Musings from a Slush Pile Junkie


As you may or may not know, I read slush for a couple of speculative fiction short story outfits.  That doesn’t make me any kind of expert. It just makes me someone who gets access to  A LOT of speculative fiction short stories.

Now that I’ve stood in the slush reader’s shoes for a while, I have gained an appreciation for several things:


    • Slush readers’ opinions are completely subjective. It’s really easy to recognize bad writing and it’s pretty easy to recognize brilliant writing. Everything else falls on some scale in between and that’s harder to deal with. So, choosing a story to bump up to second round consideration relies on questionable things like the slush reader’s personal preferences and pet peeves. Not all slush readers have the same sweet spots, nor do they share the same pet peeves. That makes the submission process all the more uncertain. And it’s all the more reason a writer should never take rejection personally. It’s also why the submission process is frustrating as hell!


    • Size and fit really do matter. It’s a concept that doesn’t only apply to shoes and clothes. If your story is really long, it better be really good. If your story is hard core science fiction, you better be submitting it to a venue that publishes hard core science fiction. Even if it’s the most terrific technical science fiction story ever written, if the venue doesn’t do technical science fiction, it won’t be accepted. Again, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or that you have a bad story; it means it isn’t the right story.

Those are general things, and probably nothing you haven’t read before somewhere else.  But, if you’re looking for something a little more specific, a little more personal, then I’ll be happy to rant for just a bit on what “We like character driven stories” means.  So many speculative fiction places say that, and so many of us writers get it wrong.

Character driven is NOT:

  • In-depth description of the character’s clothing or physical attributes, unless the clothing or physicality are utterly necessary to the story.
  • A long existential account about the character from an omniscient narrator. If a character can’t show me about himself/herself through his/her deeds, thoughts, actions, and dialogue, then I don’t care. I just don’t care.
  • A character who sits and thinks and talks a lot but never does anything.
  • A place holder who exists solely to make your futuristic technology story appear to be something more than just a really boring description of futuristic technology.


Character driven IS:

  • somebody wanting something so badly that they’ll go amazing lengths to get it (or fail at getting it, just so long as they try really hard). This can be an emotional journey or a physical journey or both.
  • somebody who is influenced or changed by his/her experiences.
  • someone wonderful but who has some really great flaws; or
  • someone who is evil and heinous, but has something endearing, relatable or respectable about them.

Some of you are reading this and saying to yourself, “She didn’t say anything I didn’t already know.”  Okay, you’re probably right, but those were the things that stuck out to me today when I swam through the slush, and if its something that gives someone a little encouragement or direction when they needed it, then I’ve done my good deed for the day.

You’re welcome.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Widdershins
    May 18, 2014 @ 02:56:36

    So, I got an email notification about your latest post that said this … ‘Desperate Times (title) This post is password protected. You must visit the website and enter the password to continue reading’

    If all is well, then OK, and if all is not well, I hope all is well soon.


    • squee1313
      May 18, 2014 @ 13:19:28

      Thanks for checking! That was sweet of you. I haven’t used the password protected option before and didn’t realize it was going to send out an e-mail.
      I posted a flash fiction story that was in response to a writing group thing I’m participating in, but I only wanted the writing group to be able to see it since it’s pretty terrible and I didn’t want to subject random people to having to read it and I don’t like to do vanity postings (unless its something that has actually been published at a legitimate venue).
      Lesson learned. Will not be using the password protection option again in the future, but if I do, I will really pay attention to the title of the posting, first! It does sort of look like a sad cry for help.


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