Wednesday, October 1, 2008


It's official, I'm slushing for a publication.

I received my first batch of stories to go through, and during a quiet period I managed to read them all.

Quite an eye opener. If you've ever been involved in Critters, I'd say it's fairly close to the experience of looking over a new queue each week in that environment.

You are presented (in Critters) with 40 or so stories each week. You are expected to critique one or two, or if you want to have the opportunity to advance your story to the top of the queue instead of waiting the six or seven weeks it normally took to percolate to the top, you'd do at least 10.

To find the one or two or ten, you browse through what's on offer. By the time I was ready to leave Critters, I was looking for certain criteria.

1. It had to be relatively well written. Not outstandingly so - I was looking to help people not just dish out praise.

2. Below 4000 words. Time was becoming extremely precious. Now it's impossible for me to be considering critiquing that sort of number. One or two a week would be it.

3. The story had to be worth reading. Nothing worse than a story with no tale to tell. I can write meandering drivel quite easily on my own without having to read other peoples efforts.

With slush reading, I don't get to choose and I have a very small limit on being able to give feedback.

When I gain a rejection, I prefer to gain some level of feedback. The best I've ever consistently had is from Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine from one of their slushers. From these comments, I eventually sold the first piece I ever wrote Wake-up Call.

I've had good feedback from other markets but sadly, plenty only offer form rejections. I understand many of these markets receive huge amounts of submissions, but if the slusher is going to take the time to read it, surely they could take another five minutes to jot a couple of lines down.

Regardless of other markets, this particular publication has asked me to provide feedback which I'm very happy to do.

Back to my Critters comparison - the difference between Critters and now, is I don't get the opportunity to browse. I get sent a batch and have to work through them. No authors names or identifying features are included so it's nothing personal.

This batch had a 100% strike rate - 100% strike out, that is.

It's too soon to start listing reasons why I pass on some and consider others (apart from the fact that I haven't had anything to consider yet), but I'm keen to know if my reasons line up with other slusher comments I've read around the place.

If they do, then I'd be shaking my head in bewilderment. If I've been able to find and read comments about submissions from different levels of the industry, from slushers, judges, agents, editors, even other writers, then surely other writers have done the same.

So why then would writers keep submitting the same mistakes?

I almost stopped reading a submission because it didn't conform to submission guidelines! Only because I know what I want from readers did I continue. Others have said that an inability to follow guidelines tends to also show an inability to write a good story. If it doesn't look professional then it most likely isn't. Sadly, it seems this could be the first of my "Slusher tips on what not to do when submitting your masterpiece" - too much of a mouthful?

I'm open to suggestions...


  1. Interesting observations. I'm very keen to hear more on what was wrong with these pieces.

  2. I can't go into detail on individual pieces.

    I'm also not sure I want to start drawing conclusions based on a single batch of work.

    All the stories I read have a story at their heart, but they either started in the wrong place, didn't have a satisfying conclusion, used the wrong POV, concentrated on the wrong character, were poorly written, or had combinations of these things.

    Of course it is completely subjective, but our industry is totally subjective.

    I try to have an objective state of mind when I go through this process. I constantly remind myself that somewhere a slush reader is reading my work. How would I like them to treat it.

    I'd like them to accept it for publication, but I wouldn't want to be accepted just because they're being nice. The work has to warrant it. If it doesn't, I'd like an idea why. That's what I'm trying to provide the work I'm reading.

    Does that make sense?