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daniel barrett
Posted on Tuesday, July 03, 2007 - 06:50 am:   

I understand (and agree) that as a slush reader, inappropriate stories can be rejected after the first few paragraphs.

This does, though, seem to make it impossible for a story that intentionally starts out in a non-appropriate way (with a changeup thrown after the first page or two) to be properly considered.

So how would one go about submitting such a story--one that intentionally starts of trite or inappropriate in some other way-- with any hope of it getting considered?

-Daniel
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Elizabeth L
Posted on Tuesday, July 03, 2007 - 10:03 am:   

Daniel, I'm not a slush survivor so what do I know? :-)

But from what I've read, a story from an unpublished writer has to be very well-written and exhibit something really novel or fresh in the first page or so and a new take on a theme early on for it to survive the slush. I've also read that twist endings are tricky -- they can be done very poorly so if the story rests on a twist ending, that alone will not make your story survive. It has to have everything else going for it so that the slush reader will keep reading past the first page or so.

In other words, writing quality, novelty of ideas or themes, and a great hook are necessary to get the slush reader to read more than a paragraph or two. A slush reader can tell by that first page whether the story is worth reading because that first sentence, paragraph, page or pages should exhibit all of the above. Try reading the first few paragraphs of any story posted in a writing workshop and see what I mean. You can tell almost right away if you think the story is worth reading.

Now, if only I could figure out how to pull that off. :-)
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Tuesday, July 03, 2007 - 11:43 am:   

The thing is, editors and slush readers are a lot like, well, regular readers: so if the story doesn't grab them with something new, different, or excellent on the first couple pages, they aren't going to keep reading because the people who buy their magazines wouldn't keep reading either. So even if your story is starting off ironically bad, it still has to work like a good story and give us a reason, right from the first paragraph, to keep reading.
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daniel barrett
Posted on Tuesday, July 03, 2007 - 12:28 pm:   

I do agree about any story needing to be well written and catchy early on. I guess I'm thinking more of the "appropriateness" of the story for the market.

In the case of my story (a short-short), I doubt the slush reader would get past the first few paragraphs, as it starts off seeming to be some kind of sex story (although nothing at all explicit) with nary a science fiction element in sight.

Honestly, were I a slush reader, I'd toss it in the whacko pile after maybe 4 paragraphs. Not because it's badly written, simply due to what would seem inappropriate to an SF magazine's subject matter.

Charles, I do think that the regular reader is not like the slush reader in one important respect--for the normal reader, the stories have already been vetted for them--they can generally be sure they're not reading something completely worthless as the story in question has already gotten past the editor. So, in my above example, the reader -would- likely continue, with the assumption that there will be some worth to the story.

A slush reader, though, has no such assurances at all, and in fact (almost always rightfully) assumes that something that starts off inappropriate is not worth wasting time on. Therefore, on the off chance that I have a story that both A) starts off (seemingly) in the wrong genre, and B) is any good, there's no way to get it past the hurdle of the slush reader's whacko-filter.

A bit of a dilemma for me as far as this story is concerned...
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Sean Melican
Posted on Tuesday, July 03, 2007 - 05:21 pm:   

Twist endings almost never work. You'll find warnings against twist endings in many submission guidelines. However, a story doesn't have to have a speculative element in the first few paragraphs to catch a slush reader. Slush readers (usually) aren't idiots.
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daniel barrett
Posted on Wednesday, July 04, 2007 - 04:58 am:   

No, slush readers are not idiots, but slush readers are often overworked, and don't have a lot of time to devote to a story that seems completely of another genre throughout the first page. Why -would- a slush reader continue, given the high ratio garbage to gold? It has nothing to do with the reader being an idiot. It has to do with how much time they can devote to the material at hand. Which simply does put a story that starts out in such a way at an obvious disadvantage. Not that there's any remedy for the story involved--it's just the way it is.
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John Joseph Adams
Posted on Wednesday, July 04, 2007 - 06:35 am:   

Daniel --

I can only speak from personal experience, so the experiences of other slush readers may vary, but when I'm reading slush, whether or not there's a fantasy element doesn't generally cross my mind until I've finished (or read most of) a story. No speculative element may play a part in the rejection of a story, but it'll never be the primary reason. Heck, we've *published* stories with no speculative element (much to the ire of certain readers).
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Jeffrey Buford Jr.
Posted on Wednesday, July 04, 2007 - 08:20 am:   

I really don't know how to convey my feelings regarding this subject. However, it would seem both unfair and extraordinarily unprincipled for a slush reader to reject a story based upon a few unpleasant paragraphs. I would consider this pre-judging, which is not at all generous to the writer who took the time and money to submit the manuscript.

