An interesting link for the weekend: Wonderbook Editor’s Roundtable

Via Ferrett Steinmetz – who is an extraordinarily talented writer and whose blog is very much worth the read – Wonderbook’s Editor’s Roundtable, wherein a group of editors look at the same story and give feedback, as though they were reading the story from the slush pile.

Seriously, anyone who’s trying to sell short fiction (especially if you’ve had little success or a lot of close-but-not-close-enough rejections), go and read this.  Even if you don’t have time to look at the detailed comments, look at the general comments.

I read slush for ASIM.  Sometimes, I get very frustrated reading slush for ASIM, but that’s another story entirely.

Well, I’ll give one one part of that story: I usually know by the time I’ve finished the first paragraph if I’m going to give the story a positive or negative response.  If there’s nothing to grab me there, I will not want to read on.  Note that I always read the whole story out of fairness to authors who have sweated over the work, but I have yet to come across anything where the first paragraph hasn’t grabbed me, and then the rest of the story is awesome.

Now, Dust and Deadduns.  If I came across this story in the slush pile, it would probably have been a “meh” vote – middle of the line.  I am a reader who is drawn to character primarily, and there’s very little about the actual characters in the first paragraphs.  However, there is also a character of type in the interesting setting, and that’s the only thing that would have kept me reading long enough to get into the actual characters.  The dialect, I find off-putting, but it’s not done badly enough to make me stop reading.

And then I would have read down to the introduction of zombies, and this is probably the point at which I would have lost interest.  Because a vaguely interesting setting, combined with characters who feel, at this stage, two-dimensional, and a trope that’s been done a thousand times, equals loss of interest for me.

And I emphasise that for me.  And note that I am merely a lowly slush reader, and then point you to the awesome editors and their opinions.

Seriously, go and read the post.  It’s worth it.  I suspect that the entirety of Wonderbook will be worth the purchase, and I am eagerly awaiting my own copy, which is somewhere in the world on its way to me.

Lessons from the slush pile

And now, another lesson from my slush reading experience.

Sometimes, you will get to read something awesome.  Something that will make you cry, and will stick in your head long afterwards.  And sometimes you will get to see that author squee afterwards about selling their story (note that no author names are attached when we get them as slush) and you will be so, so happy.

And sometimes that story will be so good that you’ll be convinced that it was actually one of the stories you read for the Hugos and will drive yourself a little nuts wondering why it wasn’t in your Hugos folder so you can just vote for it, dammit.

Yeah, sometimes reading slush is absolutely awesome.

 

Lessons from the slush pile

I’ve been reading slush for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine for a while now.  As an aside – I highly recommend slush reading for anyone who’s learning their craft.  It gives back to your community, and you get to learn a lot about writing in general.

We’re pretty lucky in general with the quality of submissions that ASIM gets.  I rarely see anything that is truly dreadful – mostly people are good about checking their spelling, getting formatting right etc.  It’s pretty heartening, actually.

However, in my experience, while I’ve rarely seen anything absolutely awful, it’s also pretty rare to see something that is truly amazing.

And as an aside, you may be reading this and thinking that you want to take this post with a grain of salt.  Go ahead.  I’m still learning the craft of short fiction writing myself, and though I have a handful of short stories published – some of which I am pretty darn proud of – and I’m willing to admit that I have a lot to learn.  See my first paragraph about learning from slush reading.

I’m thinking that I want to make this a bit of an ongoing thing.  I’m not referring to any specific story, by the way, in case anyone is worried about that.  These are just going to be things that I’ve noticed again and again.

How to make it through the slush pile, in three parts:

  1. If your first line is poorly crafted or downright boring, I will not be compelled to read on.  I will read on, because that’s the way I slush, but unless I am interested by at least the end of the first paragraph, the story is not going to be a win for me.
  2. Rewriting Biblical stories, especially Adam and Eve (even if they are in space) has been Done.  I don’t know if anyone can make this work any more, even the best short story writers (and please, if you know someone who has, let me know!).  I have no problem with allegory, but when your story literally ends with “and they were Adam and Eve all along!”, you’re going to want to rethink it.
  3. Ditto for most of the myths and stories that everyone knows – if you think you can do it well, go ahead.  Just be aware that many of them have been done to death.  And again, allegory can be fine, just make it original.

To be continued and added to…