What’s the Slush Pile Like, Anyway? Part 2

I promised you a part two to this post last week and I finally got around to writing it. Yay!. We already talked about the submissions process, our file management system, and the types of stories we receive over at the Goldfish. So today, we’re going to take a look at the types of submitters we encounter. Who submits stories to us? What do they do right? What do they do wrong?

It’s time to get real about the slush pile.

The Submitters

The vast majority of people who submit to us are awesome. Really, they’re a cool lot just looking to get their stories out there. I can totally relate! However, there’s always a few bad eggs in the crate. Or wait, is it carton? What the heck do eggs come in again? I’m having a brain fart. Maybe “bad eggs” is a bad metaphor.

slush pile writing magazine

Source: Victor1558

What I’m trying to say is not everyone who submits to us has it all together. Maybe they’re new to the submissions process. Maybe they think they’re better than writer’s guidelines. Who knows? In general though (and I am being very, very general here), people who submit to our little magazine (and stand out for the wrong reasons) fall into these categories:

  • The Rapid Fire – He sends a story. Not five minutes after a form rejection hits his inbox, he sends another story. And another. And another. Until we call the Rapid Fire maneuver, “Pulling a INSERT NAME OF SUBMITTER HERE.”
  • The Beggar – She gets a form rejection and responds to it (mistake #1) asking for feedback on why the story was rejected (mistake #2). Listen, I know how hard it is to be rejected, but doing this will not cast you in a favorable light with any editor. I promise it’s not just use being big ‘ol meanies.
  • The “I Don’t Care Who You Are” – This submitter can’t be bothered with learning our names. I’m actually cool with “Dear Editors” because there are two editors to address here at Goldfish Grimm. Even so, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with a magazine’s site well enough that you locate (and know) the editors’ names. It shows us you care. And we’re very needy people.
  • The Perpetual Confusion – Oh dear. This submitter is confused. Or maybe he or she just can’t be bothered to read the submission guidelines? Whatever the reason, the Perpetual Confusion sends in stories that are pasted into an email. They send us .docx files. They send stories outside of our word limits. Hell, they send us stories out of our genres. So confused!
  • The Plot Pointer – This one really irks me. Sending along a summary of a short story seems counterintuitive. The whole point of a short story is that you can read it all in one sitting. Providing a summary removes all the lead up and suspense to the final page. Don’t do it!
  • The Corporate Communicator – This submitter is professional as hell. She doesn’t just send in her short story (which, as her cover letter assures us, is of high quality), she sends in a résumé as well, listing out all of her credentials that in no way shape or form relate to being a short story writer. She also sends in a list of publication credits. Two or three would be fine here, but sending a list (mistake #1), as an attachment (mistake #2), that’s over two pages long (mistake #3) is just…no.

Have you ever found yourself in one of the above categories? Not to worry. Nearly every writer has at some point. But you can make a change. Be thorough when making your submissions. Be mindful. And most of all, respect that we editors are people, too.

Happy submitting!

What’s the Slush Pile Like, Anyway? – Part 1

I’ve intended to write a blog post about this for quite some time now but, as with all things, it’s taken me a bit to get around to it. As most of you likely know, I’m an editor at Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi. When we opened up to submissions back in February 2012, Matt and I were reading all the slush ourselves. And wow. Was that an experience!

slush pile editing

As the year rolled on (and after I had a baby), our response times got slower and slower. Was it the best idea to start a magazine the same year you get pregnant? Probably not. Still, we’re pretty proud of the thing anyway and happy to have been able to give a decent home to some fabulous stories along the way.

But that’s not what you want to know. No, you want to get a sneak peak into the slush pile. You want to know what it looks like from the editor’s perspective. While I can’t speak for editors at other publications, I can tell you what it looks like on our end: from file management to the stories themselves.

File Management System

Some of you may be interested in knowing how we manage files over here. We actually use DropBox to  keep track of everything. There’s a dedicated slush email address, of course, and we drop story attachments as they come in into the slush readers’ folders on DropBox. Stories are randomly assigned.

