Thursday, September 27, 2012

Five Things I Learned Reading Slush

Driving home tonight, something occurred to me. I won't necessarily be reading any slush anytime in the near future. After several months reading for Unidentified Funny Objects followed immediately by three-plus weeks of reading for Kazka Press, this was sort of a surprising revelation. And, to be honest, a bit of a relief.

I don't begrudge either of those publications any of the time I spent on them. I hope that the comments I provided Alex Shvartsman for UFO were helpful in production its Table of Contents. And I also hope that people enjoy reading the stories which I (Alone. Eep.) selected for the Flash Fiction portion of the October Kazka Press issue. I enjoyed working with Alex and L. Lambert Lawson and both were excellent experiences.

But they also both took a fair chunk of time and there's a decent chance I would have gotten more writing done during those months if I hadn't been reading slush. Or I might have played more games on my phone. One or the other.

All that said, I think that it was a useful learning experience for me. Here are several things I learned from reading slush:
  1. The percentage of absolute crap is lower than I expected it to be. - Admittedly, this is based solely on my Kazka Press experience, since for UFO Alex read (nearly) every single manuscript all by his lonesome before deciding which to pass along to the rest of us for comments and "votes." So basically everything I saw there was something that Alex had at least seen some glimmer in. But for Kazka Press I read all 45 submissions and I would say that under 20% of them were dreadful. Maybe even under 10%.
  2. You know a story that resonates with you when you read it. - Or, at least, I did. (And "small sample size" caveats may apply here.) There were stories for both publications that I read once and thought "That was decent." Some of those I later came back to and said "Yeah, but..." while others I still felt the same about. However, in both cases there were a small percentage of stories where the first time I read them I really liked them. When I went back for second reads on those, I don't remember ever wondering what I'd seen in them.
  3. The ending really freaking matters. - I know that this is one of the flaws in my own writing at this point. And it's something that I know has to get better. Because after reading slush? Oh my gosh... The ending really does matter. Especially while reading for UFO where stories were up to 4,000 words (Kazka was 1,000 and under) I often would get partway through a story and be thinking to myself "Oh, man, I hope the author doesn't screw this up." Sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they did.
  4. And, yes, the beginning is important, too. - It sets the tone for the reader's "mood" about the story. I don't think there were too many stories (though there were at least a few) where I felt the beginning was so-so but the rest of the story redeemed it.
  5. The middle? Yeah. Important. - Now you probably think I'm being difficult. But, it's true. Particularly for longer stories, I think one of my most common complaints was "I liked the beginning but then I started to get bored."
I would say that for a writer who has the time, a stint as a slush reader could be useful. I hear there's a high burnout rate in slush readers, and I believe it. But I think the experience will be helpful to me over the long term.

Speaking of slush reading... If you're interested in reading slush for Clarkesworld, now is the time to apply for the (unpaid) job.


  1. Who would have thought that beginnings, middles AND ends would all be important?

    I do think a lot of authors tend to focus really hard on a taut beginning and then let it all fall to mush, though -- I know I sure have.

    Thanks for the insights Michael.

    1. Heh. When you put it that ways it might sound a bit daft, I suppose. ;-) [Not sure if that's what you were getting at, and no offense taken, either way! It's a fair point.]

      I hope I managed to communicate a bit of how each part of the story has the potential to "lose" a reader in a different way.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. Good point about the importance of endings!