Tales from the Slush Pile

issue29_largeFor years I have actively sought out slush readers to hear what they have to say about submitting stories, what the process is like, what kinds of things they have seen, and what sort of things they’ve learned once becoming a slush reader. I’ve read articles, I’ve sat on panels (most recently at Context in September), and I have even pondered the idea of becoming a slush reader myself. Well, finally I took the plunge. Last month I officially became a slush reader for Apex Magazine.

Yes, I know, freaking cool right?

But you have to know it took me years of pondering whether or not I wanted to even commit to something like that. It’s not something you do half heartedly. And if I did it, I wanted to be all in. I also wanted to be sure I could dedicate the time to reading stories every day. I felt a little sick in my stomach when I finally decided to stop thinking and DO IT! And I’m so glad I did.

It’s really not as bad as I thought it would be.

Time wise. I find I can easily read a story or two (sometimes more). I can fit one or two in during my lunch break, or a couple right before bed. Sometimes I’m waiting (like at the doctors office or on my son to get done with his gymnastics class) and I can slip in a couple. In fact, many times I get done with the stories assigned to me and I’m sad there are no more left.

I find I LOVE reading stories!

The good, the bad, the in-between. I like reading them all. Now I may not finish all the stories (it depends on how crunched I am for time). Just after a month, I’ve already become critical with what I see. If it doesn’t hook me, make me go WOW, or make any sense at all it goes to the rejection pile. Apex only accepts 3 stories a month (that’s 3 freaking stories out of hundreds of submissions a month!), so they have to be really picky about the kinds of stories they accept. So nothing less than dazzling gets passed up the ladder to the big guy upstairs.

It sucks. It really does. I’ve seen many stories that were good, but just not quite good enough. I hate to reject them, but only the best of the best go forward and even those get weeded out to only a small 3.

And now I finally get it.

All those rejections letters I received in the past for my own work after being sent to a multitude of publishers. It’s not that the person reading and rejecting my story didn’t like or even love my story, it’s that it wasn’t the best of the best of the best. Or maybe it just didn’t fit quite right with the theme of what the editor was looking for. Or heck, maybe the person who read the story didn’t quite like that kind of story (but other people would).

A rejection letter is nothing personal, it’s just business.

And until I saw the numbers for myself and dived right into that slush pile and started reading, I did not truly understand that. Now I do. And though the whole getting published thing might sound kind of hopeless, these hard facts actually give me a whole bucketful of hope. That if a person writes a good enough story and keeps submitting (like a lot, lot, lot) eventually someone will say yes. Someone will love it and the story will rise to the top.

The best advice I can give… become a slush reader.

See the numbers for yourself. And learn what keeps your attention and what doesn’t, because after reading the fifteenth story for the week, I don’t mess around with the stuff that starts slow, is written poorly, or doesn’t find a way to make me say WOW from the very first line. And I may reject the story only after reading the first page or two, though sometimes I give the benefit of the doubt and get halfway through or even read to the end before deciding it’s a no.

Another piece of advice… write kick ass beginnings that start in the MIDDLE of action. And that first sentence needs to grab the slush reader’s attention and dares them NOT to stop.

That’s all I have for now, but don’t be surprised if you see more posts in the future about slush reading and the things I’ve learned from it. My biggest drive for being a slush reader is to learn. And I know I will be a better writer because of making the commitment to read a few stories a week. And heck, it’s just plan fun to peak in the heads of a wide range of writers and see the world that they see.

2 thoughts on “Tales from the Slush Pile

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