When we as writers are working on a story, we tend to focus intensely on only that story. We read it over and over, we post it for crit or send it to a few trusted readers, we dissect every word and phrase to make sure they say exactly what we want them to say. We seldom see it in any other context.
Editors aren’t reading that way. Most of us would like to be able to sit down with one story at a time, read it slowly two or three times, ponder what the writer was trying to say, and offer really insightful critique to make a perfect story. But the reality doesn’t happen that way. The reality is that life, family, work, and our own writing take up most of our time. We let the slush pile up, knowing every day that we should get busy. Finally we set a block of time to tackle it, and we sit down and do it.
That means we’re reading in a bunch. One story after another. Unlike many other editors, I’m not dealing with the really crappy stuff; our slush wrangler has already screened out the stupid, the incompetent, and the hapless. So I’m reading mostly pretty good stories.
One right after the other. In a bunch.
By the time I get done reading through that pile, they all start to sound this same. “Oh, dear God, not another amoral female sellsword who left her home under suspicion and…” For example. Even stories that are quite different in story and character wind up sounding like all the others. Daikaijuzine always gives personalized comments. When I go to write them, it’s extremely difficult to find something to say. Because really there’s nothing wrong with the story. If I had read it by itself in a crit group, I probably would have said it was excellent.
But one right after the other, in a bunch? It’s just like all the rest.
This, I think, is what most editors mean when they say, “It just didn’t grab me.” There’s just not enough right about it. Not enough special, not enough strong and insightful, not enough deep and moving, not enough wild and crazy, not enough warm and inspiring. I turn it over, go on to the next one, and when I try to write the rejection, I feel bad but have nothing more to say than a wordy version of, “it just didn’t grab me.”