Here is what the reading panel of a small American magazine said about one of my short stories last week –

This piece is disjointed and doesn’t make me care about the character.
Weak beginning…I´m not hooked by her inner dialogue and lack of action.She´s in bed, thinking. And then after that, we get some backstory. This needs to change.
There is so little that happens here, no real character-defining conflict. No hook. It´s a lot of introspection.
Funny typo – “The enemy were soft sheets.” So these soldiers were shooting linen with their machine guns?
What exactly about Barney was so horrifying to Kelly’s mother? Go into more details on why this union was so frowned upon
The timeline seems odd. Barney could not have joined the army before the age of 18. However, Kelly would have been 18 when she married Mark and first became pregnant- but it says that she ran off and tried to live her own life. Unless she immediately met Mark and got pregnant immediately and moved back to her home town, there doesn’t seem to be enough time for her to have done all of this.

All this might have been totally crushing… if I hadn’t already sold this story twice before, once to a magazine and once into an anthology. It was also short listed in the Sid Chaplin prize. I’m actually really proud of this story, and the editors who did choose it had only good things to say. So, while these readers obviously had problems with it and it wasn’t right for their magazine, that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the story. Usually I would say when you get feedback you should listen to what is said and act upon it, however, this situation seems to prove that’s not always the way. There are some pretty specific comments in this feedback ‘weak beginning…some backstory. This needs to change’ normally I would run back to my story and change the thing that ‘needs to be changed’ but, obviously, in this case I won’t be doing that. I would still say, though, that if an editor, and I stress AN EDITOR gives you advice or feedback and says something needs to change, you should act on it and change it. But if the advice comes from members of the public, friends, family, or a reading panel made up of god knows who, perhaps you don’t.

… also, and I don’t want this to turn into a rant really, but… well, I had limited contact with an editor whose magazine I was writing an article for last week. When I politely asked him for his writer’s guidelines he emailed me with a short and abrupt ‘we expect our contributors to look at the magazine and work out want we want’ …

ok then.

I have noticed that most UK magazines like to make it really difficult for writers. I don’t know if this is to cut down on the submissions and give them less to wade through. But when you look at US magazines in comparison it is a bit odd. Most US mags publish guidelines on their websites, and I’m talking about details like formatting, word counts and, god forbid, payment rates, not style and content. If this editor is not particular about formatting and word counts then fine, he could have just said so, but some editors are fussy about those things.

..urgh, I’m going to go and take some deep breaths now…