Why we reject stories

Christopher East @ 07-01-2010

I’ve been reading and responding to Futurismic fiction submissions for going on five years now, and hundreds and hundreds of stories have passed through our slushpile. If you do something long enough, you start to see patterns, and I thought I’d write up a list of common reasons for rejection that might give potential contributors a better idea of our sensibility as a market, and mine as an editor.

So, read on for the top six reasons stories are rejected by Futurismic

  1. The story is set in the far future

    Although our guidelines explicitly state that we are interested in “near-future” stories dealing with “imminent change,” we still receive an inordinate number of stories set hundreds or even thousands of years off, on distant planets, after humankind has colonized the universe… or utterly destroyed civilization… or gone deeply posthuman… or transformed the Earth unrecognizably. These stories are almost always so thoroughly divorced from contemporary reality that it’s impossible to connect the dots between our now and the story’s then.

    These are perfectly valid science fiction stories, but they’re just not for us. Here at Futurismic we see science fiction as an opportunity to wrestle with immediate problems and examine ongoing change in the world. There are fascinating things going on every day, right now, that twenty or ten or even five years ago would have been considered science fictional. Just check out a few blog posts here at the site and you’ll see what I mean. We want our contributors to use science fiction to dig into these contemporary issues, technological and scientific advances, societal shifts, and cultural transformations. The far future is fine, but we’ll never get there if we don’t spend some time thinking about the next ten or twenty or fifty years. This is our primary area of focus.

  2. The story features aliens

    Again, aliens are a perfectly valid science fiction trope. Just not here. We’re interested in what we can see and develop and control, what’s in front of us and what we need to react to. Aliens are fun to imagine and a useful device for reflecting on what it means to be human, but we just don’t see them as an immediate issue.

    I’ll gladly eat my hat if Morena Baccarin’s head appears over Los Angeles, offering sinister universal healthcare to the world, but until then, to me there’s just nothing all that imminent or futurismic about aliens. This is a simple preference, stated pretty baldly in our guidelines; please keep your aliens to yourselves!

  3. The story is a “throwback future”

    A big clue to our interests here at Futurismic are embedded right in our name: we’re interested in futurism. But a very high percentage of the stories we receive are “post-collapse” futures that set the world back ten or twenty or fifty years. This isn’t to say I advocate an utter lack of dystopian SF; indeed, I think my tastes fall toward the darker end of the spectrum, as these things go. Let’s face it, sometimes today’s headlines make it a pretty bleak prospect to look too closely at the next 100 years.

    But dystopias that remove the future — where global epidemics or nuclear wars or catastrophic climate change have set us back to the Stone Age, or, hell, even the 1950s — kind of defeat the purpose for me. I’m not saying I’m never attracted to these stories, but the more of them I see, the more resistant I get to them, because they strip away a lot of the skiffy coolness that got me into SF in the first place. Instead of the post-collapse future, in other words, how about sending us to the mid-collapse future, when there’s still a chance to effect change?

  4. The story is not recognizably science fictional, especially in the early-going

    Too often, the stories that come through our slushpile do not establish their SF street cred early enough. Sometimes this is merely the inverse of our “far future problem” — the story is so contemporary, it feels like, well, today. But while sometimes these stories are simply short on SF content, other times they rely on “reveals” that belatedly thrust you into SF territory.

    Sorry… not interested. I want to know I’m in a science fictional future in the first five hundred words or less. Stories that don’t reveal what genre they are until, say, page seven, have very little chance of success here. When a story does this, I’m only proceeding on the hope that it will morph into great near-future SF. But the story could just as easily turn out to be a mistargeted contemporary fantasy or mainstream story. Don’t rely on my hopeful doggedness to get to your SF material; put it up front where I can see it.

    On a related note: in general, weak point of attack is another major cause for rejection. Just as I want to see the SF early, I want to see the story conflict early. It shouldn’t take four or five pages to introduce the problem. Get your licks in early, people!

  5. The story is too premise-heavy

    This one can sometimes be the opposite of #4 — the science fiction idea is perfectly valid, but discussed in overwhelming detail at the expense of story. It’s one thing to detail the intricacies of a future, but those details need to be made relevant to the plot. Just as often, the story action reads merely as an excuse to show off the skiffy ideas or future world-building.Make no mistake, we like involved, busy, inventive futures here. But we also want to be told stories. The more successful stories are the ones that integrate their SF world-building into a well structured narrative.

  6. The story just wasn’t for us

    Honestly, this is by far the most common reason a story gets rejected. I’m guessing that’s as true here as it is at any other market. Sometimes a story getting rejected is simply a subjective reaction from the editor.

    I liken this one to musical taste. When hearing a new song or piece, how long does it take for you to decide you don’t like it? It usually doesn’t take that long. (Just as an example, I can get turned off by most country music almost instantaneously.) It doesn’t always mean the music is bad, just that it’s not something you enjoy listening to. The same thing happens with fiction. It’s never personal, but it’s always personal taste. Another editor may have an entirely different reaction.

Hopefully this list will give potential contributors some added insight into how I approach our story submissions every day. I suppose this makes us look pretty picky about what we’re looking for… but so be it, we are picky! To me, that’s just the nature of the business.

If anyone has questions, feel free to ask them in the comments, or you can always query me directly – use the contact form, and put “FAO Chris East” in the subject line; and I’ll get back to you by email directly.

Looking forward to reading your stories in 2010!

– Christopher East

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3 Responses to “Why we reject stories”

  1. William Knight says:

    Thanks for the insight! I was wondering about something, though. I think another reason for the rejections is writers like Jason Stoddard, Genevieve Valentine, and Lavie Tidhar, have elevated the genre to such a high level, that you really have to be on your game to compete. Not a bad thing at all. Would you agree with that assesment, Mr. East?

  2. Chris East says:

    Absolutely, William, and that’s pretty true across the boards in the writing game. There are a lot of great writers out there competing for limited slots. And of course, we only publish 12 stories a year here at Futurismic, which doesn’t make it any easier to place a story here!

  3. Atsiko Ureni says:

    As someone considering a submission, this was very informational. The guidelines are very nice for separating out the broad “no” categories, but when you’re looking at something right on the border between “this is the proper market” and “this is not the proper market”, they’re a little thin. Thanks for digging a bit deeper.