4 Tips to Escape the Slush Pile

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to write a guest post at Write-On Sisters that I never got around to sharing here.

As a slush reader for a semi-pro SFF magazine, I read a lot of stories, and over the last year, I’ve begun to notice a pattern, not just in my own judgments of the stories I have read, but also from my fellow cohorts in the pile. Four reasons that most stories might be rejected out of hand. So I shared them in a post.

Here is an excerpt of that post:

The reasons why [a story might be rejected] are numerous: the author failed to check our magazine’s genres before submitting, I’ve read (and accepted) far too many stories with similar characters and theme (yes, zombies and vampires are still a hard sell), the story was not well-edited, etc.

While I don’t want to go on a tangent regarding the last, I will say this: some authors post that editing should not matter as much as it does, because, well, the publisher has editors for a reason. And yes, on the very, very rare occasion I read a story that is absolutely fantastic, sans some editing concerns, I still pass it on to my editor because the value of the story makes up for its structural woes. However, most markets are competitive and most (proper) markets pay you by the word. They want to be paying for good, polished words. Not second or third drafts.

A story with typos, syntax errors, and improper capitalization, among other things, gives slush readers huge red flags. Fantasy Scroll Mag prides itself on reading submissions all the way through, even when we’re pretty sure of our decision by the end of page one, but not every market has that luxury. Reading a story takes time, and especially for short fiction markets, the moment our mind starts thinking about how much longer it will take to finish reading, the “reject” has occurred.

In short, the old adage that your story’s first sentence, first paragraph, and first page are the most important elements is true. You typically have one page to convince a slush reader to keep reading. But that, alone, is not enough to get a slush reader to slap a “YAY” on your manuscript.

Here are four things that I’ve come to understand, as a slush reader, make the difference between the stories that end up in my reject pile, and those that I happily send off to my editor.

But, to read those tips, you’ll have to go visit the post on their blog.

Many thanks to Heather and Robin for having me on! I enjoyed the experience. 🙂

13 thoughts on “4 Tips to Escape the Slush Pile

  1. This reminds me that, not so many days ago, I read a post by a blogger who is about to self-publish a book. My first thought was, “That’s one I’m not going to read.” The reason(s)? Over a couple of years of reading the author’s blog, I’ve been provided a steady diet of misspellings, incomplete sentences, half-formed thoughts and poor structure. There are reasons I’ve kept reading, but quality writing isn’t at the top of the list.

    As writers, we need to remember that every public word we write may affect the possibility of publication, or sales after the fact. Beyond the impression we make on others, I’m convinced no writer can serve two masters: one sloppy and uncaring, and the other polished and professional. It just doesn’t happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that’s definitely the fear. I feel bad sometimes when I really -do- want to help another author promote their work, because I know they’ve worked hard, but can’t, because of those reasons (as it would, in turn, hurt my credibility with the readers who value my opinion.) That’s one of the main reasons I don’t do guest posts on this blog.


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