Things That Make Me Go “Hmmm”

Once upon a time, in a Twitterverse far, far away, somebody asked me to write a post about slushing for Shock Totem.  More exactly, about the things that would make me stop reading a submission before I reach the ending. Jamey Stegmaier, this is for you.

First off, I offer the disclaimer that this is my personal opinion, and it doesn’t apply to any of the other staff members.  They have their own way of doing things, and this is mine.  Also, I’d like to point out that each submission is read by three different staff, so if I’m turned off by a piece, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it goes by the wayside.  The other staff can vote “Yes” on it, and even more staff are called in to read it.  Thank goodness this is the case, or else my story “Murder for Beginners” wouldn’t have made it into the magazine originally! Thank you, EVERYBODY BUT KEN, for digging the story (You can read more about that in the comments of this excellent blog post “I Wrote A Story And All I Got Was This Lousy Form Rejection”).

And I’m kidding.  Ken rocks hardcore.

I’m a fast reader. It doesn’t take too much effort for me to finish a story, so I usually do it.  But there are definitely things that will turn me off.  These things are:

1) No effort at editing.  Dozens of mispelled words, sentences that end in fragments (and I’m not talking creative fragment usage, but I-don’t-know-any-better usage).  I know that this sounds harsh, but I’m plowing through hundreds of stories. If you’re not going to take the time to run spell check, I’m not going to take the time to read the entire thing.  Also, don’t forget that we edit stories.  If presented with two stories for acceptance, and we only have the space to run one, I’m going to lean toward the one that won’t take hours upon hours of painstaking editing.  And I’m not even the editor.

2) Hate speech.  I value human life enormously.  I believe in the dignity and worth of every individual.  If you need to stand on the rooftops and spew venom about a certain person or group, please stand on somebody else’s rooftop.  We don’t use that kind of language here.

3) Your reputation.  This doesn’t mean what you probably think it means.  I try to read submissions blind, but every now and then I’ll either recognize somebody’s name, a familiar story, or a familiar writing style.  If I’m pretty sure that I know who you are, that’s cool.  If I know who you are and I have strong feelings toward you either way, I’ll stop reading the story and let somebody else read it instead.  I’ve never voted on a story by close friends or members of my writing group.  If I’m particularly irritated by an author, I don’t vote then, either.  Everybody gets a fair shake.

4) An obvious motive.  It’s great to be passionate about something.  But if you’re absolutely determined to save the manatees, and you send in a piece about saving the manatees, there had darn well better a story in there somewhere.  Hey, I dig manatees, too, but this is a dark fiction magazine, not a soapbox.  Also, don’t send email links telling me all about your manatees.  And don’t try to solicit money from me. I don’t have any.

5. A straight up boring story.  If you’re on page four and nothing has happened yet, I want to turn off my computer and cry.  And I’m more invested in the story than the average reader!  A good piece will grab me by the throat and shake me before putting me down.  If it takes you 15 pages to tell a story that could be effectively told in six pages, then you’re not doing anybody any favors.  I know it’s 5 cents a word, and it seems like a good idea to pad your word count in order to pay off that last medical bill.  But if staff is snoozing a few pages in, then you’d better believe that a typical reader wouldn’t even make it through a few paragraphs.  Harsh, but true.

Okay! There’s a short list!  I hope it’s helpful and doesn’t make your spirits flag.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to be reading a story and get that tingly, magical “This is it!” feeling.  There are few things better.  These suggestions might help make your story The One.

4 Comments on “Things That Make Me Go “Hmmm””

  1. Nice post. I think this list probably applies to me and my slush pile too, tho’ I’d say there are a couple of tropes that tend to get me to pass a story onto another reader, weak LOTR spoofs and “what-if super heroes were real” being the current top of my list of sighs. Any usual suspects that have you reaching for the “pause button”?

  2. Hi Phillip! Thanks for swinging by.

    Gotta say that I roll my eyes at zombie tales, although I’ve read a few that have been done beautifully. But they’re definitely the diamonds in the rough. I’m super tired of torture for torture’s sake (being gratuitously disgusting doesn’t make something horror; eliciting genuine emotion does that) and I’m so over the “And then we ate the baby/it ate the baby/the zombie baby ate us!” tales as well.

    But on the bright side, I find myself irresistibly drawn to crazy people in love, however that takes shape. Unless they’re zombies.

    Great question! Now I’m going to get a Zombie Babies Torturing The Crazy People They Love submission! And it’ll be awesome. 😉

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