The slushpile, where unsolicited stories go to die. I've been on both sides of the slush, as a writer submitting to markets, and as a reader sifting through the slush in search of hidden gems. Most of us have heard stories about the horror of a slushpile (including horror genre slushpiles), and I'm here to tell you: It's all true.
The truth is that most stories fall into the realm of decent. There are a good number of truly terrible stories and an extremely tiny percentage of exceptional stories. For the rest of us, we're just decent--and decent often isn't good enough for publication.
I'm here today to give you all an opportunity to peer past the slush curtain. As a professional slush monkey for Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines, along with ParsecInk's Triangulation anthology under fearless editor Stephen V. Ramey, I can safely say I've read a ton a slush. While I can't speak of particular subs, what I can do is tell you the common problems and pitfalls I see everyday.
For our purposes, I'm going to overlook failure to follow guidelines, because I imagine W1S1 participants are smart enough to know this. Still, receiving subs that don't follow guidelines is a common complaint among slush monkeys like myself.
1. Poor Writing
This is the top problem. Writing is simply amateur with poor syntax or grammar, bad imagery or analogies that don't make sense. If you can spin a sentence together properly, you're already ahead of the game. The next level is to make that writing sparkle, really capture a unique voice and style. That's what turns decent writing into amazing writing.
Always continue to hone your craft.
2. Too Slow
Far too often, the story takes too long to get anywhere. The author spends too much time in miniutae or description. Exposition drones on and on... and we get bored. Start with a character doing something. Anything.
By that same token, if you start in the middle of an explosion, I will likely have no context to understand what I'm reading. Starting with action does not mean the same thing as starting with bombs and gunfights (though both can be done well with enough craft, see #1).
3. Goes Nowhere
The story ambles. Scenes are thrown in at a whim. We end, and I'm left feeling empty because nothing has really happened. You must provide resolution to the conflict, tie it all up together. Make the reader feel as if something has been accomplished here.
At the end of every story, ask yourself, "What did my character learn/accomplish/succeed/fail at in this story?"
4. Logic Errors
I've read plotholes big enough sail the Titanic through. Please check your logic and make sure that everything happens for a reason. If it doesn't, if your characters seem to question how or why, than the reader will as well. Sometimes all that's needed are a few plants early on to satisfy logic questions.
Best bet: have someone else read it for you. They will spot things you cannot.
Sometimes a great story will get passed on simply because it is not unique enough. We've all read Tolkien's elves and Asimov's robots before. If you do a story like this, you need to put your own fresh spin on it. There is nothing that says you can't write a great Lovecraftian piece, but it better be you writing it, not Lovecraft.
In the end, the settings and people and ideas we've never heard of before have the most impact on us.
And there you have it, the top 5 slushpile woes. I hope to share more of my slushy adventures with the W1S1 community in the future. For now, please remember: in writing there is no "always" nor "never." Talented writers can break all the rules, but do so purposefully.