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Puzzling out feedback from editors and agents


I have published about 20 short short stories in the token and semi-pro magazines, and I'm having a devil of a time breaking into the pros. Most of the editors at the professional level do not give personal feedback, so you don't know what they like or don't like about your stories.

There is an exception to this, and that is C.C. Finlay over at Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He almost always gives personal feedback. The problem is, his feedback is usually rather cryptic. For example, I recently sent him a story about a young Buddhist woman who becomes an alien god, and C.C. said the story was "too direct and on-the-nose." He didn't say if the plot was too direct, if the Americans resort to nuclear weapons too fast, if the character is too direct, or what? In the past I once sent him a very polite response to his critique, asking what he meant by some of the feedback he had given me, and he sent, perhaps in jest, a form rejection.

Does anyone here have experience with this editor? It's nice that he offers such feedback, but without more details, it's worse than a form letter, because you are left with the feeling that you have been given something valuable but empty, like a set of Russian dolls with no chocolate in the center. How do I interpret this man's feedback? Anyone?


toujours gai, archie
Have you had beta readers or others look at these stories? Since I don't know what the story says, it's hard to say what the response might mean. Something there was in the story that the editor felt was too obvious, too heavy-handed. Could even be the premise itself. Also, I wonder if that's *all* he said. Did he say the writing was good, or that it was the type of story they would welcome, but...?

You say his feedback is "usually" cryptic. That implies you have multiple responses. Do they all say the same sort of thing?

It's beyond nice that he responds. It's rare metal. You're right to work it for any meaning you can glean.


It's almost impossible to guess what the feedback might mean without also reading the story, or at least having a more detailed synopsis.
Impossible to know without reading the story.

I wonder if the development of the plot was the culprit, leading too directly to its final destination, i.e. somewhat predictable although one might keep reading hoping for a twist or other surprising development that never comes.

Could be insufficient subtext, as Michael suggests. But then, subtext can be one way to broaden possibilities, keep the reader wondering, thus preventing the plot from feeling like a straight line.


You could maybe do a search for this writer/editor online and see what you can turn up.

I found this on F&SF:

"— More specifically, what kinds of stories are you looking for?

I love stories that surprise me in some way with their ideas, their characters, their plots, their language. I love stories that do more than one thing well – beautiful language and a compelling idea; fast-paced adventure and a complex, interesting theme; diverse, complicated characters and cool science, or any other combination. I love stories that take some kind of risk and make it work. I love the stories I didn’t know I needed until I read them."

He's been interviewed here and there. You might read some of those interviews to gain some insight into how he thinks and what he might be looking for in submissions.
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