Originally posted in Allegory, Summer, 2011
First of all, if it makes you feel any better to picture us naked and chained to our computers when you send in your stories, then go ahead. It used to work for me whenever I had to give a presentation in college. Well, almost always. It depended on who was sitting in front of me and the images raised.
Okay, no more silliness. This is serious business. Really. Are you ready? I'll summarize the process first before we get to the good stuff.
You send in your story. As per the guidelines, of course. Then Ty Drago, Allegory's editor, divvies up the stories to us – the legendary Allegory Elf Babes. The legendary part is because no one has actually ever seen one of us – we've never even seen each other – but we all exist, at least as far as anything exists and is not just a random conflagration (erm, configuration?) of supersymmetric strings…oh, never mind. We are the Assistant/Associate Editors whose names appear on the magazine.
So, the Elf Babes (and Ty) each take their pile of stories and read them. Why the skeptical faces? We do read them – all of them – and, as far as I know, we read them all the way through. I will admit to skimming on some of those 9K monsters if the story doesn't warrant the length, but that's usually near the end of the submission period when the story batches are piling up and Ty's got steam coming out of his nose (I can't actually see this, but I can sense it).
When we read a batch, we write a few relevant comments about each story, aimed at helping and illuminating. Unfortunately, in my case, it's usually only a sentence, at the most two. Sometimes, if the story really doesn't jive with me at all, I have a hard time coming up with anything to say. That doesn't mean the story is necessarily bad, it's just not something I feel I want to or can comment sufficiently on to help make it better. Then we make a decision to reject the story or bump it up to Ty. This last category is known in Allegory parlance as a 'maybe'. Very, very rarely, an author will get asked for a rewrite. I only know this from hearsay. I've never asked for a rewrite.
A note about response times. We try to do relatively quick turnarounds. We do. But sometimes, especially towards the end of the submission period…well, things pile up. And since Ty is so very nice and tries very hard not to bug us except to remind us that he's got a gajillion stories still to distribute, some of us feel especially guilty, and we ask Ty to send us another batch. So then we've got two batches to finish up. You get the picture, right?
At the end of the submission period, Ty takes all of the 'maybes' and selects eight of them for publication in the next issue of Allegory. The rest get Honorable Mentions. Then we Elf Babes get a few weeks to do our own writing and rest up for the next submission period while Ty wrestles with getting the magazine ready for publication.
So far so good. But what do we look for? And how does a 'maybe' translate into a 'yes'?
As an answer to the first question, I can only speak for myself. But when I see a well-written story, I'm happy. On top of that, it has to be a story that makes me want to read it to the end to see what will happen. And when I've gotten that far, it has to be an ending that makes me glad I read it all the way through. That's it. Nice writing. A story that propels the reader forward. An ending that justifies the journey. If all three of those things are present, I'm usually well inclined to give a story a 'maybe' and send it up to Ty.
There are also questions of personal taste involved, and those will vary depending on which of us your story gets sent to. Ty does not impose any pre-conceived ideas of what he is looking for on us. We send up things we like. Maybe it's a less than efficient way to do things, but personally, I rather like it. It makes working at Allegory fun and interesting because I don't have to second-guess whether another person will like the stories I'm sending up.
There are times when none of the stories I picked make it into the magazine, but I usually hit on at least one or two 'keepers'. I imagine it averages out over time. And even if not, I think it's a sign of a magazine's well-roundedness if differences in taste are apparent. That's the advantage of being a smaller, non-professional ezine. We don't have to say up front, 'read the magazine to see what we publish'. We publish just about everything if it has a speculative slant and if it's good and we like it.
So, in answer to the second question, I can only give you this advice. It works for Allegory, and I think it will work for any magazine, pro, semi-pro, or even f-t-l. Just write the best story you can. Write a story because you want to write it, and it's a story you would actually like to read. There are some who might recommend, 'write a story for a particular market'. Maybe they're right. I think this is particularly true if you are trying to get into a themed issue or an anthology. Or if you're really shooting for that one mag, and you've just got to crack it – then take out a subscription and read all the stories you can to get a flavor for what they're looking for.
But really, just keep writing. Maybe you'll have to consign a few of them to your own private slushpile hell along the way. We've all done that. But if you keep writing and and keep submitting, one day it will pay off. And keep reading. Read all kinds of stories, all over the place.
Oh, and before I forget – one last piece of advice. Maybe volunteer to read slush for one of those magazines. It will likely make the learning curve for crafting a good story less steep, especially for those of us not financially equipped for attending those coveted writing workshops we all dream about. And because it's just darn fun. I enjoy reading your stories. Thank you the privilege and for giving me your trust.
Life Behind the Slushpile (Part 1) appeared as a guest blog here on Colin Harvey's Suite 101 blog in May, 2009.