Sometimes it’s OK to say no

Amber traffic lightSome 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.


About Greta van der Rol

I'm an author of fast-paced, action-adventure novels, mainly space opera - although I've been known to write in other genres. I live not far from the coast in Queensland, Australia and enjoy photography and cooking when I'm not bent over the computer. I have a degree in history and a background in building information systems, both of which go a long way toward helping me in my writing endeavours.

Posted on 26 January 2011, in On writing, Science fiction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I’d be disturbed by an editor of a science fiction magazine who seems missing a firm knowledge of science and the extrapolation of it. A good decision to pull it. Find a market that will understand and appreciate it.

  2. Greta,

    Congrats on passing and not sacrificing your standards to meet imposed ideas that are not yours. In SF, isn’t the idea to be able to suspend belief? The reward is a story that takes us some where we didn’t expect to go. I think that is why we call if fiction, yes? Please don’t mistake my idea of “suspending belief” for outrageous speculation that wouldn’t pass the readers muster. The idea of “what if” is what we all read SF for, at least it is what I read it for.

    I’m sure she was surprised, and there will be others who would wish for the opportunity, but it takes guts to know what you want and to go after it. Job well done.


  3. Sometimes people see in a story what there isn’t. They have an idea and want to bend the story to their mould. I think an editor who isn’t happy with cosmetic changes (i.e. wording, minor facts and such) should reject the story. The fact that a magazine does this sort of thing tells me that they don’t get enough submissions. Which in itself is telling. Personally, unless they pay pro rates, I wouldn’t submit there again.

  4. Bill van Oosten

    Obvious your v strange editor has not read Friday by Robert A. Heinlein.
    Thought that that was almost required reading.
    If its against the grain…pull the pin. Well done.

  5. Interesting that the editor commented on the “not believable” aspects of a SF story. I wouldn’t have thought that would ever happen in SF. I’m glad you sense that the story the editor wanted wasn’t what you were prepared to write. Your story is your story and you can only bend it so far to please other people. As far as her not wanting the operation on a baby, well, some people just aren’t comfortable with harsh truths. As Stephen King said in his book On Writing, something like: Just because people aren’t ready to read the truth, doesn’t mean you, the author, shouldn’t write it…

  6. Needed to hear this sage advice today, Greta. Thank you.

  7. Congratulations on the offer, and the strength to turn it down.

  1. Pingback: The story I refused to change | Greta van der Rol – Author

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