A reworked post that first appeared on The Great Raven some years ago
I read slush for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (aka ASIM). I look at submissions as a reader, not as an editor, by asking myself, “What would I want to read in a magazine?”
People ask me why I do it, given how many of the submissions are truly awful. The answer? It’s because I’m an optimist and always hope that the next story I open is going to be wonderful. And I have still not found more than a handful of wonderful stories in all the years I have been slushing. Some are good, or very good. But very rarely do I come across one that moves me deeply, or touches me, or makes me laugh for all the right reasons.
Still, you never know – the next one, maybe…
Meanwhile, here are some things I love about slushing and far more that are pet hates. Hopefully, someone thinking of submitting may be reading this and it will perhaps give them food for thought. We do buy good or very good stories, after all; it’s too much to expect that every piece is going to be a potential Ditmar or Hugo winner. There is a blurb on the web site about “what we’re not looking for right now” but there are still people not reading it before sending us their works of genius. Maybe a surf for markets might find this.
Things I Love About Slush Reading:
1. Every now and then, there is a truly wonderful story to read (see above)
2. More often there is a good or very good story and it might even be the next one you open.
3. Once in a while, a story I got in Round 1 slush (we have two rounds – the second is “refined”) wins an award and I know I chose well. Of course, I didn’t select it for the magazine, because I haven’t edited an issue yet, unless you count #38, which I finished off, with a lot of help. But I know I helped the story get into the slushpool, where it was chosen by someone else. (The slushpool is where we keep the stories that are considered good enough to be published).
Things That Cheese Me Off When I Am Slushing:
1. Non-spec-fic stories that I just know came from some mainstream writing student who has simply fired off the piece to every single market on the list supplied by the writing teacher, whether it’s appropriate or not, in hopes that one of them will take it. Oh, and the fact that these stories have been multiple submitted in the first place.
Come on, guys, didn’t your teachers ever tell you to check your market? I bet they did tell you how much publishers loathe multiple submissions. Okay, there are times when multi-subbing is justified. I’ve never done it myself, but I know the frustration of waiting six months and sending inquiry letters only to get the thing back, finally, squashed and not reusable, with a printed slip.
But this is not a problem with ASIM. The very most you will ever wait to hear from us is two months and that’s only if your story made it into the slushpool. Otherwise, you’ll get a reply in a matter of a few days – by email, so you don’t have to buy reply postage (and there are plenty of publishers who still want their submissions by snail mail, but if they do you can print out again). And you get it with helpful comments.
Of course, you know all this if you’ve bothered to check us out. Also, I repeat, we are a speculative fiction magazine. Don’t send us your mainstream fiction. We won’t buy it.
And if you must multiple submit, keep it for markets that you know take six months to get back to you. But be aware that the day may come when two magazines want your story. What do you tell the one you’re withdrawing from?
We have had occasions when we have taken a story and started editing it, only to have it withdrawn because the multi-subbing author got a better offer elsewhere. That affects the editor, who now has to find another story of around the same length and theme, to keep the balance. It also may affect you, because publishers know each other and word will get around that you’re unreliable.
2. Stories that are full of mistakes in spelling, grammar and/or punctuation. I see red when I get a story that can’t even punctuate dialogue correctly. I’m thinking of the ones like this: “Blah blah.” Said Michael. I get those around one in three submissions.
I reject them automatically, only allowing a couple of mistakes in case they’re typos. If you think I’m nitpicking, I’d like to point out that editing is not about fixing your errors, it’s about making a good story look its best. If you don’t care enough about your work to check it or have a friend check it, I don’t care enough about it to finish reading it, let alone pass it on to the next round.
3. One-joke stories that go for several thousand words. Even if it’s a shaggy dog story, you shouldn’t telegraph the fact. It should be a good story that suddenly hits you over the head with an unexpected punchline.
4. Stories that assume you know what the author is talking about, but which only make sense if you come from the same country. I’m sorry to say that the worst offenders in this category – at least in the slush I have read – are Americans. We certainly see a lot of US films and we get a lot of American fiction too, but in the end, a story that has them rolling in the aisles in New York may not make a lot of sense in Sydney or Auckland or London. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your culture with others, but remember you are writing for an international market and don’t assume we know what the joke is.
5. 20,000-word stories which should have been about a quarter the length. Sometimes a story has to be long, but most of the novellas I have slushed are just self-indulgent, written by someone who hasn’t edited. Bear in mind, too, that while we have occasionally published stories of this length, they have been brilliant. Each issue of ASIM has a fiction “budget” of 40,000 words. If your story is going to take up half of that, it has to be something about which the editor is passionate. After all, how would you like to buy a magazine which had one very long story you hated? A story that took up half the issue?
6. Cutesy themes that are the entire point of the story (see above, one-joke stories). It can be short. It can be very short – as long as the punchline suggests there is more. For example, the famous world’s-shortest SF/horror story. “The last man in the world sat alone at home. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.” Think about it.
7. Really good stories that are let down by their endings. When a story has kept me gripped right up till the last page, then suddenly ends illogically, I say, “Huh?” I leave it overnight just in case, but thinking about it, I usually realise that there are other bits of illogic in the story. Before you submit, put the thing away for a few days and re-read. If you still love it, then send it off.
You may find the same thing I would have found if I had read it, and have time to fix it before this grumpy old slusher rejects it!