Too Many Cooks

There's an old expression: "Too many cooks spoil the broth." I had an experience like that recently when a story of mine was rejected.

The first problem with the rejection was that I found out the periodical in question had a word limit; this was not at their website when I found them and submitted the story. Next was the rejection itself. It wasn't from the editor, but from a "team" of editors. One thought there was too much backstory; another was confused about the setting. These are contradictory comments. Either you can figure out the setting and don't need backstory, or you don't and need the information. Even stranger, a comment presumably from the editor who wanted less backstory suggested that this same editor wanted to know more backstory on the main character.

(BTW, there was a third editor who thought the story was boring and didn't finish it. Just to add one more opinion to the mix.)

Were I the person in charge of this publication, and I saw a rejection with such contradictions, I might wonder about my processes for dealing with submissions. If my "team" rejected a story for the same or similar reasons, fine. If the reasons contradict each other, or appear to contradict, I would hope that I'd wonder about the story. Two conflicting opinions can't both be right.

I'd also wonder what the writer would gain from such a messy rejection. Which opinion should the writer heed and which to disregard? The only thing I could conclude from the comments was that, which the story might need some cutting, it needed material added to make the setting more clear.

There was one other conclusion I drew from the rejection: this wasn't a place where I wanted to send any more of my work.

It's this very sort of issue that makes me nervous about critique groups. Feedback is nice, but what do you do if the opinions differ? How do you sort out which advice to take and which to ignore? And what happens if you follow one person's advice, and thus rejection someone else's suggestions?

If I'm going to be rejected, I'd rather it be from a single editor. That way I have no problem figuring out whether the rejection means something about the story, or if it just means the editor and I aren't on the same wavelength. Getting published is complicated enough as it is. Must more complications be added to the process?

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