Writer, Reader and now, Slushpile Volunteer

I’ve been back from Mexico for about a week now and I’ve thrown myself into editing and revising a story I’ve been working on for about a month. I’ve gotten feedback from three of my regular readers, and each one has made different suggestions and comments from which to pick and choose. The usual torture.

I continue to grapple with the material and the piece has gone from 1200 words and ballooned up to 2100 words, and now I’ve culled it back down to under 1600 words but I am unhappy with the ending. (I’m usually unhappy with my endings.) And so the toil continues.

But speaking of editing, endings and the like… I’ve also recently started volunteering as a slush pile reader for one of the journals that previously published one of my stories. It’s been fascinating to read other people’s submissions and to be in the position of deciding whether or not the material is worthy of publication. I’ve already read more than 30 stories as a slushpile reader over the last several days, and unfortunately from what I’ve read, the majority of the submissions were a “No” for me.

It is a GREAT experience for me because I see rookie-writer mistakes, crazy stories with no plot, or stories with nonsensical plots and characters, but I also see nuanced well written pieces that for whatever reason do not come together.  As a writer, seeing all of this material gives me a much deeper understanding of what editors (and slush pile readers!) have to go through in order to get to the stories that are ready for publication. It also makes me think that it’s basically a miracle that any of my stories have been published.

Have you ever volunteered as a slushpile reader for a small press journal? Have you ever edited a journal? I’d love to hear some war stories from people who are on the “other side” of the submissions process and their perspective.


6 Responses

  1. What a great opportunity for you! Yes – I recently was a first reader for the Glass Woman Prize contest, and it was a great experience. There were some obvious “nos” right off the bat – even a bizarre amount of grammatical and spelling errors – and then a couple that really shone through as being amazing. I’m now in my second round of reading (she asked me to do another group), and I am looking forward to seeing what else is out there.

    I imagine the submissions a small press journal/lit mag receives might be of a different style/quality. Or not?

    Finally, when I read over some things I’ve had published in the past – yikes – I think the reader was delirious that day or something! It is subjective I know, but you’re right, there are obvious rookie character/plot things that scream “don’t publish me!”

    I always hate my endings too…;-)

    • Hi Wren,

      You always post the most supportive comments, I really appreciate that, thanks!

      I don’t know if small press subs are of better or lesser quality than contest subs, but I’d bet that if stories for the prize you mentioned have to be nominated by editors, then the sub quality should shoot way up. If submission is open to anybody, then the sub quality would likely be the same.

      On a side note, I had something happen this morning that has never happened before. An editor reached out to me to accept a piece that has been published recently. I had sent them a withdrawal three months ago, but I sent it to the wrong email addy accidentally (that of a slush pile reader who didn’t forward the withdrawal to the editor) and they thought the piece was still available. I felt horrible! Thank goodness the managing editor was so understanding, and encouraged me to continue submitting materials to them so I dashed off another submission to them this morning as a way to atone for my sin. :-}

      What a day!

      • That’s awesome Carol! It’s quite a stamp of approval on the original piece to know that two places would have published it. Let’s hope that this other one gets published too. *crossing fingers & toes*.

        • You know, it’s funny because it is so common to have pieces get rejection slips I’m always shocked when I get an acceptance for publication (yes, even when I think the story is well written and ready for the eyes of an editor). I guess you could say it keeps me from being disappointed when things are turned down, which it does.

          The piece I sent them has already gotten postive feedback from editors I respect a lot, it’s just that the story wasn’t the best fit for them, or perhaps they thought it needed more work.

          I think I’ve mentioned this before, but when I get rejection slips with commentary from editors I always take a careful look at the story again and see if it needs tweaking based on the feedback.

          So, if anyone is wondering how it could take an author (me) more than 5 months to write about 750 words, that’s why. I have the original piece, I re-write and edit the hell out of it, but then I submit it around and get even more feedback and tweaking continues until it gets an acceptance.

          This arduous process has seemed to work for me, your mileage my vary!

  2. Teehee – I know all about the mileage! I talked about that very thing in “Rewrite, Then Rewrite Again”, a recent blog post. It’s an unbelieavable process to anyone who hasn’t been through it. Obviously, you’re on the right track!

    • Yeah, the re-writing is enjoyable to me, but it can be mentally exhausting too. You have to give yourself the time to let the material rest, and then you have to dig back in, etc. in a repeating cycle.

      At the end of it you usually have an idea that the material is finished, but you’re never really sure!

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