In Praise of Slush Readers

Celebrate the small victories! (Photo credit: AlaskaTeacher)

I’m putting on my bragging pants for a moment. I’ve mentioned the Drabblecast’s weekly flash fiction contests before. They pick a 100-word story and a 100-character story most weeks to feature on the podcast. Well, I’m super-proud to have written the 100-character stories featured on both this week’s AND last week’s episodes. I’m not planning to share those stories here because they’re much more awesome if you listen to them on the Drabblecast, lovingly performed and produced with music and everything.

So what are you waiting for? Go listen to the episodes! You can download them here and here respectively, or just subscribe to the Drabblecast on iTunes and get alllllll the podcast goodness.

Here’s another 100-character story I wrote, apropros of today’s topic:

I read the whole Twilight series yesterday. I know I could write it better. My apologies in advance to the slush readers.

English: A Slush drink
Mmmm… tasty slush pile… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Poor slush readers. They have it rough. They have to read every single story someone sends the magazine for consideration. Even the Twilight fanfic. And while I haven’t slush-read for a fiction magazine since high school, I’m sympathetic for personal reasons.

You see, my day job involves a slush pile. Several times a year, I grade the essays written for the Georgia High School Graduation Test. At least once, every kid in Georgia gets locked into a classroom for two hours to write an essay on a surprise topic. The score received on this essay determines whether they graduate. Who gives that score? I do. All those essays arrive anonymous and in randomized order for me and my coworkers to read through and score. During testing season, I’ll spend somewhere between 6-10 hours a day reading handwritten essays by surly teens, all on the same topic.

Given that, it’s a grueling slush pile. These essayists just want to graduate. They’re not interested in creative writing, especially not under pressure. But every once in a while, you’ll run across something amazing. Something that makes all the slogging through bad grammar and bad handwriting worthwhile. You’ll read a remarkable essay. It might be hilarious or moving or both. It’s the kid that you just know will grow up to be a Famous Writer. You’d pay money for her book now, if you knew her name.

Now that I’ve started polishing and sending my own short stories to fiction magazines, I’ve run into a mental roadblock. I know how bad slush piles get, and I have a deep phobia of contributing to the problem. I don’t want to waste some unknown stranger’s time with something that’s obviously mediocre 30 seconds into a read-through. Rejection’s dandy, but the idea of boring someone? Horrifying.

So slush readers, I promise you this: I’ll only send in my best, most entertaining pieces for rejection. And I promise not to inflict any badly rewritten Twilight fanfic. Even if it would be better than the original.

For you writers out there, do you also get intimidated by aspects of the publication process? What are your tricks for overcoming your mental roadblocks so you can press on with your writing?

4 thoughts on “In Praise of Slush Readers

  1. The publication process intimidates me, full stop. The only trick I really have is to simply not think about it until I actually have something worth trying to submit, which I don’t expect to happen any time soon.

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