As the readers make a decision on each story, they drop them into the appropriate folder–Rejections or Second Round. If rejecting a story, the reader will then send out the appropriate email to the writer. While we have a form rejection template, readers can include personalized notes if the story warrants it. If the reader is moving a story onto the second round, they will send an email relating this news to the writer as well.

From there, Matt and I will read the second round stories and accept or reject them. That’s pretty much it in terms of file management.

The Stories

We have a small slush pile. That’s what happens when you run a token publication. We’ve accepted that we’re not people’s first choice to send submissions. That’s the way of things. However, we do get a good number of stories and they vary widely in terms of quality. We’ve had it pretty good so far. No threatening letters. No responses scribbled in crayon. Of course, we’re an online publication so if someone wanted to pen a crayon response, they’d have to write it out, scan it, then send it. Honestly, if that happened, I’d be impressed by their commitment.

[waits for someone to actually do this..]

The types of stories we get fall into three categories. No, I’m not talking about science fiction or fantasy here:

  1. Decent. That is, the story is engaging enough to get past the first few paragraphs. It hooks its fingers in. Then, as you approach the last page, a sinking feeling overwhelms. There aren’t enough words left to wrap this up. And then, the story ends. With no resolution. These stories piss me off because they’re well-written and have potential but don’t DO enough. They fall flat. I feel like I wasted my time by the time I get to “the end.” These stories get personal rejections because they have so much potential and could possibly be made better with a few tweaks. 
  2. Bad. This might sound mean, because I’m certain I’ve submitted some bad stories in my day. Not knowingly at the time, but still. It happens to the best of us. The bad stories may be poorly written, have no discernible plot, lack compelling characters, or lack clarity. They may be outright offensive or make no sense. It may be a combination of these factors that result in a form rejection.
  3. Good (and Great). These stories work. They capture our attention from the first line and don’t let go until the end. These stories get passed to the second round as quickly as our slush readers can click. While we can’t accept every good story we come across, these tales always get a personal rejection with notes about how great they are with the caveat that they just didn’t fit, we couldn’t find room for them, couldn’t find a complementary story, etc. Letting these ones go sucks, but such is the way of editing a magazine. Just like writers must kill their darlings, editors, too, must slaughter the slush–even the slush they’ve fallen in love with.

There are few kind of submitters we deal with as well. But I’m saving that for the next blog post. Stay tuned for part 2!

“Revenge is a Star in the Sky” Published in Bards and Sages Quarterly

THUMBNAIL_IMAGE2013 has been a slow year for me publication-wise but I’m pleased to reported by flash tale, “Revenge is a Star in the Sky,” appears in the April issue of Bard and Sages Quarterly alongside several of my writing friends, which is pretty cool. Here’s an excerpt:

She looked at the darkened sky that lay beyond her bedroom window. The stars mocked her with their twinkling. She lifted an eyebrow. I’ll grow up, I’ll get over it, she thought, smirking. Her eyes fell on one star in particular. It shone brighter than the rest and she knew why. She would make them pay.

And I have a treat for you, dear readers. Want to buy a copy? Go to the following link:

https://www.createspace.com/4229437

Then enter this code at checkout to get 10% off the print price: AK3ENESC

The Book of Apex: Volume Three of Apex Magazine is Out Now!

I’ve been extremely remiss in blogging here, I apologize. Life is busy and I’ve lost track of time. But I still wanted to let you all know that The Book of Apex: Volume Three of Apex Magazine is now out in both print and eBook formats and I’m in it! Not to mention, it features awesome stories by the likes of Seanan McGuire, Theodora Goss, Ian Tregillis, Cat Rambo, Peter M. Ball, and more.

My story, “The Girl Who Had Six Fingers,” was published in Apex back in October 2010. To date, it’s my only pro-sale, so I treasure it like a dragon treasures its hoard.

You can buy the eBook version straight from Apex Publications.

Or, if you’d rather have a print copy, it’s available at Amazon.

