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Jun 1, 2011

Life Behind the Slush Pile

Originally posted on Colin Harvey's blog, May, 2009

Joining the ranks of those whose job it is to read submitted stories has not significantly increased my own publication rate since I joined Ty Drago's editorial staff at Allegory in August of 2008. Not yet, anyway. But it will. I'm learning a lot about the things that make a story work from reading 'slush' – a term we do not use to refer to the stories in our pile. They are called submissions, and rightly so!

During the Allegory submission period, Ty distributes the stories as they come in to whichever of us (timidly) raises our hand. I suppose every editor has their own approach to reading stories. Mine is simple. I read them, one after the other, all the way through – regardless of whether overwritten, badly written or 'I just plain don't like'. It does take time. But it's my job, and I've discovered that I rather enjoy it.

If I find myself really liking a story, I'll break out the pickles and crisps while I'm reading and make it a festive occasion. We throw the really good stuff into a 'maybe' pile for later sorting into the stories chosen for that issue. The rejected stories all get a personal note, even if only a short one. It's the magazine's policy and I think a good one. Here's how I picture an author's response after getting back one of my rejections: "Oh, they hated the surprise ending with the zombie budgies – I can work on that" or "I knew having the three-headed alien puke green slime all over the girl – with all three heads – was over the top." When I've written 'please keep trying', I actually mean it. It is especially encouraging to see an author who I've rejected before submit a new story that is better, closer to being what I consider 'publishable' for Allegory.

Because that's what it's all about, really. Enjoyment of the craft of writing stories and getting better at it.