It means, no amount of literary prose will impress a magazine editor unless it's what she/he is looking for. It must 'fit' his/her magazine (look I'm sick of being PC and writing 'his/her' so in future it's 'her' okay?).
I've seen some beautiful writing by folk with far greater experience/literary talent than I have, yet they can't sell to the womags. So, what are the eds looking for?
'I'll know it when I see it', is their usual response. I think they go as much with gut instinct as anything. But, they are experts at it and let's not forget their jobs rely on them getting it right.
So how do we please them?
- Your story has to be a satisfying read - a hook at the beginning, no saggy middle and you must tie up all the loose ends at the finish. A reader should go 'Ahhh' at the close, not 'What the f***?'
- The characters must be well-drawn, the sort their readership would recognise and identify with. You don't find many tattooed, bikers living with unmarried mums in The People's Friend, or wool shop owners wearing Tweed (the cloth or the perfume take yer pick) in Take A Break...see what I mean?
- Your character must come up against a problem which she resolves in a satisfying and believable way. The solution must be something she works through, not a sudden 'cavalry coming over the hill' type of closure. Remember Bobby Ewing waking up in the shower in Dallas?
- And this is the hardest criteria to meet...it must be something an ed hasn't seen before. Something original. Or at least a different 'take' on an old plot.
Sorry? You've made sure your story meets all the above requirements and still you can't get an acceptance? Then there's always the other reasons for non acceptance...
- It was the right story at the wrong time. Magazines plan about 4 mths ahead. Don't send a summer holiday story out in August. Likewise don't send a Christmas one out in November.
- The ed loves your story but she needed a 1000 word story and you sent in 2000 and there isn't time to ask you to cut it, so she chooses the next in the slushpile.
- The story was well-written with great characters and a smashing ending BUT the editor regrets she took something similar last week.
- The editor has bought far too many recently - enough for another six months. Make a note of this and re-send when the six months are up.
I'm sure there're a dozen other reasons if I had time to think of them (I have to feed the family sometime)
Conclusion: If you know you can write, don't take a rejection to mean your story is unsaleable. Try a different mag. One with similar guidelines, obviously, unless you're prepared to edit to fit...which a writer with a professional approach will almost certainly do.