How to get your story rejected

I am currently editing the 5th Tales of Fortannis collection, and sadly am sending out more rejection letters than I’d like.Gaston

I say “sadly” for two reasons: First, I hate disappointing people and rejecting their stories (I’ve been on the receiving end of that as well, after all); and second, I need more stories (but am unwilling to lower my standards).

There are many reasons stories may get rejected. Here are the reasons I most commonly have rejected stories for this collection:

  • The author has clearly never read the guidelines, and has submitted a story that does not fit into the shared world of Fortannis. There are gods (even though I clearly say “no religion” in the guidelines); there is magic that cannot possibly exist (even though the magic system is also described in the guidelines); or there are plot matters that do not fit the already-established world. Please. Don’t waste both of our times. Read the guidelines.
  • The characters are boring. They all talk alike, they have no personality, and I don’t care that they are in trouble because they are so one-dimensional. They are the same at the end of the story as they are at the beginning, having learned nothing. Remember: stories aren’t about what you may think they’re about — they’re about the characters.
  • The bad guys have no reason for being bad guys. They’re just evil, they want to take over the world, blah blah blah, yet they have a hundred minions and soldiers who are fiercely loyal for no apparent reason. Give your bad guys motives that are just as strong as the motives your good guys have.
  • The story itself is boring and predictable. I receive too many stories that read like someone has just transcribed their Dungeons & Dragons session. Not every story has to be an adventure about fighting monsters (as I say very clearly in the guidelines).
  • There are scenes that add nothing to the story. Heading into the tavern and having dinner before the big adventure is only interesting if something happens. You should examine every scene to make sure it’s needed — if you can remove it and the story still works, then you don’t need it. And often the character development or other information given in that scene can be worked into another scene and be much more effective. This is especially true when there is no conflict or tension in that scene. Keep the action moving!
  • The story starts too late. We need to care about the story from the start, not ten pages in. Or grand, exciting things will happen early in the story but they don’t happen to the main character so they really don’t matter. Especially in a short story, you need to tell that person’s story.
  • It’s full of misspellings, grammatical errors, and just plain old bad writing. When I get a story like that, I rarely read past the first page or so.
  • The author hasn’t read my blog. Okay, maybe not mine in particular, but you will note that almost everything I listed above links to an article I’ve already written on this blog, and what I have said you’ll find as well in a hundred other blogs about writing.

And finally, there is one more reason a story may be rejected — I already have another story with the same theme. You could have written a great story but if I have two that are very similar, I really have to choose just one. For one of the Fortannis collections, I received three separate stories in which a princess was in love with the court jester. The underlying plot in each one was completely different, but that love was an integral part of the story. There was no way I could accept all three. (As it turned out, they were all rejected for other reasons, based on the criteria above, but what if they had all been really great stories? I would have had to pick one and rejected the other two.)

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