Abyss & Apex : First Quarter 2009: Editorial

by Wendy S. Delmater

burnt manuscript
has gotten on my hot dog
I must eat your words

Petals from heaven
White envelopes cover me
“Thanks but not for us”

Rejectomancy is not an exact science, but it is certainly a topic writers are fond of. I’ve heard chat room discussions and Convention bar-track conjecture about what goes on in those “citadels of disappointment” from which editors send rejection letters. From the levels of form rejections up to a personal one at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (“I got a personal rejection letter from Gordon Van Gelder!”) writers want to know, “What does it all mean?”

I’d rather you bent your brain to writing more stories. So let me take some of the mystery out of the process for you. Here, at least, is how we do things at Abyss & Apex.


Dispersed in ether
Your e-sub returns to you
And it’s “postage due”

We ladle out several levels of writer despondency standard rejection letters. I call them the Very Good, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly form rejections. These are standard letters that I ask my staff to use, and with minor variations they are based on what the managing editor before me was using. Let’s start at the top and work our way down, shall we?

We have guidelines up
How many times must we ask?
Read them at our site

The Very Good

This doesn’t quite fit
But I liked your writing style
Send us some more soon

I might think your story is extremely well written, but still might not be right for A&A for any number of reasons.

One of the most frequent reasons a great story gets passed on is “editor taste.” And there is no arguing with that, for editor taste is as subjective as a preference for pistachio ice cream instead of orange sherbet. It just is.

Another reason that a great story you send to us might get rejected: it does not fit my artistic vision for where the magazine is going, and what I consider an A&A Story. This is even more difficult to define, but you can read our archives since I took over in 2005 and get a feel for it based on the overall tone of what I buy. This is true of any publication and is why guidelines usually suggest you read previous issues. Hey, we’re free and online; it’s not like you have to track down several print copies on a limited budget!

I love your story
Please send more soon. But only
ones without vampires.

Another possibility is that you might have a potentially great story, but I cannot see an easy fix to suggest a rewrite. The “very good” rejection therefore mentions one or two things you did right and an area that needs work. These can be, but are not limited to: grounding, tightening, places in the manuscript where things got confusing or dragged, or my noting where I stopped reading or something threw me out of the story. We are not asking for a rewrite, and but we are trying to be helpful. Please don’t hate us. We spent a little time thinking about your story. We liked it enough to tell you so.

liked your writing
but I didn’t get what was
with the big robot

The Good

It was a good tale
But in the end confused us
style ain’t everything

It was okay. I mean that. For us to give you the “good” rejection we thought it was an actual story and that you are an actual writer. Maybe not a published one yet, or maybe not one we will take this particular offering from, but a good writer. However, as associate editor Jude-Marie Green is fond of saying, we do not publish “good” stories, we publish outstanding ones. Keep submitting. The way you go from good to outstanding is by honing your craft and continuing to write!

Thought about it for a
long time but the ending was

The Bad

This is our standard form letter. If you are a new writer it may mean that the story was not exceptional but you have at least a little talent. Keep writing and submitting.

It might also mean we are swamped and working on a huge backlog of stories and do not have time to give you more than a brief acknowledgement of your submission being sent back to you. That happens a lot, so try not to read too much into it!

Our guidelines preclude
The entire Star Wars series
Try George Lucas

The Ugly

Please enlighten me
Was this written in English?

Are you familiar with the terms “opt out” and “opt in”? It is always less effort to get people to leave something in than to take it out. For example, if a high school course is “opt out” and everyone is enrolled, more people will take it. If it is an elective, or “opt in,” less will take it. So our default setting is to say that we hope to see more of your work. We all started somewhere and we are glad you thought of us. A&A wants to encourage writers that have the least spark of talent, we really do.

But . . . very rarely we take out the phrase we hope to see more of your work. When we don’t say that, we’re serious. It means you’ve either sent us (a) porn, (b) a really badly written western, or (c) something so horrible (like squicked-out splatter punk horror) that we’ve seen enough. It was truly painful, okay?

If words were Spring rain
yours would be muddy puddles
with dead worms and oil

I read your story
I hate the universe now
I beg you: No more

Wendy S. Delmater,  Editor of Abyss & Apex, does not hate you, but she and her staff get 400 submissions per five stories published here. When A&A rejects your story we are still very glad you thought of us. (Well, usually.)

Editorial © 2009 Wendy S. Delmater. All other content copyright © 2009 Abyss & Apex Publishing. 

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