Why do some markets take longer to reject than accept?

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alice the hare

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I’ve been a member of Duotrope for about a month now, I have a couple of things that I’ve begun submitting, and I’ve noticed something that seems counterintuitive.

Duotrope is AWESOME…they keep data on exactly how long each market takes to respond, what percentages of submissions they reject and accept, and even the average response times for rejections as opposed to acceptances. And I’ve noticed a lot of magazines…not most, but enough that it’s surprising…take substantially longer to reject submissions than accept them. For example, I’m looking at one right now with a just under 2% acceptance rate; average response time for acceptances is 3 days, average response time for rejections is 18 days.

While I’ve never worked on a literary magazine, and I know there’s got to be some logical explanation I’m not seeing, this seems rather bass-ackwards to me. Without having any actual knowledge of the editorial process, my naive guess at how I’d select stories to publish would be something like this:

1. Try to give every submission a quick glance within the first few days after it arrives, and immediately reject everything that’s obviously awful, just to trim down my slush pile.
2. Take a little longer look at everything that’s not obviously awful, and at that point reject those that just seem dull/cliched/don’t grab me, keeping those that seem interesting.
3. Take a still longer look at everything interesting, getting a feel for the overall structure of the story, writing style, characters, conflicts, etc. Make one pile for serious consideration, and another pile that gets rejected at that point.
4. Really read in depth everything that’s made it this far. Pick enough stories that I love to fill the issue, then send out acceptances for those and rejections for the ones that didn’t make the final cut.

So my responses would range from a couple of days for the worst submissions (all rejections), to a month (or maybe a couple of months) for the best, whether they’re accepted or rejected—which would result in a much faster average response time for rejections than acceptances. It seems it ought to be like dating—you pretty much know within minutes of meeting someone if there’s no way in hell you’d ever even kiss them, whereas it takes a couple months of dating to decide that someone who was appealing enough to go out with is a candidate for a life partner, and a year to a couple of years to be sure enough to actually get engaged. Imagine proposing to Person A within a week, while telling Person B you’ll let them know in a couple of years if you’ll have coffee with them or not!

Sooooo…I’d really appreciate anyone with experience in this area helping me figure out what the functioning is behind markets that accept faster than they reject. How do they avoid filling up their issue too quickly, and then risking something better coming in? Are they not worrying about finding the absolute best in the slush pile, just accepting the first 10 (or however many) things that meet some “good enough” standard, and then the task of rejecting all the rest gets put off as long as possible? Seriously not trying to be snarky or disrespectful in any way; I’m genuinely curious.

(Mods, please feel free to move this if it’s in the wrong subforum; I thought of posting it in Ask the Editor, but that seems to be more about editors who work with writers to polish book manuscripts, as opposed to editors who pick stories for magazines.)
 

Woollybear

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Maybe they snap up what they know is hot (buzz-y) and hang onto the rest for a few more days in case they aren't sure.

In other words, market driven?

Obviously, this = speculation.
 

Introversion

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I suspect the quick acceptances are for established authors with a track record. Some of them were likely invited to submit.

Whereas submissions from proles like me languish in the slush piles until an intern picks them up. If it’s not an obvious fail (written in crayon, wrong genre for the market, etc), then it gets passed along to someone higher in the food chain. Perhaps several someones. Which takes time to get consensus. When tor.com was open for general submissions, I had rejections take six months or longer.
 

CameronJohnston

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Often a magazine will have multiple slush readers with different queues, and they read through them at different rates before passing them on to the actual editors or second readers. Some readers are also just slower than others, or maybe they read at the weekends in between day jobs.
 

onesecondglance

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Imagine you work as a reader for the magazine. You have a never-ending pile of submissions to read, and the editorial team nipping at you to get stories for the next issues over to them as soon as possible. Emailing authors has to be done in and around all this stuff.

In the very small amount of time you have to dedicate to replying to submissions, which subs are you going to prioritise? Those that you're accepting - so they can move into the editorial process? Or those that you're rejecting?
 

Krampus Nacht

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