The Slush Files: On Reading

A towering stack of manila envelopes and other unread mail

Okay, so the slush pile is digital now. Doesn’t change the sense of pressure!

I’ve been hesitant to do something like this, because, honestly? I like slush. I truly do. We find most of our stories through slush, and it’s great.I don’t want people to get the wrong impression, or to be scared to submit a manuscript cold – to Candlemark & Gleam or anywhere else.

But at the same time, my goodness, there are a lot of people out there Doin’ It Rong. Perhaps, just perhaps, by pointing out a few of the more common pitfalls I see when reading through the slushpile, I’ll be able to help some poor, struggling author working on their query and sample avoid getting themselves consigned to the roundfile for stupid reasons.

And so, I bring to you… The Slush Files.

As I go through submissions, I really do notice things. A real, actual person – not a robot, not the Editorial Parrot – reads through each and every submission Candlemark & Gleam gets. And, in a lot of cases, that person ends up being me, your friendly local Mastermind. Send something to us for consideration, and it actually gets read. We might not read all 50 pages, but I guarantee you that it’s not just getting skimmed, or chucked out on the basis of the query or introductory email. That 50-page sample you send us gets opened and read.

We judge based on your ability to write fiction, not your ability to write a query email.

That said… you might wanna take a look over that fiction, gang. Don’t just write it, hit save, and bundle it off to whatever publisher or agent or editor you think might possibly be acquiring right now.

Please. Spare yourself the indignity and the rejections. Read what you’re sending first.

And then have someone else read it. Someone other than the editor you’re pitching.

Because…well, we do read these things. And if you make mistakes that are very, very glaring, it all but kills your chance of getting an acquisition offer.

What sort of very glaring errors?

Homophone Mistakes
The worst I see are homophone mistakes. Pail fingers and a shoot in the wall are recent ones I’ve seen come up more than a few times. While reading your work aloud often helps fix pacing and structure, it won’t fix these – you’ll need an outside reader (a trusted beta) to find them and let you know.

Spellcheck Snafus
Closely related to homophone mistakes, actually. This is when you mistype a word, and the incorrect spelling happens to be a real word – spellcheck won’t tell you when a mistake like this happens, and so if you’re relying on spellcheck instead of a real human being to help go over your work, you’re bound to end up with errors like vice-like grips, rouge vampires, or wondering aimlessly into the distance.

Although, come to think of it, I’d dig a story about rouge vampires, descending upon the countryside and wreaking makeup-based havoc.

Ahem.

Anyway, reading. Do it. Do it several times. Then get someone else – preferably a few someone elses – to do it for you. Get those pesky construction errors out of the way, and let the story speak loud and clear. It’ll help you stand out in the Slush Files – in a good way!

 

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6 Responses to “The Slush Files: On Reading”

  1. sj September 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Add “should/would/could of” instead of the ‘ve contraction.  HUGE pet peeve.

  2. M. Fenn September 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Reign and rein in the self-published thing I finished recently. Oy vey.

  3. Candlemark & Gleam September 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    One of the best ones recently was someone telling another person that they “otter do this.”

    I…don’t even.

  4. Stevie Carroll September 23, 2012 at 4:22 am #

    I try to match my spelling to the variety of English used in the country I’m submitting to, but honestly, ‘vicelike’ would catch me out every time. Apologies to writers of US English, but vise looks ugly to me.

  5. Candlemark & Gleam September 23, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    I’m continually misspelling “viselike” and “Vise-Grips” (which is a trademark) myself, so I notice it when others do.

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