Reading submissions


This morning, after breakfast, I’m going to read some slush. I read stories for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. We get a lot of submissions. They go through three rounds. First round, someone like me gets a story and decides if it’s good enough to be read some more. If it’s not good enough, it goes back to the author with thanks and sometimes, because we’re all writers ourselves and like to know why, it goes back with comments.

If it is good enough, two more people read it and give it a score. The top-scored stories go into our slushpool, from which we choose the stories we want to publish. We only keep them for a limited time, because it just isn’t fair to hang on to a story too long when the author can send it elsewhere. And quite often stories that don’t make it into ASIM from this pool find a home elsewhere.

Till the stories go into the slushpool we have no idea who wrote them. We have published some terrific stories by first-timers and sent back some by big-name writers who should have known better. At least no one can complain that we turned them down because they were new writers.

It’s no fun to send off a story and then wait and wait(I’m still waiting to hear from the CSFG on a story, but I know they got a lot of submissions and they’re doing this for love, not money).It’s no fun to have your baby called ugly, which is what it is when you get horrible comments. At the same time, if you’re going to be a published writer you need to get a thick skin, because you WILL have some terrible reviews, no matter how good your work is. You just need to say, “Stuff them!” and send it elsewhere if you believe in it. You simply can’t please everyone.

And these days reviewing is very democratic. Anyone can put up a blog or join Goodreads, a social media site for readers. Anyone can say horrible things about books on Goodreads and the author isn’t allowed to protest on pain of being kicked out for bad manners(mind you, while there have been people who got away with giving Lord Of The Rings one star, the person who commented “don’t bother with it” got a lot of furious responses from Tolkien fans! Democratic, as I said) So you should be able to handle unpleasant comments from a potential publisher, right?

Well, no. Not always. There are those who use their blogs to complain very loudly about how badly treated they were when their work of genius was called ugly by those dreadful folk at ASIM or whoever, never mind the fact that most publishers would have sent them a form letter.

I actually went on comment strike for a while, although my own comments are polite enough (hey, I’m an English teacher, we have to know how to be kind with comments! Two of my students follow this blog and are probably giggling over this).

I did have one positive experience with a blog, though. The blogger was complaining mildly about his rejection – really, just saying he was disappointed – but one of his comments was from a well-known writer who should have known better and certainly should have a thick skin by now – complaining about the comments system at ASIM because he had had a rejection with a comment he didn’t like. I responded to this, saying he should know better by this time in his career, that we do this for love and that any future rejections he got without comments would be from me because I was going on comment strike. I suggested to the blogger that he have a go at slushing himself, to see how the system works and what kind of submissions we get.

And then – something delightful! He had heard of me as a writer, had read my first book, which was about monsters and said it had inspired him to write horror fiction. Wow! Something I wrote got someone else writing! How cool is that? 🙂 He was trying to get another copy because his treasured high school era copy had burned with his home. And he decided he would take my advice about slushing, which he ended up enjoying enough to take twenty stories a week. I was thrilled!

If you do decide to submit stories anywhere, please, pretty please, make sure your grammar, spelling and punctuation are right. We’ll assume your story itself is fine. Most slush readers, those who do it for a living instead of for love as I do, are these poor sods who have to sit up till all hours wading through the submissions (and to put this into figures, only recently, when the publisher HarperCollins opened up for submissions from anyone for two weeks, they got over 4500 submissions!). They really should not have to battle against your awful grammar as well. “Hey, the editor can fix it when they publish it”, right? Wrong. Chances are they won’t buy it in the first place. What editors do is work with you to make an already good piece something you can be proud of. They’re not your English teachers – and with thousands of submissions, you will have to compete with those who did bother to get it right.

Three times I have chosen a story for a special issue of ASIM. Two of them I found in my slush pile. They simply leapt out at me because they were such wonderful stories, but I might never have found out if they had been badly written, badly punctuated or grammatically poor. I just wouldn’t have finished them. As it was, I was slightly embarrassed by the fact that I had to do so little editing on them (in one case I read the story several times and then had to ask the author if there was anything she wanted to change – she did mention something I hadn’t picked up, but it was a personal thing, really, and involved only one word).

Off to breakfast and slush reading. Maybe one of them will be a future award winner!


4 responses »

  1. I am still working on my first story submission. Hopefully by the end of November I will release it. The thing I have found difficult in the drafting and redrafting process is the development of a certain blindness when it comes to punctuation and spelling. You know your own words so well that at times I think I don’t actually read what’s on the page. I find setting it aside for a short time and de familiarising yourself helps.

    They other thing that really isn’t taught anywhere ( anywehere perhaps other than dedicated tertiary writing courses) is Standard manuscript format. It’s almost worth constructing a check list to run your document through.

  2. Yes, setting it aside is a good idea, then, if you still like it, perhaps get a beta reader, who can be anyone – for my novel I asked my sister, who was quite frank about it, and a friend who is kind but honest, plus a student who wouldn’t give back her early version of the MS because she loved it. 😉 She does now have a printed copy, which is quite different at the beginning and end. You know plenty of people who could help on that.

    Each publisher has its own house style; in the end, you should be okay if you double space and use a nice clear font. Just use your common sense and take a look at submission guidelines.

  3. My wife is a good general reader, picks up punctuation errors that I miss. Trouble is that she has read so many versions of the story that she has as much of a picture as I do ie. remembers things that may not be in the final document.

    The story has been workshopped and has been through a writers group critique. So story wise I am feeling good. It’s craft that’s making me nervous, stuff that I can usually tease out in others works I am blind to. But it is a great process. I just want to get to the submission stage. I am not too worried if I get rejected (he says now) but I want to bring the process full circle.

  4. Then get on with it and don’t worry. The time comes when you’re sick to death of your masterpiece and just want to send it off. There’s such a thing as too much editing. 😉

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