Unconstructive Criticism

Dear Removed,

Thank you very much for letting me see “Removed.” We regret that we cannot make use of it at this time.

All submissions will be examined as promptly as possible, and if suitable, will be paid for on acceptance.

Many manuscripts are rejected because of fundamental faults.  Check these things:
—Since Removed is a science fiction magazine, we consider only science fiction stories—that is, stories in which some aspect of realistic science or technology plays an integral part.  We do not publish fantasy or stories in which the science is only peripheral.
—Science fiction readers are problem solvers!  Stories with downbeat endings, in which the characters have no hope of solving their problems, are strongly disliked by Removed readers.  In a good SF story, the characters strive to solve their problems—and even if they fail in the end, they go down fighting, not whimpering.
—Good fiction demands strong, believable characters who face powerful, intriguing problems.  Without these, there is no story, no matter how fascinating the ideas or scientific background may be.
—Some plot ideas have been so overworked that it’s virtually impossible to wring a fresh story from them.  These include “scientific” retellings of biblical tales, time travelers who unwittingly change their world when traveling into the past, UFO stories, and stories in which the “alien” world turns out to be Earth.
—Write about what you know.  Removed writers should be able to do sufficient research to get their facts straight, and they should be keen enough observers of people to write realistically about them.
—Please don’t ask for individual criticism.  With hundreds of submissions per month, it is physically impossible to answer them all personally.  Many writing errors are quite subtle, and extremely difficult to define clearly in a sentence or two.


Now when it comes to rejection letters, struggling writers don’t need much. You’d be amazed how often a story’s problem can be told in a very short sentence. A simple, “we’ve seen it before” or “we prefer a happier ending” are great.

I get that an editor does not want to get dragged into an argument with a writer because their feelings got hurt. So they skip around it. They keep a uniform rejection letter available that may have some generic advice, as above. Or they just say thanks but no thanks.

The writer will either be a professional, or he’ll get black listed.

If anything, the advice listed here actually does more harm than good. Are you saying my characters were weak? That you’ve seen this idea before? Are you saying my story wasn’t science fiction? All the above?

The story ran passed the editor(s), and he or she (or they) had a good reason to reject it. But since they actually keep a list like above of what they don’t want, why not mention specifically what point(s) on this list, if any, were the cause of the rejection? The fancy automated submission system could easily come with a few check boxes with the usual reasons.

This is business. I know that very well. It’s time and money spent on a chance to make more money back than what you banked, and thrill some people in the process. But even in an interview for a job, the person offering the job will shoot a valid reason why not, such as lacking the necessary skills or that they just found someone more qualified.

I don’t even need the detailed, individual review. Just shoot me a blunt reason so I can get better at writing.

2 responses to “Unconstructive Criticism

  1. That letter sounds so passive-aggressive “We read your story… some people fail to get into our magazine because [list reasons]. We’ll let you guess why your story isn’t good.”

    They may as well have just said ‘we are not interested in your story’ and leave it there. At least that doesn’t make you second guess yourself like that vague stock platitude.

    • Exactly. If they’re not interested, it’s all good. Thanks for their time. But saying no and sowing confusion doesn’t help anybody.

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