Early in my writing career (and even now), I was fascinated by editors who talked about slushpiles as they went through them. I learned a lot—both good and bad—about the submission process. The Reinvented Detective will be the 22nd anthology I’ve edited or co-edited. (Though, I don’t think it’ll be the 22nd anthology released. The publishing industry is complicated.) I figured that if I got something out of that kind of information, I should past it on and share some of my thoughts as I read 20-40 subs a day. I tweeted these out on my Twitter account: @JenniferBrozek.
Note1: These “Editor Tips” are not picking on anyone in the slushpile. Some submissions reminded me of issues as I went through. If you submitted a story, do NOT assume a tip is about you. Please. I’ve read a lot of slush (Apex Magazine, Edge of Propinquity, 22 anthologies…) and my thoughts are linked to all of them.
Note2: These are my opinions. I’m made them as generic as I could with an effort to not name names. These are based on experience and my likes/dislikes. “No shit, there I was stories” need to be in person with a libation in hand.
1. From the Slushpile: While you won't be rejected for a typo in your second sentence, it doesn't look good on you as a writer. Spellcheck is not your friend. It is a double agent who will let you write "barley" when you mean "barely." Do not trust it!
2. From the Slushpile: If the story is so generic that I can't tell what genre it is supposed to be, the writer has not done their job. Body language and descriptive word choice is worldbuilding. Details matter—even more so in short fiction.
3. From the Slushpile: If you use track changes in your document, please remember to accept all changes before you turn in your story. I really don't need to see your edits. This happens way too often.
4. From the Slushpile: If the guidelines say original fiction only and/or no reprints, that means NO REPRINTS. If the story has been sold/printed/posted anywhere, it does not qualify per the guidelines. If the writer still submits the story, it does nothing but wastes the editor’s time.
5. From the Slushpile: When the guidelines ask for a specific type of story, especially genre (IE: SF), a writer’s story, no matter how good it is, will not qualify if it is the wrong genre (IE: Fantasy). It is a waste of time on both sides to submit it.
6. From the Slushpile: Don’t begin a short story with historical backstory or an infodump. Begin your story in a way that catches the attention, necessary details can be sprinkled in later like spice. Trust the reader to keep up.
7. From the Slushpile: While every anthology may have its theme, many of the choices are subjective and based on the Editor’s likes and dislikes. Sometimes it is good to know what kinds of stories the editor loves or hates. (IE: I love “hidden world” stories. I hate “hurt the woman/child to turn on their power” stories.)
8. From the Slushpile: Beginnings are extremely important. Hooking the reader with emotion, a provocative thought, or interesting action allows the writer to pull the reader along as the story unfolds. Start with what is important.
9. From the Slushpile: Endings are as important as beginnings. Learn when and how to end a story without cutting it off too quickly or stringing it out too long. This is the last impression the story will leave on the reader.
10. From the Slushpile: I don’t care how avantgarde the writer wishes to be, writing a story with little (or no) punctuation is going to be a HARD sell. It is difficult to read and even more difficult to edit.
11. From the Slushpile: Stereotypes and cliches are not usually a good look in a story. They are often too familiar, trite, and boring. If the writer is going to use one, make it different and interesting.
12. From the Slushpile: Cover letters should be simple and to the point without extraneous information. Also, don’t say “aspiring author” in a cover letter. The writer is an author by the mere fact that they have submitted their work. Doesn't matter if they are unpublished.
13. From the Slushpile: A short story title is a promise from the writer to the reader. Don’t make the short story title too generic. Make the promise and give the reader something to look forward to.
14. From the Slushpile: Sometimes a brilliant first line/first paragraph is all that’s needed to keep me reading through the parts that need to be edited. Though, a brilliant first line won’t save a story that isn’t right for the anthology.
15. From the Slushpile: Flashbacks in a short story are hard to do well. More often than not they are infodumps or backstory that could be told in better ways. Consider that for future stories.
16. From the Slushpile: Using specific, named media/personalities (TV shows, movies, songs, actors, politicians, CEOs, etc…) or modern day slang in a short story can date them quickly. Try to avoid this unless this is part of the anthology call.
17. From the Slushpile: Humor and sarcasm are subjective. Understand the reader is not in the writer’s head and may not understand what was meant. Deploy with care.
18. From the Slushpile: Seriously, learn how to write a simple, effective cover letter. All the writer actually needs: Writer’s name, the story’s title, word count, (optional: anything else specifically asked for,) thank the editor for their time. The end.
19a. From the Slushpile: Now that I’m done reading slush for The Reinvented Detective, here is a controversial topic: reading stories from writers the editor has met. There is a certain joy or pain that comes from name recognition in the slush pile. This emotion can bias the editor towards or against the writer.
19b. Often, if the editor knows the writer in a favorable context, it will make them more patient with the story they are reading. More willing to consider edits. This includes reading stories from writers who have been in classes, workshops, and/or kaffeeklatsches with the editor. Or bought them a drink/meal and picked their brain.
19c. The converse is true. Editors can be more impatient with stories or less willing to entertain edits if the writer is known in an unfavorable context. Especially if the writer is a known “repeat offender” (virtually or in person) for whatever reason.
19d. That said, if a story does not stand up against its peers in an anthology, it doesn’t matter how much the editor likes the writer, the story must be rejected as it is unsuited to the work in progress. I speak as someone who has rejected Ed Greenwood and Seanan McGuire. (Ya'll know I adore both Ed and Seanan. Ed was one of my first co-authors and taught me a lot. Seanan...one of my best friends.)
19e. Editors want to publish you, /if/ the story is good and suits what they need. Editors love finding new talent or that story that wins the awards. Editors are human with likes, dislikes, and inherent biases. I try to be as fair and professional and transparent as possible.
19f. I hope this peek into my editorial thoughts has been helpful. Don’t forget that you can pre-order/buy The Reinvented Heart anthology, edited by me and the ever-talented Cat Rambo, now. (https://www.arcmanorbooks.com/reinvented) The Reinvented Detective will be released in 2023.
Here’s a cat picture (a blast from the past) to sooth author anxiety.