If you follow any editors on FB, Twitter or now G+ you will hear this saying on occasion, “I don’t like rejecting a story. I want everyone who submits to succeed, but not everyone sends me what I can use.”
No one likes being rejected, and in the business of writing, you just have to get used to them. Editors and slush readers read though stacks of stories each year, looking for gems, or at least some workable story lines. It is just as hard on the initial readers as the writers.
How do I know?
I’m a slush reader for Dagan Books and Port Iris e’zine. The joy of finding a good story is kind of like finding an extra $20 in a new pair of jeans. You are happily surprised. Giving a thumb’s down to a story kind of hurts. Author’s spend a lot of time on the stories, I appreciate that, but some aren’t quite what we are looking for. A lot of time I want to send notes to the authors to tell them why the story doesn’t work. But if I did that, I’d be doing it for all of them, and I’d have no time to do other things.
I love reading slush. Do you know why? I get a first look at stories and the chance to grab them before anyone else does. Authors come up with some of the most amazing ideas. Twelve foot tall talking trees that have an “axe to grind” with the local stone giants? Some author has written that. Aliens who defy Earth gravity by walking on ceilings? Someone has done that too. Now I’m not saying if these stories were successful, but someone somewhere has at least drafted stories; hopefully edited and polished them; and sent them off.
The question then becomes can the editor use them?
Maybe yes, maybe no. But here are some hints to help you out.
1. READ THE GUIDELINES! This might be a no-brainer for some, but if an anthology wants stories about extraterrestrial plant life then don’t send in a story about birds. Look to see how the stories need to be formatted. Use paragraphs and proper punctuation. If you aren’t sure or the guidelines are not specific, look at this.
2. Read the story to your self out loud. You would be surprised at how many awkward sentences you find just by reading things aloud. Missed words and even spelling errors become more prominent.
3. Avoid the wandering plot. Sometimes you come up with a great idea, you don’t know exactly where it starts, or where it ends, but you got the idea on paper. Great, but a story needs a good beginning and an ending. If you find that your story goes on and on and on without going anywhere, you might want to stop, write out some notes and figure it out.
4. Action for the sake of action Action is great in stories, it shows movement, gives us details on characters and even can make some nonverbal communication. However, if that action does not move the story forward, it is just more words on the page.
5. Give us a character we can relate to. Sure your MC is a princess, beautiful, smart and funny, but how many perfect people do you know? Give her a dark side, make that beauty a mask, make her insecure, afraid or even a monster inside. In other words, give her warts. Give her reasons for the things she does. Make the reader understand that the reason she hates her father is because he gave her a grey pony on her fifth birthday instead of a white one.
There can be other ways to endear your slush reader or editor, but these things are the really important one – or the ones on the top of my head right now.
Good luck. Keep writing and send out those stories. Who knows, the next one might just be what the Editor needs.