Again, slush readers are all different. Many of them analyze word choice in the first sections of the tale, parallel structure, innovative concepts and realistic characters. Everyone writes differently, therefore it's impossible to say what's the appropriate way or the road less traveled.

With that being said, a slush reader can only grasp the true potential of a tale after reading the manuscript in its entirety.

What do I know?

*Crosses fingers*
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daniel barrett
Posted on Wednesday, July 04, 2007 - 08:55 am:   

As someone who has only a limited ability to read other people's stuff before it ALL seems like garbage, I am amazed at the ability of people like JJA to slog through it with any critical ability remaining.

Personally, I would never say that a slush reader has any obligation to read through an entire manuscript before rejecting it--no way! In fact, his obligation to his publication would be the opposite since it is in their interest that the slush reader be efficient in his/her use of time. One to two pages would suffice for 80 percent of what comes in (at least from my experience in reading stuff in critique groups and such).

That said, I still think sometimes (albeit very rarely) something's going to fall through the cracks due to an unusual opening. And of course, being biased, I fear this particular little story may fall into that category...it really does start off sounding like crap :-)

(Then again, being biased, I may well be missing the fact that it ends up sounding like crap, too...:-( )
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daniel barrett
Posted on Wednesday, July 04, 2007 - 09:12 am:   

Thanks for response John!

I guess "non-genre" isn't so much what I fear triggering the "didn't grab me"-reflex as much as trite or cliched or purple-prose laden openings. (All of which my story (that inspired this thread) has in spades....)

In no way in this is a cricism of such a story getting the dump button early-on. As someone already mentioned, twist stories are rarely any good, and if you read every story that started off badly to completion, you'd be reading slush forever...which you probably feel like you are, anyway. :-)
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Charles Coleman Finlay
Posted on Wednesday, July 04, 2007 - 04:43 pm:   

"I am, really, a great writer; my only difficulty is in finding great readers." - Frank Harris (1856-1931)
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David de Beer
Posted on Saturday, July 28, 2007 - 02:59 pm:   

http://slushmaster.livejournal.com

don't know if that would be any help, but if you scroll back through the journal, Doug Cohen did a post where he analysed the openings of stories he'd passed through the slushpile, and why they attracted him.
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Sam Hidaka
Posted on Saturday, July 28, 2007 - 09:38 pm:   

Jeffrey Buford Jr. wrote:
... it would seem both unfair and extraordinarily unprincipled for a slush reader to reject a story based upon a few unpleasant paragraphs. I would consider this pre-judging, which is not at all generous to the writer who took the time and money to submit the manuscript.

With respect, Jeffrey, I disagree.

The editorial staff of a magazine has an obligation first and foremost to the readers of the magazine -- not the writers who submit.

If a story's opening fails to "grab the slush reader's attention" (to paraphrase an expression that I might have heard somewhere), then it's not going to keep the magazine's readers reading. Those readers will move on to the next story, or maybe even to the next magazine. When this happens on multiple occasions, some of those readers will stop reading the magazine altogether.


... Everyone writes differently, therefore it's impossible to say what's the appropriate way or the road less traveled.
With that being said, a slush reader can only grasp the true potential of a tale after reading the manuscript in its entirety.


Again, I disagree.

You don't need to eat an entire plate of lasagna to determine that you don't like it. If you don't like the way it tastes, you can tell in the first bite.


I'm a slush reader, at a startup SF/F magazine. And I have far less experience at it that JJA does. But even as new to publishing as I am, I know that everyone in the SF/F magazine business recognizes that F&SF is a model of professionalism.

GVG and JJA demonstrate their respect for the writers who submit by responding very quickly.

If they made a writer wait for a response while they read other submissions to the end, even with stories they know early on aren't going to be suitable, then that would be ungenerous to the writer.


In the August 2007 issue of the magazine I work for, Mike Resnick (one of my bosses) has an editorial about slush. He gives some tips on how to survive the slush pile. Among other things, he says that you should spend 90% of your effort working on Page 1. If you donít capture the slush reader by the bottom of that first page, the odds are hundreds to one that youíve already lost the battle.

Here's the editorial (I think you can read the editorial without being a subscriber):
http://baens-universe.com/articles/Editorial__Vol_2__Number_2__Slush

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