Sometimes it’s OK to say no
Posted by Greta van der Rol
Some several months ago I submitted a science fiction short story to a new magazine. It has very stringent submission requirements, involving an on-line form and I was delighted when the story passed the first hurdle and was under active consideration.
A few days ago I received a response from an editor. She liked my story but felt it needed some work. That’s fine. I think it’s wonderful to receive genuine feedback from an unbiased third party, so I was interested to see what she had to say.
The majority of her remarks were things I could work with; rephrasing, overuse of expressions, a bit of unnecessary body language and so on. She didn’t like the beginning, either; all things to consider in a re-work.
But then she moved on to the science in the story. Her first point was valid; I hadn’t explained myself well and gave the wrong impression. But from there, the amber light began to flash. I had done my homework. The technology and the science in this story were firmly based on an extrapolation of what is happening now, in two cases and an extension of the frontiers of brain science in another. All three were labelled as ‘not believable’. For me, this editor had just demonstrated an absence of knowledge about what is and might be possible. That’s a worry in an SF magazine. Bear in mind that there are accepted standards in SF that are simply made up. Hyperspace, where a ship enters a different spacetime to cover vast distances, is the best example. And before you say I didn’t explain my tech well enough to be convincing, a number of beta readers wouldn’t agree with you.
OK, amber is flashing. I read on. She wants the heroine of the story to have made the choice to become what she is, not have it foisted on her as a baby. She has a number of reasons for this, one of which is that she cannot countenance an operation on an infant.
At this point the red light glowed. The whole point of the story is that the heroine never had a choice. She has been made into what she is – until she is thrust into the situation which is the plot of the story. Then she is forced to make a choice. This editor wanted a different story to the one I had written and I was not prepared to write it.
I responded to her, explaining what I’ve explained in this post, ending with the words ‘… I’ll have to pass.’ Please bear in mind that this is not altogether a criticism of that editor. She had a job to do, specific requirements to meet and my story didn’t meet them. That’s fine. I have myself to live with.
She wrote back, officially rejecting the story. But she invited me to submit again. So I haven’t burnt my bridges and I still have my soul.