As recently appointed, senior fantasy editor for Aberrant Dreams http://www.hd-image.com/fiction.htm I have the privilege to accept a few stories and the job of rejecting many. In truth, I have several slush pile readers who sift through the stories first. As well, I haven’t been senior editor long. This was in part to move the backlog along. The editor-in-chief, Joe Dickerson, also began publishing some novels. Between that and running the website and making final decisions, well, the webzine was grinding to a halt.
It’s still in the jerky throes of getting up to speed and I certainly can’t speak for the horror or SF editors but we’re now answering within the 5-month limit indicated at www.ralan.com I haven’t yet seen my first picks go up and it could be a while to get through the accepted backlog, but hopefully we’ll see a bit more new work. Before that, I was a reader for about a year. I took on the job for several reasons. I have, in recent years, wanted to edit a magazine or anthology. If you don’t have your own wad of cash, then it’s working for another mag and the positions are few and far between.
I saw the ad for more editors and applied. My other reason was that by reading what other people are writing I might get a better idea of what the trends are, as well as why some of my own stories don’t sell. Becoming senior editor meant that I also would now choose which fantasy stories would be published.
With every story I’ve rejected I’ve tried to tell the writer why. It helps me concretize what is a good story, both for them and me. I also know that as a writer any constructive comment in a rejection is rare and writers really appreciate having an idea of what didn’t work besides the ubiquitous “it’s not right for us,” which can mean so many things. There have been a few stories I’ve had to reject because I have a quota. Those were the hardest and if several were of a similar theme (magical mystery, ghost, heroic, etc.) then I would narrow within that theme.
A story that I’m most likely to accept is one that sings. It’s how I describe it and what it means isn’t exactly exact. But to sing means it stands out above the rest, is somehow noteworthy and memorable so that I might be thinking of the story or characters weeks later. Some of those singing qualities can be a world/scenario so unique that no one has written on it before (either created completely by the author or a very new POV). It can be a voice (the style of the writing) so catching that you’re carried along by language and description. It can also be flow and conflict; a story so touching, terrifying, thought-provoking that you sit up and pay attention.
It’s a delicate mixutre and some people have a natural knack for it. Most of us mortals have to work at it and sometimes the story, the description, the language, the world, all come together to form the perfect piece. And then the story sings. I’ve learned a few things so far in editing for a magazine. Perhaps it will translate into one of my own stories and the muse will visit more often.