I thought I’d take a moment to mention that “The Rabbit Hole, volume 5: Just…Plain…Weird” has been put to bed. Release date is October 31st (Happy Halloween!).
While it is difficult to follow past posts by Carl and Sue (among others) on the subject of criticism, let me offer some comments from the viewpoint of an (admittedly amateur) editor.
First off, no matter how much an editor would like to give some hints or suggestions along with a rejection slip, it’s just not possible since we are only allowed 24 hours in a day (although I will post some helpful [?] hints below). This last go around we had over 220 submissions from which we chose 37 stories. Now consider, we are a non-paying publication, with a volunteer staff (me, Curtis, and GD). Imagine what it’s like at major magazines and publishing houses swamped with mountainous “slush piles”, along with submissions from agents of well-known authors. (Something I assume most, if not all, reading this to be well aware of.) If I remember correctly, Molly Barton, one of the initial creators of our sorely missed Book Country, stated that it was her inability to help aspiring authors with criticism, etc. that led to the idea of a site where writers could help other writers.
Second, the accept/reject decision. Ah, if only this were easy. We are all human (no AI editors yet, that I know of — thank God!), and we all have our likes and dislikes. That’s why I insist on having three editors for the decision-making process. Editors should be like a clichéd tv family of siblings (e.g., a bookish one, a dumb one and the jock), only in this case with different likes and dislikes (genre 1, genre 2, and literary). Why? Because it keeps the resulting anthology diverse in tone and substance, but that diversity of opinion also results in a diversity of approach. I think Curtis, GD, and I made a good team for RH V (GD replaced Atthys who worked on RH IV), because when their comments came in, I often felt like I was in the US Congress—no one agreed on anything (with rare exceptions). The most common initial vote was 1 Yes, 1 No, and 1 Maybe. It’s good to have a range of tastes from the more literary to the more pulpish, action or fantasy stories. Everyone gets their say, and decisions get made. (BTW, no one ever threatened to hold their breath until they turned blue in fighting for a story). Remember, weird, like humor, ranges from the subtle to the outrageous!
In my case, when I first look over a submission, I read for plot (I find this kind of funny because if I have any strengths as an editor, it’s as a line editor). As a result, I have initially advocated for stories (which didn’t make the cut) only to realize, on rereading following the receipt of another editor’s negative comments, that despite being a good story it was poorly written. There was one, submitted for RH IV, which I remember really liking, but following that reread, had to admit that I didn’t have a month to turn it into acceptable English (a total rewrite of someone else’s story isn’t my job anyway).
Well, I did promise some hints (feel free to share). So here they are (and I apologize ahead of time if anyone is offended):
- Please read the call for stories, and/or the publication’s descriptive blurb, carefully! The editors know what the theme of their publication is, and so should you. What do you think would happen if you submitted a story about growing up in Middle America for a cookbook compiling only flaming chili recipes? Or maybe a story about the great time you had getting drunk in college to Alcoholics Anonymous magazine? Why wait for the rejection slip? It’s a real shame when we get a beautifully written story about a little girl raising her first puppy or about an author mulling their life while facing his or her final days, but we’re specifically looking for, and asked for, weird stories.
- Weird and gross are two very different things! If necessary, look up the definitions. While potty humor works well in elementary school and at frat parties, it doesn’t age well in print. (I’ll spare you examples.)
- Submit fan fiction to fan magazines. Enough said.
- Look, it may be true that every plot in this universe has been, in some fashion or other, previously used in a story or novel. But please, please, at least try to add sufficient originality to your effort to avoid a red flag waving in the wind proclaiming to the reader, “You’ve read, or seen, this already!” We had rehashes of “Through the Looking Glass” and “Alice in Wonderland”, but the worst was the blatant rip-off of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (except the meanies were, I kid you not, commas! Yes, big, fat, flying, killer punctuation marks that impaled people with their pointy bits! I’ll give the author this much, it was reasonably well written, but such a blatant rip-off we just had to pass on it (and no, it wasn’t a satire)).
- Note: a jokey narrator generally comes off as a wise-ass, not a wit. Pass.
- Please have someone who has a reasonable grasp of the English language read your story before you submit — and take their advice. Please.
- Never, ever, ever submit a first draft. (Yes, that means that just because you’ve completed the text of the story, it does not mean you are finished.)
- Gibberish is not weird, it’s just gibberish.
- This should actually be 8a) if written while stoned — Please don’t submit it.
- A personal bug-a-boo. If you haven’t got an ending for your story, you haven’t got a story. Others might disagree, but from my perspective, a good writer should know both how a story starts and how to end it.
- And finally, please put your name and contact information at the top of the first page of your story. I often had this wonderful experience teaching technical writing. It seems people assume that since they have their name on the email containing the story file that grants immediate author recognition. Instead it means, after downloading the story file into the “To Be Read” queue, the editor has to go search through email to see who sent it. (I, being nice, will. I assume that larger publications just send “To Whom It May Concern” rejections slips when you inquire six months later.)
Let me finish by saying that despite all of the above, it has been a real joy working with Curtis, GD, and Atthys (on RH IV). They are insightful, knowledgeable, and understand how to arrive at a group decision even if it means rejecting a personal favorite. The Rabbit Hole IV and V would not have been the lovely anthologies they are without them.
So, after all my venting, let me ask — any interest in Rabbit Hole 6?
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