From a Slush Reader: Why You’re Getting Rejected

I recently became a slush reader for freeze frame fiction and it has already been a far more enlightening experience that I’d thought it’d be. I’m an experienced and published writer, so I like to think that I know how to push past the slush pile. But it surprised me to see the comments of other readers and editors and what was enough to get them to say no. What surprised me even more was that as a reader, I was right there with them and still am.

*Disclaimer: This is a post exclusively from my experience as a slush reader and does not come from freeze frame fiction itself.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Listen to that niggling feeling

Yes, you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ve written a great story but there’s that niggling feeling that something is wrong. It is likely something small and you don’t feel it’s something that will make or break the story. Well, think again. Slush readers are looking for reasons to reject your story so that they can get onto the next and find that polished gem. They’re not looking for a story that has elements missing that could make it a stronger piece. They want a ready-to-publish piece. It could be poor grammar, a loose end, or a less-than-satisfying ending.

2. It’s not a story

I expect this is a problem for many slush piles. So much of what is submitted for flash and shorts are incomplete thoughts. Most read like a diary entry and definitely aren’t a story. Make sure that a complete arc of beginning-middle-end is actually there. Don’t scratch it off as “literary” and be a lazy storyteller. Give us a story.

3. Didn’t follow guidelines

FFF uses submittable, so there’s this giant tag that gets plastered onto any story that didn’t follow the guidelines. I’m sure most magazines have some sort of indicator system to show any submission problems. If you put your name in the manuscript when the submission guidelines explicitly said not to, that’s the first thing readers see. It doesn’t mean you’ll get instantly rejected, but your story is just going to have to be that much stronger to overcome the bitter taste you just put in our mouths.

Another note, readers also see the title of your file and I know that other magazines show the file’s metadata. Make sure your file is titled appropriately and go into File -> Properties and make sure that information makes sense too. It’s not a huge deal, but any slips like that will give the readers a bad first impression of you and your story will have to work that much harder to get a yes.

4. You sent a first draft

I know that it feels like short works can be written quickly and sent onto the magazine, but please don’t. If you wrote your story in thirty minutes, put it down and come back to it the next day. Give it a proper round of edits. Question the storyline, the character growth, your word choices, etc. There are too many submissions that are actually good, but need too much polish to be considered for publication.

5. Your story covered too much ground

It’s great if you try to take on a large concept, but make sure that you can properly execute it given the word count. With short stories, that can be a challenge if the ground you’re trying to cover is better suited to a longer piece. Again, consult that niggling feeling. If the story seems rushed, or you feel that you didn’t get to explore all the elements of the story that needed to be present, dedicate that idea to a longer piece and submit it to the correct magazine.

If you’re interested in submitting your work to fff, consult the submission guidelines here. While fff doesn’t have limitations on genre, I personally prefer fantasy and science fiction. So send your good stuff! We’re waiting!

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