Up from slush

I’ve made a careful survey, and I think I can say authoritatively that I’m now the only blogger in the world who’s never mentioned Susan Boyle.

Oops. Scratch that.

Over at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, there’s this amusing article about the (vain and counterproductive) lengths some writers go to, to get a magazine editor’s attention. It’s a fun read, and there’s much wisdom there. (Tip: Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall.)

I enjoyed reading this article in particular because there are a number of quotes there from George Scithers and Darrell Schweitzer, who used to be my agents. Before they were my agents, they were my editors at Amazing Stories, which gives me a rare opportunity to feel smug, since I managed to please these discerning connoisseurs of slush, once upon a time.

I’ll tell you how I made my first sale to them, too, at no extra charge.

I read an article they had published in Writer’s Digest, in which they explained some of the basics of writing short stories for a magazine. It included an address where I could send away for guidelines for Amazing.

I sent for the booklet.

I studied it.

I wrote a story, following the guidelines to the letter.

I sent the story in. I waited.

Eventually I got an acceptance letter.

I think the moment I read that letter was the supreme moment of pure joy I’ve experienced in my life. I danced around the living room (and, as you’ve doubtless guessed, I’m not one of life’s Dancers. And yes, I was alone).

I was unemployed at the time. I was living in the basement of my aunt’s house in St. Paul.

But I was, by golly, a professional writer now.

Getting a book published, for some reason, never gave me the same kind of jolt.

20 thoughts on “Up from slush”

  1. That’s a great story. I’ve never had anything published for money or by someone who didn’t know me. I look forward to it.

    Hey, do you think you’d want to write for Relief Journal sometime?

  2. If you resort to inappropriate gimmicks, it’s evidence you think your work won’t stand on its own merits. If you don’t think it’s good enough, why should an editor?

  3. That’s good, Ori, but do you think a story’s merit is what will separate it from the pile? I think some writers want a letter or introduction that will make an editor say that he’ll read it soon, instead of throwing it on the pile for an assistant to read.

  4. A gimmick sort of got me into a Canadian short fiction magazine. I’d printed up folders with my name on them for resumes during a old job search. I sent a short to the mag in one of those folders. The editor accepted my short and told me to get rid of the folders posthaste. Not long afterwards, the magazine folded.

    I’m not sure what the moral is here.

  5. Phil, good point – you could move yourself up in the queue with tricks. I suspect this would only work if they don’t appear to be tricks, though.

    For example, editors are more likely to read material from people they have a preexisting relationship with. With makes it prudent for wannabee authors to visit sites such as Baen’s Bar.

  6. A lot of it was simply mechanical–double-spacing, width of margins, etc.

    Some of it was just the “kind of story” they were looking for. I remember in particular that they said they wanted positive stories, stories that ended on an optimistic note. I actually altered the ending of the story I had in mind to go that way. And it worked.

  7. Loren wrote:

    > The editor accepted my short and told me to get rid of the folders posthaste.

    Loren, I’d say that indicates your story got published in spite of the gimmick.

    Phil wrote:

    > That’s good, Ori, but do you think a story’s merit is what will separate it from the pile?

    Absolutely. Spend some time reading slush (e.g. on Baen’s Bar) and the good stories immediately stand out. Of course, a letter of introduction or a connection with the editor doesn’t hurt. But it won’t make a mediocre story better.

    It would be fun to have a contest among established authors to see who could get published (under a pseudonym, of course) despite egregious violations of the above advice.

    I’d like to see what would happen if Neil Gaiman submitted a story printed on bright green construction paper and enclosed in a shoe box, under the name Herb Yoder.

  8. I’ve read a good book on writing guidelines too, Lars, the technical kind of guidelines like margins, paper, and spacing.

    Ehren, I stand corrected. About your other point, I remember something about Graham Greene having trouble getting published under a pseudonym and also that he submitted prose to contests on who can mimic Graham Greene. He won with one of his submissions, but I think a few others were down the list a bit. Your idea for writers submitting good prose while disregarding guidelines is a good one. Of course you have to deliver what the magazine or journal wants to print; you can’t break that guideline.

  9. Ehren,

    You’re right — it was in spite of the gimmick. Also, a certain someone who read the story beforehand said that he believed the sovereign Lord allowed it to get published and then ordained that magazine’s failure in order to take the story out of general circulation. As I recall, it wasn’t his favorite. 😉

  10. There are some doozies in this post, including the following:

    “[O]ne writer sent me a banana, surrounded in layers of bubble-wrap and encased in a cardboard tube.”

  11. I am that editor who was sent the bubble-wrapped banana… it was followed a week later by a photo of a gorilla, but by the time a letter arrived explaining it all to me I had lost what little interest I had in the whole episode, so it got no further.

    Thank you for linking to me, Ehren.

  12. I was looking for a good place to put this question to Lars and Phil….This post was a close as I wanted to explore…..

    I have among others, two grandsons; 8 and 11. They are reading high-school and higher level novels that aren’t too complicated or immoral; C.S. Lewis, etc….

    Since I have not come up with a good gift for them, and it is too late to send them anything for Christmas, I was going to go the Japanese route and give them New Year’s gifts.

    Do you all think Lars’ series of books would be good for my Terrible Two? I kinda like the idea, but I’m biased. Let me know what you think, ok?

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