A bit of insight for practitioners of rejectomancy, not from the content of your rejection letter, but by how long it took you to get it.
Since this was our first year reading, we compiled our thoughts at the end of it to try and find patterns and meaning. We strived to make a decision on each submission within 30 days, so here is how our idealized rejection timeline worked, in descending order of frequency:
1-3 days – “the bad fits”
The story is not one that we are looking for.
The story does something that we asked not to see in the submission guidelines.
The writing is awful and we sincerely hope that is it early work and we admire your courage or sending it and hope you don’t give up. About 2% of submissions fell here.
Not speculative fiction.
1st week rejection – “the didn’t make its”
We think the story is bland, meandering, predictable, or pointless.
The writing is such that it was a chore to get to the end of it.
The story isn’t awful, but it feels like early work.
The story feels like it is part of a larger body of work and is not standing up on its own merit.
The story does something too experimental and left the readers behind. (Bizarro & Slipstream were the most common offenders)
We think the story is precious, preachy, pedantic, or otherwise a thinly veiled platform for your personal whatevers. (Yes, you should transmit your ideas through your writing, but it shouldn’t come off like this)
We can’t figure out what the story is about. (This was usually writers from England, so we called it “Americans watching BBC comedies” syndrome)
The story seems to be about an RPG session with your RPG friends as characters. (“Who are you people?”)
The story may or may not be good, but involves a topic that is similar to a story we had already bought that season. (examples: Zombie Apocalypse, Jack The Ripper)
Historical and Alt-history: poorly researched, too implausible, or more documentary than story format.
It is a “one joke story” and the joke wore thin before the story ran out.
We can’t get past the writing to be able to say anything about the story. (Not necessarily because it is bad. Some theater people landed here for being overly stylish with dialogue.)
It’s that story that writers write about writing when they have writer’s block.
The story is written in an unfamiliar shared universe and is not standing on its own merit.
One of the editors has a strong opinion about something in the story. (We do curb this impulse. When it does come out it is often hilarious and we’ll let you in on the joke.)
2nd week rejection – “the ones that hit the target”
The story is good or isn’t bad, but the writing isn’t where it needs to be.
We think the story is cliché or tropey.
We initially liked it, but it wasn’t quite so shiny on the second reading.
We secretly like it, even though it is not a good match for the venue.
Late rejection – “the good ones”
Sadly, we can’t buy them all. Here is how the hard sorting went:
The story is good, but it is competing with a similar story that is also under consideration. (Weird Westerns often ended up here)
The story is good but it isn’t the strongest of what else is still on the table.
Deep down, we know it isn’t the best match for our venue, but we like it enough not to want to let it go.
You didn’t follow the submission guidelines about what to put in the subject bar of your email and the story got lost in some dusty corner of the mail room and never got read until you made an inquiry about it.
We ran out of time, money, or something else.
Obviously, our criteria isn’t going to be the same as the next market’s criteria. I have noticed stories that we rejected appearing on other podcasts later in the year, which also means the author probably got a better sale price for the rights than if they had sold it to this no-budget podcast, so good on you!
The moral of the story? Don’t give up.