I have just started up as a slush reader for ChiZine Publications. This is somewhat different from the reading I do on poetry for Chiaroscuro (Chizine), the magazine, or the stories I read as fantasy editor for Aberrant Dreams. CZP publishes books and collections so a person is asked to send in a synopsis and the first three chapters of their book. By the way, I’ve been asked before what slush means and it is the submissions sent into a publication. There are usually several readers before the submission gets to the editor, the person who makes the decision on what is ultimately kept and what is rejected. Because most publications get hundreds of submissions a month, it can take time to get through them all and to move efficiently there are assistant editors or readers. These people determine if the manuscript is interesting and good enough to be sent on for consideration. In most cases, everyone starts in the slush pile, unless you’re an established and well-known writer.
One of the first things anyone wishing to sell a manuscript should do is research the markets. Make sure you’re sending to a company that publishes the kind of stuff you write. You would not believe how many people pluck names off of the internet like seeds in a sunflower and send out their manuscripts without actually knowing the market. Second, read the instructions. And follow them. There is some tiny leeway such as if an editor asks for Times New Roman and you do Courier font. They may take the manuscript and they may not. If the fonts are similar enough, you’re probably okay but the more errors you make the less likely it is that you’ll get to the stage of even having your submission read. Editors read hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts and they read them quickly to stay on top of the pile. If a goofy font or strange formatting slows them down, they get irritated and rightfully so.
So far, I have only looked at four queries. Not one has actually submitted a manuscript in the correct format. We only ask for a few chapters, but there are several problems one or all of these people have done. Here is what you should avoid in your cover letter, your synopsis and your manuscript:
- rambling, incoherent run-away sentences
- bad grammar
- spelling mistakes
- single spacing…double spacing is the industry standard–it makes it easier to read
- not indenting. See that little Tab key on the left…that’s what it’s for, indenting. Or in some cases you can set up automatic indenting in some programs.
- adding an extra space between each paragraph. No no no. That’s what indenting does. It tells the reader that there is a new paragraph. Didn’t anyone take this in school?
- hitting return (or the Enter key) at the end of every line. Absolutely NO NO NO. My gods, this takes so much time to write this way. Computers are somewhat smart. If you write and write and write and just keep going, guess what, the sentence doesn’t run off the page but will pop down to the next line. Only when you have finished a paragraph, and only then, do you hit “Enter” and proceed to the next paragraph, not the next line.
Do not, when we send you a rejection letter and suggest that you proofread your work and correct the grammar and typos before sending it elsewhere, send a whiny letter back saying, why can’t you just read the story and ignore that? We can ignore a few typos of a bit of awkward grammar but a whole book of it is unreadable and means a rewrite. We’re not going to buy anything that takes that much trudging. We will not do that much editing. Fix it and use a spellchecker. But remember, a spellchecker is not that bright and will suggest what it thinks your sentence should be so you better know your words.
Treat writing like any other skill. Would you want a doctor who just happened to be sloppy but knew he had the heart of a surgeon? Would you ride in a plane where the pilot had read about flying but never had done it? Writing is a skill and it takes practice. It also takes following some simple rules once the writing is done and you’re trying to sell your piece. Always read the guidelines. I’ve made mistakes when I submit stories. It’s easy to gloss over but when you get to submitting a manuscript you need to be even more careful. What I posted about is the standard but some publishers ask for different formats. Follow them.