I am a Fish

Just try to catch me

I swim in a sea of short story submissions. I’m reading the slush pile for Galaxy’s Edge Magazine. It’s a wonderful publication edited by my friend Mike Resnick. I love reading slush. It provides a nice break from writing or editing and lets me explore new themes and discover new voices.

In this latest batch I found a few gems … some beautifully written tales, one of which I read twice. A story has to be good for me to read it all the way through.

I read the first page of every submission. But I won’t go deeper unless the writing is good, the plot looks interesting, and the author seems to have at least a rudimentary sense of how to string words together with the right types of punctuation.

As I said, in the latest batch I found a few gems. I’m only passing five up to the editor. The rest of the batch … nope, nada, not tasty enough to nibble on. Some of them I really wanted to like because of the topic. But this fishy was cruising for filet mignon … given the number of submissions I had to go through.

If you want this fish … any fish … to bite on your manuscript, you have to do a few things:

  • Make your first sentence a grabber. Get my attention, dazzle me with your brilliant collection of words. And don’t hint that you’re writing for a travel brochure. The landscape can come later. I won my first news-writing award based on my opening sentence: It crawled into the wall and died. The judges said it pulled them in and they had to keep reading. Maybe later I’ll tell you what the newspaper story was about. Pull me in with your opening sentence.
  • Make your first paragraph intriguing. Don’t bore me. Keep it tight, don’t let your prose turn purple.
  • Don’t throw in so many characters in those first few sentences that I need a scorecard to follow the action. It’s fine to have a good mix of characters … just don’t give them to me all in one dollop.
  • Don’t overuse words. Nodded … I see a lot of characters nodding in the pieces I’ve looked at. Tons of smiles, too. Let them do other things with their heads.

Since we’re talking short fiction: KISS it … Keep It Short, Sister. If a short story gets too draggy, it’s probably overlong. And if you’re really set on writing a lengthy short story, make sure it is friggin’ awesome. Fewer longer pieces are accepted.

When you’ve finished your tale, take a hard look at it. Are there places to trim? Short story. Yeah, I’m gonna have people argue with me … novellas, and the like. How short is short? Galaxy’s Edge takes fiction up to 5,000 words. Check the word count limit on the publication you’re submitting to.

When you’re trying to land a spot in a magazine, you’re competing with hundreds of other authors. Sometimes, in a race like this, it is the author with the shorter legs who wins. A magazine can print more 4,000 word stories than it can 8,000 word stories. Increase your chances by writing tight and KISS it.

And now that I’ve finished my rant blog, I think I’m gonna go look at markets for a mystery short story sitting in my computer. It tips the scale at about 3,000 words ’cause I KISSed it. We’ll see if I can get a nibble.

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