Yesterday, we broke down the numbers for our first submission window: how many stories did we receive, how many did we buy, and so on.
Today we’d like to talk about that most thorniest of issues: rejections. Specifically, we’re going to delve into why stories received a rejection. Our hope here is, again, to shed some light on the selection process and offer advice to authors struggling to sell their work.
Rejection Reasons: A List With Numbers
To kick things off, here’s a list of all our noted reasons for rejecting a story. We’ll deep dive into each one below. You’ll probably notice these numbers add up to more than our 53 rejections—often stories had more than one cause for rejection, and indeed, a number of stories that were strong in almost (but not quite) everything received an acceptance or R&R.
- Nuts & Bolts: 42
- Not Really Cozy: 8
- Not Our Kind of Fantasy: 5
- Too Much Expository Telling: 5
- Set on Earth: 5
- Narrative Distance (“Fairy Tale Voice”): 4
- Modern Setting: 3
- Didn’t Connect to the Characters: 3
- Too Short: 2
Our most common cause for rejection was what we call “nuts & bolts”: the mechanics of prose and story writing. This is a huge, huge category about which shelves of books have been printed. Writing is hard.
So let’s make some lists!
- Thesaurus writing
- Dialogue tags
- Unclear action
- Simultaneous action
- “White room”
- Melodrama/purple prose
- Telling emotions
- Too many terms for the same character
- Overlong sentences
- Sentence fragments
- Passive voice
- Aimless/lacking drive
- Shows the wrong scenes
- Too much setup
- Too much denouement
- No conflict/conflict slow to arrive
- Too many flashbacks
- Withholding information
- Too many names
- Too many world terms
Our hope is to eventually dive into all these issues. For now, most of them are Googleable and/or addressed in good writing books.
“The Wyngraf Tone”
After nuts & bolts issues, the most common reason we gave authors for rejecting a story was that it didn’t fit Wyngraf‘s tone. This is especially important to us for our first issue, which will establish what Wyngraf is all about (and, we hope, help define cozy fantasy itself). We rejected a few truly excellent stories that just weren’t right for us.
We set word count limits of 4,000 to 10,000, but wound up breaking the lower limit pretty much immediately. We’ve already changed our guidelines to reflect what we learned: slice-of-life stories sit pretty comfortably in the 3,000-4,000 word range and that makes us happy.
That said, we received a few submissions best categorized as flash fiction, under 2,000 words. We may change our minds again, especially if something really wonderful comes across the transom, but for now Wyngraf doesn’t buy flash for the magazine.
We are, however, looking into putting some flash fiction on our website for free. Stay tuned…
Not Really Cozy
This mostly applied to stories that were too dark for Wyngraf. Some matched our themes of family, community, and home, but delved too far into the dark side of those to be considered cozy.
To us, readers should walk away from cozy fantasy tales with a feeling of comfort. That doesn’t mean they won’t be challenged, and the contents of issue one reflect this. But a Wyngraf story won’t have a downer ending, nor will it throw a spotlight on the darkest aspects of real life.
This also applied to a few stories that focused too heavily on action over interpersonal relationships or character growth. Action and combat are welcome at Wyngraf, but a story that’s mostly fight scenes in a cozy wrapping isn’t for us. Too, combat and killing shouldn’t be treated too cavalierly.
Not Our Kind of Fantasy
Fantasy is a broad genre, and we received a few stories that just weren’t our flavor. Wyngraf tends towards high fantasy (you know, with elves and stuff), so stories that diverge from that completely aren’t a good fit.
Set on Earth/Modern Setting
As noted in our submission guidelines, we’re not looking for stories set on Earth, even in the past. We also have a technological limit roughly equivalent to the early nineteenth century. Again, this is about defining what kind of fantasy readers can expect from Wyngraf.
Narrative Distance (“Fairy Tale Voice”)
This is a tricky one, not helped by the fact that our preference became better defined throughout the reading period.
First, Wyngraf prefers stories with close narrative distance. To us, that means readers should be privy to the thoughts and feelings of at least one character (usually the protagonist).
Too, most or all of the story should be told in immediate scene rather than summary. Readers should watch the action as it unfolds. Characters should speak in their own voices via direct dialogue.
To put it another way, stories written in “fairy tale voice” aren’t for us. These are stories that mostly summarize events and/or don’t really get into the heads of their characters. They often (though not always) act as a parable or work toward an ultimate moral. Here’s an example:
In a dreary castle on the marches there lived a noble knight. She had slain many dragons over the years and had grown quite tired of a life of battles. Though she would never admit it, her dearest desire was to live out her days knitting sweaters for hairless cats.Fairy Tale Voice
Sir Alise of Westhold almost didn’t hear the door opening over the clack of her knitting needles. As old Doughty shuffled into the room with a rattling tray of candles and cucumber sandwiches, Alise hastily shoved a tiny sweater beneath the soot-blackened shield in her lap.
“Polishing the old armor again, sir?” Doughty asked.
Sir Alise rubbed at the shield with the sleeve of her tabard, hoping she looked at ease. “Ten years since I fought Angarrion the Dreadful and I still can’t get these damn scorch marks out!”Close Narrative Distance
Hopefully that illustrates the difference. When in doubt, a good rule of thumb is this: if your story could begin with “once upon a time,” it probably isn’t for us.
Too Much Expository Telling
This could fall under nuts & bolts, but we broke it out because it was a common issue—and may have arisen in reaction to our invitation, in the submission guidelines, for authors to spend extra time on their settings.
Worldbuilding details are wonderful, but it’s hard to hold a reader’s attention through a paragraph or more of exposition. This is true even if the backstory is given in the protagonist’s voice.
Instead, strive to integrate exposition into the story naturally. Your protagonist can deliver key facts here and there as they become important, but even better is to make those key facts a source of conflict in the story.
Another recurring problem was the “false start.” This is a story that begins with action (like we’re all taught to do) but, since action without context is meaningless, immediately pauses to catch the reader up on everything the protagonist was doing before the story began.
A dead giveaway of the false start is when your second paragraph is full of the word had:
Sir Alise of Westhold reined up her horse at the base of the Yarn Wizard’s many-colored tower.
She had traveled many miles to get here. The journey had begun when old Doughty came shuffling into her bedroom with his candles and sandwiches. He had told her in his old creaky voice how the Yarn Wizard was withholding his spells of softness, had insisted something really ought to be done. So Sir Alise had saddled up Wildheart and set out…And so forth
If the content is exciting and full of conflict, consider starting the story earlier and writing it out in immediate scene. If there’s no conflict but the information is important, try to break it up and deliver it in small bits as the real action of the story moves along. If it’s neither of those, cut it!
Sir Alise of Westhold reined up Wildheart at the base of the Yarn Wizard’s many-colored tower.
“Get your flocked arse down here!” she shouted through cupped hands. “I heard a rumor you’re being stingy with the softening spells again!”
A reedy voice answered from the top of the tower. “What do you care, knight? Go kill a dragon!”
“I don’t!” Sir Alise replied. “But my man Doughty does, and when Doughty gets cranky his sandwiches get soggy. Speaking of cranky, I just rode thirty leagues in a day and my saddle sores have saddle sores, so why don’t you come on down and we’ll talk about it!”A masterpiece in the making
Didn’t Connect to the Characters
This is another topic that could fill a shelf of how-to books. But it’s essential that readers connect with your characters, especially in a cozy story where the action can’t speak for itself.
This was a rare problem, which made us happy. When it did occur, the characters were often vague or lacking in personality—though you should also make sure your characters aren’t actively unlikable!