Sunday, 3 July 2016

We're All Slush Readers Now

Woah, that title's a total lie.  But, I don't know, I thought it sounded cool.  At any rate, I at least am now a slush reader, an occupation I turned my back on many years ago when I realised it was thankless and joyless and payless and was recently sucked back into when someone actually offered me money to do it.  As such, I'm now the official slush wrangler for Digital Fantasy Fiction, imprint of Digital Fiction Publishing.  Yay!

And actually, to my surprise, I'm rather enjoying the experience so far.  It helps, frankly, that Digital only take reprints; that right there weeds out the slushiest of slush, and so far I haven't had to deal with anything too awful.  In fact, the overall standard has been rather good, all told.  However, I've noticed a few early trends, and I thought I'd share them here, because, who knows, the information might actually be useful to someone somewhere.  Oh, and I should state clearly that the following represents in no way the policy or opinions of Digital Fiction Publishing or of my fellow slush readers, who are probably all much better, wiser and less bloody-minded people than me.
  • First up, we aren't getting that many submissions.  Which is great because I'm quite lazy, but seriously people?  Money for reprints, that's a mug's game.  A good chunk of my short story income these days is off reprints, and it's literally money for old rope.  Well, not literally.  That would suggest that I wrote my stories on old rope, which would be an awesome gimmick, especially if I was writing about pirates or hangmen or, um, rope makers.  Anyway, point being, it's idiotic not to sell the reprint rights on your work if and whenever you can.  Send us some stuff.
  • Also: people who ignore the guidelines are severely irritating.  I know everyone says this, but seriously, it's true and it's a big deal.  And (though admittedly this isn't in Digital's guidelines) the reason markets tend to ask for standard manuscript format is because it's fairly painless on the eyes.  Fortunately, most everybody seems to be using it, but the one time someone didn't I got pretty grumpy.  And rejected their story.  Which, in fairness, generally wasn't much good, and would have been rejected anyway.  But at least I'd have been in a better mood.  I'm no longer sure what my point is here.
  • Wait, I know!  Here's the thing: I'm not reading stories here because I have a burning desire to read them, I'm reading them because it's a job.  That means I'm immediately predisposed not to like anything I read, even though I like fantasy and short stories and reading fantasy short stories.  I guess the moment something becomes work, all of that goes out the window.  And this, I realise now, is why editors and slush readers say half the things they do: about correct formatting, about strong openings, about not coming across as an idiot in your cover letter.  If a writer and a story get me on side early, that goodwill can carry a long way.  If they don't then I'm going to be a lot less inclined to bear with when I find my attention flagging, which is basically always, because I have the attention span of a drunken goat.  I know that sucks, but then so does being annoyed by other people's carelessness, so hey.
  • On that note - the one uniform factor across most everything that's come in, good or bad, recommended or declined, has been weak titles.  And, you know, the title is literally the first thing I pay attention to.  (Actually literally literally this time.)  Not one title has made me think "I want to read that this very second".  One made me want to delete the story before I even looked at it, but I didn't, because I'm a professional goddammit.  But please everyone, put more thought into your titles.
  • And let's end on a positive: as I said up top, the general standard of everything I've read has been particularly strong.  Again, I'm basically looking for excuses to stop reading here, and yet there hasn't been much that I bounced before I was, say, eight pages in.  Admittedly, there also hasn't been a great deal that I'd call really mind-blowingly extraordinary, but a baseline of very good is more than I'd dared hope for.  There are clearly a lot of people writing really strong fantasy fiction out there, which is reassuring to know.
So send something in, why not?  Preferably something outstandingly amazing, with a never-before-seen title, in flawless standard manuscript format and with a cover letter so brief that it verges on coy.  Am I asking too much?  Hell, no!  I am slush reader, here me roar.

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