First day on the slush pile

I started a new adventure today as a slush pile reader for Flash Fiction Online by reviewing 9 stories. (Flash Fiction Online is a SFWA-approved, free electronic publication that offers a variety of stories of 1000 words or less–mostly speculative in nature.)

My job is to look at freshly-submitted stories and help decide if they will make the cut into the next round of serious consideration for an upcoming issue of FFO. My first reaction was OMG, how do I decide?

So I read all 9 stories beginning to end and examined how I responded to them. What I learned was that stories should not have any defects. Duh. We all know that stories should be well-written with interesting characters, a good pace and plot and satisfying ending. But the point is that any one defect is enough to cause a story to be rejected. A great beginning does not make up for boring writing. Great writing does not make up for a weak ending. And so forth. It doesn’t have to all be perfect, but nothing can be noticeably lacking.

This brings to mind the conventional wisdom (or myth, depending on your persuasion) that editors are looking for a reason to reject your work. This is more real to me now, but it also makes more sense. That one defect will not only turn off the editor, but it will turn off the reader, take them out of the story, and that is what must not happen.

In the end, I rated one story as good, two as maybe and the rest as rejects. Most of the rejects just didn’t have compelling writing. One was good all the way to the end, which then fell flat.

My initial goal with the slush pile project is to learn how to make my own writing better by understanding the editorial review process a little. So far, so good. Eventually I hope to see some great publications that I contributed to behind the scenes.

What I learned today about writing is that before you send out that story, don’t forget to reread it and look for the one thing that doesn’t seem quite right, but maybe nobody else will notice. They will notice. Fix it. The work will be worth it.

By the way, FFO uses an anonymous review process, so if you are a friend of mine, that is neither to your advantage or disadvantage. If you write flash fiction, Flash Fiction Online and I would love to see it.

2 thoughts on “First day on the slush pile”

  1. Hiya, Jim! Just reading through the archive. I’m going to have to go check out FFO!

    Sometimes when I’m grading student work I also feel like I’m just looking for reasons to say no (or to say “minus a point!!!”), but it’s really delightful not to find any…

    I think slush reading sounds like a great way to get your eyes on lots of things and find ways to make your own work better. (That must be why I’m so awesome at writing 9th grade essays, right??? Because I’ve seen thousands??? Hahaha… )

    1. Peggy, thanks for your reply. Sorry to be so long getting back to you — see recent post on Workshop Mania.

      I certainly have learned a lot of things from slush pile reading, a lot of common problems crop up, like weak plot or character arc. (We won’t even go into bad English)

      However, I have found there is a limit to the value added to my writing, and I am now trying to read more GREAT science fiction to see what my writing SHOULD be like.

      And good luck with your next essay 🙂

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