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!