Wednesday, August 20, 2014

5 Dumbest Rejections I've Ever Gotten From Publishers

Before I started self-publishing my books, I tried the traditional route of submitting work to publishers. I got a lot of form letters in return. I also got the occasional letter from editors who actually commented on why they rejected my stories. Some of them were very helpful and I used to improve my writing. Others were downright bizarre. Here are five that stood out to me.

1. "The Planet is Too Close To Its Sun" - I had a story set on the second planet of an alien solar system. The editor rejected it, saying it was too close to the sun to support life. First of all, I didn't provide the distance from the sun in my story. I just said it was the second planet from the sun. In our solar system, the third planet is a certain distance. That's far from universal. Second, this editor was referring to what's known as the Goldilocks Zone. It's believed that planets only a certain distance from the sun could support life - not too hot, not too cold. However, the distance of a planet to support life is hotly debated. Scientists have found life living in volcanoes and in Antarctic ice. And with sufficiently advanced technology, any planet could be made habitable. Third, this is something that could easily be changed if the rest of the story held up. Rejecting an entire story based on one little scientific quibble seems ludicrous, but some editors are fanatical about accuracy.

2. "Your Villain Cannot Sustain A Complete Novel" - My currently unpublished novel Wrong Number was once rejected by an editor who said the villain (Elroy Lynch) "cannot sustain a complete novel." I might have agreed with it except for one thing; I had the complete novel. It exists. And I believe Elroy Lynch is, to this day, one of the best villains I ever created. I have a friend who read the book and said he had nightmares about Lynch. I'm guessing the editor didn't read the outline I provided, and just judged the character based on his brief mention at the start of the novel. That's like deciding Darth Vader isn't strong enough to support a whole movie judged by his brief appearance at the start of Star Wars. If the editor had said she read the novel and didn't think Lynch was a strong villain, that's one thing. But she didn't.

3. "Purple Hair Can't Exist" - In one story set in a future where genetic engineering is commonplace ("Erasing Einstein," available in my short story collection Quantum Tales), I described some genetic modifications people used, including having babies with purple hair. I got back a rejection letter saying it's not possible for humans to have purple hair, because genetic engineering only modifies existing traits. "Introducing new genetic traits in humans," said the editor, "is impossible." Not only is this a minor point that shouldn't decide the fate of the entire story, it's also wrong. Scientists have made fish that glow in the dark, and cows that produce human breast milk. Purple hair is easy.

4. "People Don't Want Funny Sci-Fi" - I got a rejection for my comedy sci-fi novel Flying Saucers from an agent who said readers don't want funny sci-fi. He said readers "don't like to see science fiction made fun of." Obviously never heard or read Douglas Adams or Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat or any of the many other bestselling comic sci-fi novels. Or the thriving comedy both outside and within the geek community. If you personally don't like people making fun of sci-fi, that's one thing. Don't extrapolate your feelings to the entire reading public.

5. "There Are No Horses In the Future" - Another book I received a positive but negative response on was my currently unpublished novel, Cybernoon. It's a cyberpunk western set in a futuristic Arizona where the main character rode a cyborg horse and fought rustlers stealing genetically-engineered cattle. The publisher said he loved the story, but wanted an explanation as to why people still rode horses in the future. Well, that was in 1989, and it's now the year 2014, and I can still find active farms and horse-riding trails fifteen minutes from my house in Arizona. The whole point of the story was the idea that certain elements of the West would remain the same, no matter how much time passed.

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