I have a set of comments related to a number of threads, but I think they go best here.
First, to the spirit of the thread! I'm a little late reporting it, but I had a streak about a month ago where I got a tier 2 rejection from One Story (yes, the literary journal) asking me to send them more of my stories. Then I got a glowing personal rejection from Waylines (which, from what others are reporting, seems to be a good place to get some feedback on what is working or not working in your stories). Then I got a personal request to submit more material from an anthology paying pro-rates. The editor responded to my follow-up submission by saying the second story wasn't right for his current anthology project, but he wants to consider it for the next one he's got planned and wants me to re-submit it when the time comes.
As a little background, I write in kind of a strange space, literary fiction with a sci-fi twist, kind of Twilight-Zone-esque. I've submitted three stories to the contest and haven't sniffed an HM, I can only gather because they're not sci-fi enough. I was submitting my stories exclusively to the top sic-fi magazines for a while (Strange Horizons in particular held a couple for quite a while) but then on a lark submitted one to the New Yorker, got their tier 2 response (the one that goes "this manuscript is not right for us, in spite of its evident merit") and realized that maybe the literary journals were a better fit for me. But to a degree I'm stuck in no-man's land, too sci-fi for the literary journals but not sci-fi enough for the sci-fi journals.
I want to steal this quote from the Success thread:
Woot! Woot! Galaxy's Edge is a great market. And I loved that story! So glad it found a home. I was baffled over the rejection--because it was so good--especially the voice.
Some great ones slip through. This is just proof. Also some stories do awesome in some markets and bomb in others--it's unfortunately not an exact science.
I want to expand on it, to take a moment to make a point I've seen a couple people make, but not strongly enough for my liking. The judges at WotF have been fairly forthcoming about what makes a good story in their minds. I remember reading somewhere that stories that get HM have pro-level potential and those that don't probably aren't pro-level. But I want to be very clear for everyone in here getting close, that selecting stories is a matter of taste. I think editors and agents do writers a disservice by not emphasizing this more. Some people like having their senses engaged in a story, I couldn't care less about it, I need my mind to be stimulated by new ways of looking at things. ALL editors and agents are wrong far more often than they're right. Just to name a few examples, Brave New World
was panned when it came out, Steven King and JK Rowling both had terrible times launching their careers, major awards like the Pulitzer Prize routinely overlook historically great novels and pick novels no one remembers twenty years after the selection.
So I just want to emphasize my point, because I've been very annoyed at writer's conferences at just how dismissive agents can be and how certain many editors and agents are that their method of reading a couple lines of a story or book is the best way to judge merit, or has any relation to how their readers judge stories: However hard we may take rejections, they mean absolutely nothing, including failing to get an HM here. It just means that your story didn't meet the tastes of a particular editor, and, so long as your writing isn't fatally flawed, it has absolutely no bearing on what any other editor is going to think. On the other hand, when one editor likes your work, it means that other people will as well, and you have to do what you can to find an editor among those people.