybe worse because it's an error built on laziness, probably.
Book Review Requests: Be polite. NEVER FOLLOW UP FOR AN UPDATE. For me, if I get to a requested book, I'll review it if time permits. If I can't give it at least three stars, I don't finish it. I hate having to figure out ways to be polite when authors want updates. Also, never ask a reviewer to do a review for a certain day unless that day is months away AND that they manage a review blog… and not say, a magazine. When asking favors, cookie cutter demands are garbage, each site is different and has every right to be.
In closing, I've probably failed the request to give something fun or silly to read… HorrorTalk asked me for some crazy tales as an editor and really, it's mostly boring and the frustrating points that are done again and again and again. On a typical day, authors follow the rules and the upside is great even if the workload is heavy.
Editors don't want to dislike authors and sending rejection letters is draining, so make work harder to reject and authors easier to like. Use common sense. Remember you're not the center of an editor/publisher/reviewer's universe.
Eddie is the creator, editor, designer, and publisher of Unnerving and Unnerving Magazine. In early 2018, Hellbound Books is publishing a collection of his novelettes titled Dead is Dead, but Not Always, and also in 2018 he is teaming up with Mark Allan Gunnells and Renee Miller to release Splish, Slash, Takin' a Bloodbath, a collection of short stories.
HorrorTalk.com would like to thank Eddie for sharing with us a look inside the publishing world. Make sure to visit some of the links below.