There are common mistakes I see in the slushpile that make me reject a story almost immediately.
For lack of a better term, let’s call these “strikes”:
- Nothing happens for a long time.
- Huge chunks of exposition get in the way of plot.
- Anyone sitting anywhere looking into the sunset/sunrise/scenery/at a leaf
- Grammatical errors
- Unnamed characters (He/she/we/it)
- Bizarre formatting that doesn’t make sense to the story
- Emojis (YOU THINK I’M KIDDING)
- Mixed metaphors
- Crazy tenses
- Distancing (he felt/he saw/she thought)
- Saidisms (he commanded/she whimpered/he shouted)
- Naming emotions instead of showing (Anger balled in his chest)
- Point of view jumps in the final scene
- A cover letter longer than the actual story
- Names I can’t pronounce without hacking up a phlegm-ball
- Anything I have so look up in the dictionary
- Purple prose
- Anyone waking up from anything
- DOUBLE WHAMMY – sending to the reprint pile with the note “I previously published this on my blog” after the guidelines clearly say do not send this if it was previously published on your blog.
- All the sentences have the same or similar structure. (i.e., He went here. He went there. He did this. He did that. She did this. The end.)
For the value proposition of the DECADE, head over to Patreon and check out the discounted rates on personal coaching and manuscript critiques. Yeah. HUGE.
This has nothing to do with the story. But I’m going to drop it here because it is relevant. Editors are human. So take this with a grain of salt and then go re-read the section on Cover Letters.
At FFO, slush readers can’t see cover letters. But I can. Editors can. And even though we try not to read them until we read the story, it’s like a dead body lying there. I have to look.
This is my confession:
A bad, shoddy, tacky, poorly done cover letter leaves a bad taste in my mouth before I ever get to the story. If you don’t know how to write a cover letter, even when I tell you how in the submission guidelines, I make assumptions about your skill as a writer.
I’ve read thousands of stories. I’ve read thousands of cover letters. I can say there is a correlation between stupid cover letters and horrible stories.
DO NOT BE THAT PERSON WITH A BAD COVER LETTER.
Less really is more.
Sometimes, I get to the end of a story, and I’m left unsatisfied. I’ll reject these stories as well.
Let’s call these “Broken Stories”
- I don’t care about your main character.
- Withholding makes me want to pull my hair out.
- I feel like you’re setting me up for a gag ending.
- The prose is dull and lifeless.
- Your literary ego is in the way of your writing. It’s beautiful, but there’s no point.
- Something so experimental that it’s unreadable (i.e., massive lists of forwarded email addresses)
- Genre conventions come in too late
- Passive and/or reactive main characters
- White room syndrome
- Clown-cars – characters popping out of nowhere
- Someone telling someone else’s story (Another form of distancing)
- An ending I can predict from a mile away
- No character arc
- NOTHING HAPPENS
- So much narrative distance I could drive a semi through it
And then there are IMMEDIATE NO-WAY’S
- Racial slurs
- Child abuse
- Feces. Urine.