Why Was My Short Story Rejected?

Dooley-Bio-PicWhen KS “Kaz” Augustin, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly’s esteemed boss lady, approached me with an offer to be part of the editorial team, there was only one thing I wanted to do: provide a paid market for Science Fiction Romance in the short form. If writing a short story is difficult (and it is!), then writing a short story that manages to combine and balance the requirements for both science fiction AND romance genres is twice as challenging. No wonder, then, that the vast majority of the submissions are rejected.

Over the past nine issues, there has been one occasion when I failed to fall madly in love with a story (and so we didn’t publish one) and two occasions where I fell so madly in love that we published two stories that issue. Purchasing two stories stretches our budget quite a bit, so it requires me making puppy dog eyes and begging noises at Kaz. I’m lucky she’s a sucker for those things.

I think it might be helpful to those authors who wish to be published in our magazine if I go over the most common reasons that submitted stories are  rejected.

THE WRITING JUST ISN’T THERE…YET.

This category is (by far) the largest. We are absolutely open to new, as yet unpublished writers. I believe three of the eleven stories we’ve published so far have been from authors we were proud to debut. Lack of a publishing history means nothing to us. Lack of writing skills, however… We get many submissions that are just not fit to publish due to lack of craft, punctuation, grammar, etc. It might be the greatest story ever written, but if it’s riddled with typos, it’s going into the reject pile, fast. I encourage newer writers to submit their work to rigorous critique via beta readers, crit groups, etc, in order to bring writing skills up to a level where it’s the story I see, not the errors.

In this pile, also, are all the fantasy, paranormal, horror, etc, submissions we get. Instant rejection. Please read our submission guidelines under ‘submissions.’ on the home page of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly.

WHAT’S AN ‘HEA?’ WHAT THE HELL IS AN ‘HFN?’

This is the second biggest category in the rejection pile. We get a lot of submissions from obviously skilled speculative short fiction writers, many with quite impressive publication histories. Unfortunately, they are unfamiliar with the required Happily Ever After or Happy For Now ending. The story must end on an upbeat for the Romance arc. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top; subtlety is a beautiful thing. But it MUST end happily and/or hopefully. I strongly urge the writers in this group to read our archived fiction.

WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ SPECULATIVE ELEMENT…

1. Yes, you do! A large number of submissions in the reject pile are near-future scenarios that are, for the most part, indistinguishable from the contemporary world. Or the speculative element arrives far, far too late. In short, they’re not science fictional enough.

2. On the opposite side of the spectrum (but still in the same rejection pile) are those stories that start with a huge dump of world-building before the story even starts. We want stories that meld the romance and the science fiction seamlessly, and this means the SciFi never takes a back seat to the Romance. And vice versa.

I LOVE YOU. I’M JUST NOT IN LOVE WITH YOU.

It’s a good story, well-written, with all required elements present. I like it. Maybe I love it. But it didn’t make me say “Yes! Yes! This is the ONE! Thank you, Writing Gods, for letting me get my eyes on it!” It’s quite hard to explain this category other than it just didn’t capture and enrapture me enough. Or there might have been just one thing about it that lost me. One recent reason was that the heroine had absolutely no agency. Another rejection was because the relationship lacked passion (and I don’t mean sex). Another was that the characters were really great but the plot was a little too muddled. It’s hard to put the finger on exactly why a good story isn’t, in my personal opinion, one that we want to publish.

We have a general policy of not giving personalized feedback on stories. I do it occasionally, but I just don’t have the time to give feedback on all of them. Sorry. Hopefully, the above will help. And comments are open if anyone has any questions. Please do take a peek at our fiction archives. I hope you’ll love these stories as much as I do, and will give submitting authors a better idea of what we like.