It’s been a while since I ran anything close to my dating/advice column on this blog. Not that I’m planning on revisiting that but I did want to write on the topic of wooing the slush reader and it did start to sound like dating advice to the young writer.
The reader (and especially editors) don’t owe it to the story to finish it. I don’t know how many times I can say that to aspiring writers or new slush readers or, frankly, a few editors (who, if they think otherwise, are still new to a slush pile). Thus the following exchange with a slush reader:
Super Slush Reader: If I get through 3 pages of story and am still bored…reject?
me: yup. a thousand times, yup. you made it three pages. that’s saying something.
Super Slush Reader: I generally make it a point to read the whole damn thing.
me: that’s funny. i’m telling my class tonight that the reader (and especially editors) don’t owe it to the story to finish it. it’s the writer’s job to give us a reason to keep reading.
Super Slush Reader: Amen!
me: so in a slush pile, you have maybe one page to make an impression on a (slush) reader. one page to woo them to keep reading. and that’s pretty generous.* so on your end, don’t be an easy read. for every page of slush crap you read, that’s less time for you to read … me! So quit giving writers so much leeway.
Super Slush Reader: Why for? They worked hard for it, damn it!!!
me: if i haven’t done my job in the first page, you don’t owe it to me to keep reading. not if i’m trying to get published. ultimately, you’re doing the writer a favor. because it forces them to step their game up. be more impressive up front. wow, a lot of this WOULD be analogous to dating advice.**
*I did once reject a story after reading only the first line. Feeling a brief flutter of guilt, I gave the story a second chance, deciding to read the last line. I did feel better, but it was still one sentence too many.
**I was going to make the analogy of being an easy lay, but wisely opted not to.