A week or so ago we had the orientation session for the slush readers. I gathered them by posting announcements in my newsletter and other social media, but I also tried to reach out to a range of people in order to ask for recommendations in order to ensure I had a diverse pool. We ended up with over a dozen slushreaders, and one of the things I want all of them to take away from the experience is better understanding of stories and how to sort through things.
We video-recorded the session, and the publisher went over the mechanics of the slush system in that as well. Parvus Press has mentioned recently that I asked to have the slush read blind, which to me seems like a better approach. Studies have shown that perception of the attached name can change the way someone reacts to a scholarly paper, and I’m reasonably sure similar things happen when reading fiction.
One of the things I’ve stressed is that typos and grammatical errors aren’t a dealbreaker – we can fix those. A compelling story with some issues like that is something I want to see. But the world’s most immaculately formatted story won’t do much for me unless there’s a good story attached, by which I mean a story that entertains while at the same informs or engages or makes you think or hopefully some combination of all of that. Look for the stories that startle and amaze you, I told them. Or really piss you off, I added, because sometimes that’s the sign of a good story.
If the story is from a viewpoint radically different than their own, I’d like them to make sure some other eyes check it out. (Nonetheless I’m going to be a pain in the rear and read everything, partly because I want to be able to talk to the slushreaders about stuff as it comes up.)
I emphasized a policy that I have borrowed from John Joseph Adams, who has edited a kerjillion anthologies, and asked people not to talk about the slushreading experience in anything but vague and enthusiastic terms. I know writers will be watching those utterances and often taking stuff to heart that was not intended for them. In my early years, I had the odd experience of having an IGMS slushreader blog about my story submission in mocking terms. This probably would have been more discouraging if the actual editor hadn’t just bought the story, but I will always remember reading through their account of the slushreading party and the lines about all of them laughing about hitting a story written from an elephant’s POV. The vividness of that moment is not something I really want the slushreaders inflicting on other writers.
We closed up by talking a little about how to stay un-depressed in the light of what may well turn out to be a whole bunch of grim stories. It’s okay to step away from the keyboard sometimes, and we have enough slushreaders that plenty of eyes will be looking at the stories.