Thursday, March 15, 2007

Form Letter Codes


I recently recieved a form letter rejection from a fiction magazine. The editor had circled the stock phrases, "does not meet our current needs" and "please submit to us in the future." The editor also underlined the word "current." Does this represent a legitimate interest in my work on the part of the editor or should I just assume that a form letter of any kind is a flat out rejection?

Congratulations: You will never know the answer to this question. Assume it's a form letter.

I've been told there's actually a code to Fantasy & Science Fiction, the magazine that everyone submits to and no one gets accepted, but they get a really really fast reply (and by snail mail! So it took effort). There are different form letters they use, and the different ones indicate how far they got in your piece before they decided to reject it. I have a number of rejections from them, and they all have different wordings - "I didn't feel it was right for me" or "This doesn't meet our needs" and apparently there's a way to interpret these if you're a Fantasy & Science Fiction insider. If anyone wants to pitch in and tell us the code, I think everyone here would benefit. Everyone in science fiction submits a short story to F&SF. I've never met a single person who's read the magazine, but that's not the point here.


Anonymous said...

Ooo ME! I did. I read two issues when I first started getting into writing and decided I wanted to write horror instead. Now I wish I'd kept it around because I'm floating more toward sci fi and fantasty.

Anonymous said...

I don't think any litmag asks writers to submit more work unless they're interested in reading more work. The good ones get too many submissions to just be polite about this. Then again, the editor could have been doodling ...

Anonymous said...

I've actually tried to buy it at my local B&N and Borders to no avail.
I looked and you can order it online, but that would take planning. Buying new magazines is an impulse buy for me. If I can't see it, I ain't buying it.

Anonymous said...

This goes to the question that's raised now and then at writers' conferences: can't agents be more specific in discussing their decision-making process than to say "I just have to fall head over heels in love with the project!!!"

It seems to me that developing some kind of code by which a writer can somehow divine that he or she got three steps through the process, versus only two the last time, is a pure waste of time for the editors. If they're spending their time on that, it's a bad business decision.

Now, my own theory is that editors specialize in bad business decisions, so this shouldn't be a surprise. If nobody reads F&SF but everyone submits to it, then it sounds like this whole zine is a creature of bad business decisions.

Who, after all, buys any publication these days because they'll find good writing? (I read once of Yalies in the 1950s who'd run down to the New Haven station to grab the latest New Yorker with an Updike in it right off the baggage car. Who does that for Joyce Carol Oates?)

A publication that had that effect would be a product of good business decisions by the editors, it seems to me.

Harry Connolly said...

As I understand it, if the F&SF rejection says it didn't grab them, they stopped reading after a page or two. If it says the story didn't hold their interest, they read further but not to the end. If it says something else, they read to the end but the story wasn't suitable.

Anonymous said...

All I know is that JJA sends the "didn't grab my interest" one if he didn't read the whole thing.

I keep mine, proudly.

There's different wording on the one he sends if he did read it, must be the 'not right for me', and then beyond that, you get rejected by Gordon himself.

Anonymous said...

Here's my system for dealing with reality:

If an agent asks for a partial based on a query, I made it to first base.

Now if the query process includes an automatic request for a partial, I have to start on first base even though I did nothing to get there.

If an agent then asks for a full, I made it to second base.

When an agent makes an offer of representation, I made it to third.

And of course, a contract from a publisher means I made it to homeplate.

If someone makes suggestions and asks me to resubmit, I do it and stay on the appropriate base.

Other than that, I file away the reject and forget about it and keep writing because I don't want to lose what's left of my mind.

Maria said...

I've read an issue of the magazine. I try to do that before submitting because it really helps tell me if I have a chance--Sometimes I'm so sure it's a fit, I have the mag on order, but submit anyway (we all know the wait is looong on submissions.)

I've been rejected by Gordon himself so maybe that means I made it up the chain. But a reject is still a in the end it still means: move on. :>)

MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

Anon 2:27--your system made me smile, which I really, really need at this point.

I am almost being penetrated, and I need to score.

How frustrating this business is, but again, thanks for the laughs!

none said...

The whole coded F&SF rejections thing is a myth. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Hey manic mom - thanks for the nice words. I love making people laugh - it beats the hell out of the alternative. But it really is my system and I stay sane by working on the next one whilte I wait and wiat .. .

anon 2:27

Anonymous said...

I subscribed for several years and still have the back issues.

Ann Leckie said...

Not a myth. A direct quote from Gordon:

"but I generally use "doesn't grab me" for stories that don't carry me past page four or so, and "doesn't hold me" for stories that I don't finish."

You've got to scroll down a bit to get to it. But basically, yeah, "didn't grab" is didn't make it past the first few pages, "didn't hold" is got that far but didn't finish, and "not right" means finished but, well, not right.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I'm an editor at a smallish zine and I'm not half as busy as the folks at SF&F. I still don't have much time to write anything personal on my rejections. The sad fact is, my fellow editors and I are interested in making the best zine possible, so we only put time into the writers and stories that make it so.

If you get a personal note from me, it means your story was damn good, just fatally flawed in some way. I always do my best to detail it in a sentence or two if I really liked it. But understand, that's for about two stories a year. The rest of them get the form letter.

The sad reason we on the recieving end of writing often don't detail our thoughts is because at some point it's inadvertently invited a conversation with a writer desperate for critique. (I admit I've been on both sides of this table.) I already give much of my time to my two crit groups,, and sometimes to fellow bloggers. That's the time and place for it, not at my zine.

Critiques come from critique groups. Unexplained decisions come from editors and agents. Unfortunately, we're in a competitive business.

Anonymous said...

I submitted to SF/F and I don't even write the when he said "not for me" I figured he really meant it. :)


none said...

Hmm. Could've sworn I read in JJA's blog where JJA denied the existence of the code, but the weight of evidence is clearly against me :D.

*scampers off, corrected*

Anonymous said...

I agree with those who say a reject is a reject, and I'm puzzled, especially in light of the editor who says that, in a competitive business, there isn't time to engage the rejects in conversation, at those who feel they've somehow accumulated merit by keeping someone's attention until page seven, instead of page four.

I guess if that floats your boat, that's great, but it suggests there's a huge population of folks out there who are satisfied with not getting anywhere and who somehow read tea-leaves into their lack of success.

And I guess they support all the zines with "Writer's" as part of the title. Do they also pay the entry fees for all the contests? What about all the vanity MFAs?

And what about the editors whose cranks apparently get turned by sending out such coded non-messages? Tell me again how the publishing industry is a business, rather than a huge vanity exercise.

Anonymous said...

Of course there's a code at F&SF: everyone knows that when Gordon Van Gelder sends a rejection that reads "I'm afraid that this won't work for us," it really means "Come and get it like a big funky sex machine." Of course, you're only able to read this if you're off your medication, but them's the breaks.