Lessons From the Slush Pile: Why I refuse to be a snarky slusher (and why I unfollow those that are)

Lessons From the Slush Pile: Why I refuse to be a snarky slusher (and why I unfollow those that are)

In a nutshell: because it’s mean.

I’ll expand on that a little.

Look, slushers and editors, I don’t want to make you feel bad. I just want you to stop making other people feel bad.

People know when they submitted to your market. They know what your turnaround is. They follow you on Twitter or Facebook because they either like you, respect you, or if you’re very lucky, both. They’re watching your Twitter stream closely, because they know you have their story. And then you say something snarky and belittling about it. They know what they sent you–of course they recognize themselves.*

Slushers, editors–how could you?!

You just hurt the feelings of an aspiring writer, someone who looked up to you, someone who desperately wants your approval. Someone who is just like you once were.

I get it. You’re venting, because you’ve seen the same mistakes over and over again. But there was a time when you didn’t know the things that you know now, when you were making those mistakes yourself. If they knew about the clichés you’re making fun of, they wouldn’t be using them. It takes years of hard work and careful study to learn the dos and don’ts of spec fic writing. And you’re making fun of them because they don’t know what you have learned over the course of years. They don’t know yet because they haven’t discovered the resources that would tell them. It all seems obvious to you now, yes, but you’re forgetting that you learned it. None of us sprang fully formed from the brow of Zeus.

They submitted it because it was the best they knew how to make it right now. A year from now they’ll submit something better, but for now, this is where they’re at. They did the best they could.

Griping about typos and homophones and the misuse of the occasional word is just as bad. They are not being lazy. They are not stupid. They made a mistake. Maybe they’re actually dyslexic! There’s often a copy editor who cleans up after you, too.

I once twittered something about a submission I was reading, and I realized belatedly that it sounded snarky. It wasn’t meant to. It was about a cover letter that came with the story. It was 700 words long, and I twittered something about how the writer didn’t need it. I didn’t mean for it to be sarcastic at all–I was genuinely bummed for that author, because he put so much effort into that cover letter, because he just didn’t know that he didn’t need it. The thing is, I remember when I didn’t understand cover letters either, when the advice I was getting was bad advice (“Include why you’re the best person to write this story!” This is fiction. That advice doesn’t apply here.) I remember sweating over it, not having a reliable source of information for someone in my position.

And I thought: What if that author follows me? What if he saw that? What if he took it as sarcasm and thought I was making fun of him?

I decided after that I just wouldn’t twitter about what I was reading anymore.

There’s another factor here: I represent the publication I am reading for, and perhaps more importantly I represent its editor, and what I do and say on the internet reflects back on him. I am fortunate enough to work for an editor who is interested in your story, not your typing skills (do not use the Overlord’s benevolence as an excuse to not proofread!) I work for an editor, in fact, who actually edits, and is damned good at it. He’s human (I know! I was as surprised as you are) and he gets that you’re just another human being making art. Lightspeed needs to be a safe and accessible place for you, both as a reader and as a writer. You should not be afraid that you’ll be mocked on the internet when you submit to us.

Slushers and editors, you are the face of your publication–how do you want it to be seen?

Personally, I don’t submit to editors who publicly mock writers anymore. That probably doesn’t matter to anyone but me. But I also don’t subscribe to their publications.

I’ve actually had to sit on this post for two days, because when I originally wrote it I was very angry. I’ve had to unfollow a lot of people who are relevant to my interests because their streams were just too upsetting when they slushed. (I’ve since discovered Muuter. It is handy.)

I hope that I’ve groomed the worst of the anger out and left the important part: I implore you, please, be nice or be silent. The world is already full of reasons for writers to give up. It is such a steep climb. The years of rejection letters are bad enough. If you can’t make it better for them, at least don’t make it worse.

I see those same mistakes that other slushers are snarking about, but I think there’s a better way of informing writers about them. I’ll do what I can here. I need to bulk up my own Resources page on the site, and I’ll start posting some entries that might be helpful. I talked to the Overlord and got the go-ahead to blog about the slush, with some fairly obvious guidelines (no talking about specific stories or authors, etc.) I’m still new at this, but if there’s anything specific you’d like me to address, feel free to hit me up in the comments and I’ll do my best.

In the mean time, keep making the best art you can, and don’t let the snark get you down. We’re all on the same side. We just might have to remind a few people from time to time.

* This has happened to people I know.


13 thoughts on “Lessons From the Slush Pile: Why I refuse to be a snarky slusher (and why I unfollow those that are)

  1. I don’t mind the public slushing thing, but there are times I’ve thought it’s about me and I’ve had a form rejection. I understand that form rejections are sent due to time constraints, but if a slusher has time to post comments on my work to Twitter, they have time to copy/paste those comments into a rejection.

  2. This has been a pet peeve of mine since I was an editorial assistant in the ’70s–no writer is writing in the hope of being mocked. I fear some people just need to bolster their egos by cutting down others.

  3. Good points all.

    Re: topics to cover: I generally try to point people to books they can read to get clues before wandering into a world of hurt. But people generally push the suggestions off, as if reading were too monumental a task afore writing. Or analysis. Which is the cart before the horse. :-/

    Reading is so important to writing. When you’re a young writer, it pays to read a lot, and definitely outside of one’s own genre, even if one feels this eats into writing time.

