When I was a brand-new baby writer, I spent some time training under David Farland, author of the popular Runelords fantasy series, and the first round judge for the Writers of the Future competition. As such, he slushes hundreds of stories every quarter, and WotF allows stories up to 17,000 words.
Basically, Dave has an enormous slushpile at any given moment. He’s not messing around when he’s reading.
At that first workshop, I was too green to fully appreciate everything he taught me, but one thing that’s always stuck with me was his “Three Strikes and You’re Out” Rule.
Now, Dave has a very particular style of writing. His list of strikes is a far cry from mine, and if you’re writing towards the WotF contest, you should definitely swing by Dave’s website and sign-up for his email list. You need to know exactly what he’s looking for in submissions. I can promise you, he’s not kidding around about those strikes. Three little goofs and you’re looking at a form rejection email.
Fast forward my own career through my time as a slushreader and up the food chain to running Flash Fiction Online and now adding NASTY. That’s a lot of slush. Yes, I have a staff of thirty to forty slushreaders, but I never ask them to do anything I won’t do myself. So I’m elbow deep in the slushpile as often as I can.
And I can assure you that I’m the toughest one to get past.
My time is limited. I’m a single mom with two children.
My patience for improper submissions is worn thin after repeated reminders to read the guidelines and submit correctly.
So over the years, I’ve unconsciously adopted my own version of the Three Strikes and You’re Out Rule.
I’ll give you two. At three, I stop reading and hit the form rejection button.
Here’s my Three Strikes and You’re Out List of No-No’s:
- Manuscript in a weird font or color
- Any attached image or emojis
- Improper punctuation
- Commas sprinkled like pepper over the page
- More than three exclamation marks
- White Room Syndrome
- Talking Heads (characters talk back and forth without action)
- Misspelled words
- Cover letters longer than the manuscript
- Waking up openings
- Unnamed main character
- Using “then” in present tense
- Dream sequences
- Dialogue tags other than “said” or “asked”
- Emerald or purple eyes
- Names I can’t pronounce especially if they sound like I’m hacking
- A character looking in a mirror and describing their reflection as a way for the author to let us know what the character looks like
- Female characters in action sequences wearing nonsensical clothing
- Puns within the narrative or as the point of the story (characters are allowed puns if it’s part of their characterization)
- Naming emotions
- Fisted, fingered, moist.