Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Author Guest Blog: Sentiments from the Slushpile by Sue Bursztynski

In conjunction with the Wolfborn giveaway I'm doing at the moment, I thought I'd ask Sue to do a guest post and she very kindly obliged. Sue has many talents and amongst them is slushing for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Sue shares some of her unique insights in this post and I hope you guys will get as much out of her advice as I have! Take it away Sue:

Since there are so many writers following this blog, I thought I might tell you a little about one thing I do while you come up with questions about writing and Wolfborn.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine is a semiprozine published in Australia. “Semiprozine” means that writers and artists are paid, if only a small amount, but we, the publishers aren’t. We do it for love.

We slush blind; the authors’ names are removed from submissions before the slushreaders see them. Because of that, you don’t have to be a famous writer to get in, just a good one.

The best stories go through three rounds, the final one being our “slushpool” in which we place the stories we consider publishable. Not all of these are published, because we get  far more stories than we can use, even the publishable ones, and we have to keep balance – so much fantasy, SF, horror, poetry, etc. per issue. The good news is that if your story has made it to our slush pool, you can pretty certainly sell it elsewhere – and people have.

“So – how do I get to the slushpool?” you ask.

No matter how good your idea is, if it’s been used over and over, you’re unlikely to sell it to us.  Do a lot of reading so you know what’s out there. Then again – if you’ve found a different way of telling a well-used story, we just might take it.

Grammar, punctuation and spelling are very important too. You may think that this can always be edited later, but if you don’t care enough about your work to make sure it’s all correct, why should we care about it? I try to read the whole story, but if the first couple of pages are full of errors, I tend to give up.

Ask yourself – do you care about your characters? If you do, it will come through. If you don’t, why should we? A story written entirely for the punch line might work, but it has to be short. I’ve read 10,000 word stories in which the whole point is, “Ha ha, it’s set in space, but it’s really a Western, geddit?”

If you’re having a go at science fiction, make sure you get your science right. We actually have a number of scientists in the ASIM co-op and they’ll pick out the flaws if any.

For a fantasy, remember that most are based on the real world. For example, I set Wolfborn in my own universe, but it’s more or less set in 12th century Europe. For first-class mediaeval fantasy, read George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire – there’s someone who has really done his research. It’s set in his own world with its own culture, but the knights in it wear heavy armour, the streets smell and the horses are not furry machines you can ride without feeding and resting them. Wounded fighters don’t leap up and fight some more.

Readers should be able to feel comfortable in your world. For ASIM#50 I took a story whose author convinced me that he knew Greece, modern and ancient alike. I’ve just chosen a story for #56, our tenth anniversary edition, because the author was clearly comfortable in ancient Egypt and made me feel the same way; the characters were likable and I could identify, but it was still ancient Egypt. I took both of these stories straight from the slush pile, without knowing who’d written them. One was a new writer, the other established, but I didn’t know that till afterwards.

Endings are just as important as getting your reader hooked with the first line. Sometimes I get a story that hooks me in and persuades me to read till the end – and then the end falls flat. I always reject those, however regretfully. For me, a disappointing end spoils the whole story.

Just one more point: if you’re writing for an international market, make sure you remember that a joke that might have them rolling in the aisles in New York will have the rest of us saying, “Huh?” Don’t assume anything.

This is how I read my slush, but it’s all common sense and you’ll probably find that it works for whichever market you try, not just ours.

Good luck with your writing, guys!


  1. Slush readers have some super stamina!

    Beth ^_^

  2. Beth: I know right?!? I can't believe they do it for love either. Am going to try and think of something to submit :)

  3. Oooh "slushpool", I never heard of it before but it sounds a bit intense!

  4. Slush readers are totally my heroes. I had to read some slush for an editing class, and I got tired after reading, like, five.

    This post has some really great advice!

  5. Glad you like the advice, Karen! Trust me, we do this for love. I read a lot of not-very-good fiction, but every time I open a story, I hope it will be a Hugo-winner. And now and then I get a story that makes it worth reading all the rest.

    By the way, we can always use more slushers, so if anyone is interested, just send your inquiry to You can read only one story a week if that's what you want, it will open your eyes to how it looks from the other side and you even get your name in the back of the next issue. ;-)

  6. Your advice about how even a fantasy world needs to be realistic is SO true! When I think over the books I've enjoyed most, they all contained many real-world rules, despite the fantastical settings. Excellent point to remember as I plot out my next story...

  7. This was an awesome post! I love all the advice!

  8. Sue: I'd love to slush but I think it might be a conflict of interest if I want to also submit something :)

  9. Actually, Lan, it's not a conflict of interest as far as we're concerned, because slushing is blind.You don't have a better chance because we know you, but because after you've seen what's coming in and what we take, you understand better what's required. I've had some stories in ASIM myself and have another coming up in #54.

  10. Excellent Sue! I'll look into it!


I believe in comment karma. Comment and I shall return :)