    I only learned about cover letters for short fiction from Nick Mamatas. He was quite nice about it, actually.

    Still a young writer here. I fear I may be a young writer for the rest of my life….

  4. I applaud you for this post. We live in a world of harsh humor, it seems, where a joke’s not a joke until it draws blood. I’ve seen this behavior on Twitter among agents and editors. They respond to criticism with comebacks such as: “Oh, it’s anonymous. No harm.” Or something like, “The publishing business is tough! Suck it up, wimps.”

    Thank you for this reminder that none of us should silently endure the public mocking of those whose dreams are so easily crushed.

  5. Exactly.
    I got into disputes with several agents who were snarking on queries on Twitter because I don’t mind calling them out on it. One, Wolfson or whatever her name is– I don’t mind naming names and my name is on this– I simply came back with an infamous rejection of a future bestselling book from an agent/editor. She complained I was stealing her snark hashtag by snarking back. Her companion agent on that hashtag ran for the hills saying it was getting too hot there for him– he didn’t mind dishing but couldn’t take it.
    Then the Rejectionist, who hides behind anonymity, didn’t have the guts to stand up when I confronted and called her/him out. I think that’s the lowest form: hiding. I called her/him/ whatever a coward flat out. Still hiding last I heard. But he/she works for a big name agent in NY. Who cares?
    Then there is Michael Hyatt, a publisher, who said authors who didn’t earn out advances were ripping off their publishers. When called on it, he blocked me from his blog, then sent one of his editors around spamming bloggers who were commenting on what a rip off Westbow, his vanity imprint was. So much for speech from an editor. At least he admits on his blog he will block those who he doesn’t agree with or don’t suck up to him.
    But wanna-be authors will suck up to agents and editors in the vain hopes these people might think well of them– the key is, someone who will show their ass in public like that, is not someone you want to work with.
    There needs to be professionalism and respect all around.
    And where there isn’t, the snarkers should at least have the guts to take the snark coming back their way. They called in the law and hell’s coming with it.
    Just joking.
    The real bottom line is the people reading these tweets and blogs aren’t making those mistakes. They’re preaching to the choir. The writers who take the time to learn. The ones who screw up are the ones who will never read an agent’s tweets or blogs anyway.
    BTW– every time I stand up to a snarker, I get tons of DMs and emails from writers thanking me. But very few will state it in public.

  6. Some very good points, and there’s a lot of parallels with the academic world where I work helping Graduate Students and their studies, and one of the frequent things that I have to apologize for is the tone that some of our instructors seems to have online. Usually, they’re really not that mean in person, it’s just a disconnect that occurs online, but other times, there’s a genuine amount of frustration at the common mistakes. Making fun of them, especially in public, is not something that should ever be done – it’s unprofessional, but doing so simply because you can get away with it, because it’s anonymous, or because of your postition as an agent/editor/publisher seems to me to be inexcusable.

    On the other hand, if writers are going to be taken seriously as, well, writers, they need to demonstrate that they should be able to write, and write well. I can see people’s frustration as being rejected for spelling errors, typos and other mistakes, but there is a good reason for looking over one’s work, having beta readers or even running a comprehensive spellcheck on the thing.

  7. Don’t suffer fools.
    If a market honestly has time to publicly mock you it means they take themselves way too seriously.
    If you allow it to get to you it means that you take yourself way too seriously.

    Ignore snarkers. Let the snark hang out there, without response, like a bully’s joke getting no courtesy laughs or wimpy stammerins rebuttals. The worst thing you can do is react like Bob did– get in the trenches with some peon and “stand up to the snarker.”

    Pro writers don’t have time to deal with the petty musings of self-righteous volunteer slush-drones. The rest of us can at least act like we don’t either.

  8. I’ll be honest – I’m not bothered by the public slushing because the mistakes are so bad that (typos venting aside) even if this IS the best they can do, these people should not be querying yet. And they should KNOW THAT. Presumably they read books, and they can see they are no where close to ready. To me that’s the point of the public slushing.

    However.

    I do think they could be nicer about it. No quoting. Just “please check word lengths before sending” or something…

    I think the bigger problem with public slushing, though, is the people who are reading the agents’ streams, etc, would have done the kind of homework that gets mocked, so it can’t be much of an education, can it? Unless you’ve just wandered onto the internet recently, but then everything is a kind of education. So for me perhaps the problem is less that these people should know better and more that they can’t, and so who’s benefiting, really?

    I supported Michelle Wolfson (yes, Bob, you do remember her name) because frankly I thought Bob had too big of an attitude to be doing anything truly nice, but he is right at the core: it is mean. I’ve since changed my tune about that, though I’m not unfollowing anybody because of it.

  9. Unpublished writer here.

    I thank you for this. Writing is awesome but submitting and querying SUCK. The best people and the ones I like to submit to are the ones who give very specific guidelines (not just “We are seeking things that move us deeply”–what is THAT supposed to mean?!), who take the time to point out those common mistakes, and who steer us newbies to resources that allow us to improve our submissions. What better way to upgrade your slush pile?

    Hopefully we writers who take these suggestions and better our craft will have our efforts noted.

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