notes from the slush pile: an intro

in addition to scribbling poetry and writing morose and macabre fiction with a tinge of black humor, your friendly neighborhood fool also does quite a bit of reading for anthologies. this is known as slush pile reading.

a publisher puts out an open call for an anthology, detailing theme and word count, to public at large. they are typically the same usually going live then and having a closing time anywhere from a month to three away. these are great opportunities for new writers to get a foot in the door, or for veterans to get their name out to a new set of readers. most people will see the open call and then a few months later the emails are sent out about acceptance or rejection, and a month and half later a book is born. it is magical.

but it isn’t.

the moment the submission call is listed, three stories will fly into the email of the publisher. like magic. we will get to those in a bit. then, slowly, more stories will roll in as the weeks go by. i have worked on ten anthologies so far, and by the end of the call there are typically between fifty and one hundred submissions from day one to the close. and of course the stragglers (of which i am typically one, to my dismay) that send theirs a week or so after. these too, will be addressed.

then a small handful of people, usually two or three, will read each of these, weeding them out until there are twenty left. some stories are easy accept or reject, while others will be argued over at length. the definition of the call will be questioned as stories skim the edge of the theme in interesting ways. some will be brilliant and not fit, which is always miserable. some will be right at the cusp of acceptance, but little things will push it from contention. it is no easy task to go over someone else’s stories and have to judge the worthiness for inclusion. especially not for a fellow writer that knows all too well the sting of rejection. but it is the harsh reality of open calls.

i hate open calls from a writer standpoint. you invest weeks into a story, try to appease the editors, pour yourself out onto the page. for a maybe. devastating. but you have to do the open calls if you want to get your stories out there and build a following. in the immortal words of my son doing a very bad Italian accent, “it is, what it is.”

so who am i? no one. a struggling writer that happens to be decent at poetry in a world that derides it. but i have been a part in sixty books over four years. according to some readers, i am pretty okay at it. that’s not for me to say, what is for me to say, is the lessons i have learned working in the slush piles for some fantastic anthologies. so starting now and continuing in a random chaos of whim, i will share the things i have learned to try and help others get that acceptance email.

my name is Mike and i would like to help you go from the slush piles to the table of contents. next time, we will go into reasons why stories fail, and how to avoid some of the easy pitfalls of subbing. probably.


7 thoughts on “notes from the slush pile: an intro

  1. ah yes, taking advice from fools…
    The “fool” is an inexperienced person. You killed your whole schill in the first sentence. Your chronic foolishness is a bored excuse for repeating what doesn’t actually work for you. Your unhappiness with the process you believe will make you a “real writer” or “professional writer” meaning paid, isn’t selling your advice either. Who wants advice from someone who hates what they are doing? Like survival 101 for wanna-be writers rather than “living the dream” as a writer, you are barely hanging on.
    Don’t lose your grip.


    1. That’s the thing though, my career and writing are doing well. I get consistent invites and pay for my words. This is for those that are just getting into writing. An insight into why stories get rejected from someone that actually makes that decision. I’m perfectly happy with how my writing is going, and with a big year ahead and more projects being spread out the next couple years, the future is bright, if not slightly busier than I can handle. This is free advice for them to learn from or ignore. I don’t schill except my own books. Sorry you don’t see what I was going for, that my monicker of The Fool seems to be an issue. It’s worked for me for the last six years though as I have built my writing, and I’m good with it. My grip is tightly on pursuing this goal, and I will have it. Cuckoo this year. A collection next. And enough projects to flood the shelves with new stories.


      1. That’s awesome you are working at it and making it work for you… whatever that means. Certainly my advice to you is not as a talent scout. What you are doing sounds like you hate it in your post. And your poems make it sound like you hate the readers and or other writers. You hate hotels and you hate the scenery and you hate the women you imagine fucking and you hate yourself…
        But good for you writing what you know.
        You take criticism well or not at all personally at least (fake it til you make it) and that is to your credit. Safe journey on your book/reading tour. I hope you find something to write about that inspires you one day. Quality not quantity.


        1. huh. at first i thought you were trying to be nice but it came off as weird. so, me being me, i responded to what i thought was kindness with kindness. but all these backhanded compliments (quality, not quantity) and opinions that show skimming not reading, make me question what it is i did that is so aggravating to you. my poetry is my way of working through a bipolar mind, it can be very bleak and you’ll have to trust me when i say, at least you can just skip it. i don’t get that luxury. that is not cool. the world inspires me, i am sorry it isn’t to your taste.


          1. I’m not giving you backhanded compliments. You have had flits of true talent. You are rutted in hack jack shack horror. Better than most wordpress jackers but not remarkable in the horror genre. Not elevated to the level of brilliant social critique offered by Mary Shelley for example. Yes there is an audience for gratuitous crap. Evidently you have mined that fools gold. Don’t apologize for doing what you love or for being you. I don’t accept your apology. You aren’t a bad person. I don’t view bipolar people as disabled, so I’m not going to listen to your excuses for shoddy work or enable your worst writing.


            1. So you have not read the fiction either. Excellent. I rarely write horror, and if I do it not hack jack shack. You’re almost a good troll. Nearly. But your sense of how clever you are and actuality is off. Well played though. You tried. Thanks for giving my shoddy work your keen eye. I’ll keep your words of wisdom in mind.


              1. I stopped reading after Grimm. Peeing pants happens a lot in your nightmares. The gay dialogue didn’t sound believable. The clit piercings of your cupcake-fairy tale wife weren’t necessary. So what would you know about what I’ve read? I’m not trolling you. I participated in giving your book a shot with a small group of people. Your book was purchased in order to support your work at the time, not flatter you for any reason or agenda. I have no reason to continue this conversation with you so if you need to leave the last word, cool.


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