acceptance rates

Editor Betsy takes a look at why she says no.

“Weak writing” knocked out ten of the 46 submissions she read.

Obviously the way you open the story makes a huge difference. About ten more submissions had a problem either with a contrived opening line or an opening that started too slow. The definition of “too slow” is gonna be a little more subjective than identifying a basic lack of grammar or what’s a cliche (they’re slush readers, if it’s a cliche, they’ll know it), but between poor writing and blah openings, about 40% of this submissions batch was ruled out within the first page–probably within the first paragraph, or even the first line.

The key to selling short fiction, it just now occurs to me, is writing well enough to make the editor read to the end. Well duh. But there are two less-obvious hurdles here. Main thing is, it’s incredibly, unfathomably easy to stop reading a submission. In my minimal exposure to slush, almost all the ones that aren’t outright bad suffer from a crippling mediocrity, an audible lack of voice and authority. If you entice an editor to read to the end, you’ve done better than almost everyone around you.

It could be they read through to the end and then realize your ending’s no good. But this is the point at which subjectivity starts to play a much bigger role. Your incredibly subtle resolution: is it too confusing? Gaggingly pretentious? More clever than meaningful? Or does it brilliantly capture the uncertainty of real life?

Well, who the fuck knows? But if you make an editor read that far, at least they’ve got to make that decision. If you can regularly put them in that position, I think that’s when you start regularly selling stories.

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