For being loyal readers, I have a discount code for you. Be sure to input the following code at checkout to get 10% off:

eBOA3BARRON

Pretty cool, right?

Yes I’m Crazy: CampNaNoWriMo

So, I may have lost my mind. I blame the baby. After all of my bitching and complaining that I don’t have enough time to do things, I went and signed up for CampNaNoWriMo. I’m going from writing zero words per day to getting down at least 1,667 words a day. Crazy, see?

I’m currently on day 4 and so far, so good. But it’s always good at this point, right? Everything is new and shiny and filled with possibility. I suspect sometime next week I’ll hit a brick wall and realize everything I wrote before makes no sense and will need to be redone. I’m hoping that’s not the case, but since I’m pretty much pantsing this thing, it’s highly probable.

Thankfully, I’ve had this novel idea bouncing around in my head since last year. The tentative title is A Discordant Mirror and I at least have some key scenes laid out in my head. Now, it’s just a matter of stringing them together. Because it’s totally that easy, right?

Interchangeable Goals

Sometimes, you just have to be good with getting anything done at all.

At least, that’s my perspective on things these days. Normally, I’d beat myself up over not hitting a certain word count per day. Or failing to work on novel revisions. Okay, so I still beat myself up over these things. But I beat myself up less. Which is important, relatively speaking.

I digress.

Getting mad at myself for failing to complete certain tasks repeatedly isn’t productive and tends to throw me into a cycle of failure. That is, if I failed yesterday, I’ll fail today, so why even try?

But this negative self-talk is harmful and counterproductive. I still engage in it often, but trying to put my focus onto what I do accomplish is much more helpful. For instance, I didn’t write any new fiction today.  But I did write this blog post and finish a critique for a writing friend that I’ve owed him since forever (sorry!). That feels good to check off the to-do list. Once I finish this post, I may even conquer revisions on something small, like a short story or a scene in my novel.

My point here is if a strict plan of action isn’t working for you and causing too much stress or self doubt, dial it back. This doesn’t mean you should change your goals; rather, it means you should refocus them. Become flexible. So long as you’re accomplishing something you want to accomplish, be happy. I’m hoping that checking things off my to-do list on a daily basis will inspire me and build the confidence I need to tackle larger projects.

I know this all sounds like armchair psychology. Honestly, it probably is. But I’m trying to work through complex mental blocks in how I view tasks, failure, and success. Bear with me as I struggle. And please, feel free to share your suggestions in the comments.

On “Knit” and the Writing Process

I thought I’d try out something new here. I recently had a short story published at The Drabblecast, and I was thinking it might be fun to go into a bit of detail about my approach to the story and how it met its final form.

This is the first story I consider to be a part of my most current batch. Even though it was written in 2010, my approach was considerably different on this tale than on those previous.

What was the difference, you might be asking?

Simple: I didn’t fret about quality.

Well, at least in the drafting phase. This was the first time I can recall throwing caution to the wind and writing a story just because I wanted to. Because certain words sounded nice together. Because I wanted to tell something creepy and beautiful at the same time.

And the first draft was horrendous, as most first drafts are. It made next to no sense and was filled with tangents that took the story off course. So I focused the plot and trimmed it down. I cut out phrases I thought were cool. I killed my darlings.

Once satisfied, “Knit” was sent to 9 different markets, one after the other. I piled up the rejections. I received additional feedback from beta readers along the way and made a few subtle tweaks for clarity and consistency. Finally, I sent the story off to The Drabblecast.

But the acceptance didn’t come right away. I received a rewrite request first that required me to cut the story again by about 300 words. Much of the rewrite revolved around removing a distracting subplot involving the mother character. Basically, I had to focus the story more on the father to make it fulfilling emotionally.

They were right. I made the revisions, showed a few beta readers and off it went. Yay for acceptance!

I’m proud of “Knit” and the process required to get to the end product. I wrote freely for the first time. I channeled personal anguish into the tale–something that I’ve since done with regularity. And the story that I was left with is filled with darkness, yet there is beauty there. If sadness can be beautiful.

I hope you all enjoyed the end result.