It’s been years since I did an open call anthology. 99 Tiny Terrors will be my 19th anthology and I thought it was about time to remind myself what it was like to wade into the slush pile. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered but there were some zingers. Here are some of the things I posted to twitter while I was reading.
All of these started with, “Today's #editor #ProTip from the slushpile:”
-- Please remember to accept all changes in Track Changes so I don't see your editing thoughts and just see your story.
-- When the submission guidelines say 500-1000 words, that does not mean you should turn in a 100 word story. Or 5 stories under 1000 words. Also, saying your word count is 1000 when is 1200 also disqualifies the work.
-- When the guidelines say "no sexual assault" stories that means NO sexual assault stories. Not against any race, gender, or age. Ignoring that makes me notice your name in a bad way and wonder what other boundaries you'd ignore.
-- Often times when the author tries to be clever, the work ends up trite, boring, or cliché. Example: Using the whole story just to tell a pun that is neither horror nor funny.
-- A wonderful beginning will never save a story with a terrible ending and vice versa. Endings are as important as beginnings.
-- The casual lack of consent is horrifying. Especially when that part isn't supposed to be the horror part of the story. "I did X to my sleeping girlfriend and Y happened..." So many writers just don't see it in their stories. Ditto with the casual off-screen, but still mentioned, rape/pedophilia. It's just there like a dead fish in the middle of the hall. Authors really need to look at their writing to see what they're implying with every sentence and why.
-- When you only have 500-1000 words to tell a story, head-hopping is hard to do well. Be sure of your narrative take.
-- Gore for gore's sake in horror flash fiction is boring and is not a story. Give me sharp and subtle. Give me atmosphere. Give me something to remember.
-- When allowed to submit two stories to an open call, you should make sure you don't submit the same story twice.
-- When an editor tells you specifically what kinds of stories they prefer in the guidelines, your best bet is to try to give them exactly that. When you sub a story that is what the editor is specifically NOT looking for, your chances of success are slim to none. Read and comprehend the guidelines.
-- While I admit using no punctuation and no capitalization on purpose is daring, it's a really hard sell. Ditto with capitalized words throughout every sentence. Breaking conventional writing rules can work, but rarely does.
Now that I’ve done my first readthrough, I’ve saved 84 pieces as “yes” and 71 as “maybe” for the anthology. I will need to narrow down this 155 tiny terrors into an anthology of 99. Reading through 613 submissions has given me a much better understanding of the shape of the anthology I want. The second readthrough will be in conjunction with the stories I have and whether or not it fits the vision I have for this anthology.
In a week or two, I will reread all 155 pieces of flash fiction, categorizing them and forming the work that will become more than the sum of its parts. That means some of the “yes” stories will be shifted to “no” and some of the “maybe” stories will be shifted to “yes.” Once all of the decisions are decided, all acceptances and rejections will be emailed within a day or two of each other.
All this is to say…no one is going to hear anything until mid-December 2020 at the earliest.