What Makes a Good Story? Slush Pile Lessons #PubTip

Jeri Walker
Need help writing that book blurb, bio, or newsletter? Give your book the attention it deserves. Book your copy edit, manuscript critique, or proofread today. Make every word count.
Jeri Walker

@JeriWB

Word Bank Writing & Editing. Affordable Rates. Incomparable Quality. Make Every Word Count. FREE initial consultation or sample: critique, proofread, copyedit.
#BookReview: Ava by Ashley Barron https://t.co/CfcPjtQY5R - 1 hour ago
Jeri Walker
Jeri Walker
Jeri Walker
Exclusive promotional discounts are offered via Word Bank's email list. Subscribe via the sidebar widget or top bar to receive twice monthly posts and the quarterly newsletter to take advantage of these offers.

I READ AROUND 400 SHORT STORIES last fall as a submissions editor for The Idaho Review. An internship for Boise State’s literary journal meant I could challenge myself as a writer and editor to explore the line between literary fiction and genre fiction. What makes a good story? Well that depends…

 

Along the way, I was surprised by how little the MFA students on staff knew about building an author platform. It was also rather amusing that one person’s response to learning I primarily edit books for writers intending to self-publish was to say they would be surprised if such authors would even write actual sentences. Wow. Just wow.

 

Cover image of the Idaho Review

 

Submissions were handled via Submittable. The associate editor assigned stories to each staff member. Mid-week, each member sent their batch to a partner. If a story received two yes votes (accompanied by a), the associate editor read the story to decide whether or not to bring it to table. The  entire staff then discussed why or why not they felt the story deserved to be published. In four months, we sent ONE story to the fiction editor.

 

Some stories had been selected the previous spring, and a good number were solicited from established authors. Even though an author makes a pittance for publication in these journals, the stories are eligible for inclusion in esteemed anthologies such as The Best American Short Stories.

 

Getting published is tough. Traditional publishing may no longer be the only choice, but I readily admit I value its validity. Not all of us are meant to go the indie route. The majority of stories submitted to this type of publication are good. The line separating a merely good story from a story from a great one is indeed subjective. Yet, all of us can recall stories that lingered with us months and even years afterward. One such story for me is Joyce Carol Oates’ Where are you going? Where have you been? It’s a formula that can’t really be put into words.

 

In any case, here’s an approximation of the things I asked myself regarding what makes a good story. Out of the 400 or so stories I read, only about six left a lasting impression.

 

#1: Does the story start in scene? Thought is not action. Dreams and flashbacks are not action either. Show the reader the story world, don’t tell them about it.

 

#2: Is a conflict present? Some sort of conflict needs to drive the story forward, but it doesn’t need to be huge. In essence, drama = desire + determination.

 

#3: Is it a short story? This may seem like a no-brainer, but too many stories don’t adhere to three-act story structure. Readers instinctively anticipate a beginning, middle, and end. A vignette is not a story, and flash fiction has to be really special to stand out from the slush pile.

 

#4: Does every word count? Short stories must be economical. Three to five thousand words seems to be the sweet spot. Anything over that typically starts to drag. The use of language shows artistic mastery.

 

#5 What layers are present? Literary fiction, unlike genre fiction, relies on more than just surface story. Dammit, writing is an art! A good story is half the battle, but attention to elements of craft such as the overall structure and thematic messages can only make a good story even better.

 

Cover image of the Idaho Review 2013

 

#6: Does experimentation work? Most experimental out-of-the-box stories tend to read like something written as a writing exercise rather than really being mind-blowing. Meta stories too often come across as being overly clever and nothing more.

 

#7: Are the characters and point of view fitting? Are the characters too few or too many? Can they be condensed? What purpose does their development serve? Multiple POVs in a short story are usually not worth trying to pull off.

 

#8: At what price death? Death in and of itself tends not to be enough to become the dramatic basis for a literary story. Compelling situations, on the other hand, are dramatic. Killing off a character is the easiest of all plot devices.

 

#9: Can quirky be good? Yes, yes, and yes! When a story can take the ordinary and take it in a slightly bizarre or offbeat path and still manage to connect with the reader on a human level, magic is gonna happen. Trust me.

 

10: Is the “It” factor present? This is that touchy-feely area. It’s hard to define what makes a story strike a universal emotional chord. The more stories a person reads, the more clear it becomes how rare indeed to come across a truly special one.

 

When I write stories, I want to write ones that crawl inside my brain and take up residence in my very bones.

 

What makes a good story? Do tell. This is not a test. There are no right or wrong answers.

 

Issues of The Idaho Review can be purchased via the Boise State University bookstore.

 

 

The cover images in this post are for promotional purposes only and comply with fair use guidelines.

 

Author: Jeri Walker

Need help writing that book blurb, bio, or newsletter? Give your book the attention it deserves. Book your copy edit, manuscript critique, or proofread today. Make every word count.

Share This Post On

86 Comments

  1. Every time I read one of these posts I learn something new about writing. Your experience about your time The Idaho Review is kind of scary. It’s no wonder people are turning away from traditional publishing after reading or hearing about stories like these. Way too subjective and arbitrary. Big sigh…

    Post a Reply
    • Cheryl, on the one hand reading submissions does operate on a certain level of arbitrary guidelines, especially when trying to consider the “it” factor and what makes a story leave a lasting impression. Alas, what leaves a lingering impression for one person might not for another. On the other hand, most of the items on this list are not arbitrary. I’m all for self-publishing, but do also feel too many people are turning to it without taking the time to cultivate a thorough appreciation of the writing craft.

      Post a Reply
  2. Wow…just wow is my reaction to this post:) As to the neanderthal who actually verbalized the doubt that self published authors could actually write a sentence…not so wow:) Completely agree that although traditional publishing looks like it may be self destructing, it is still a valid model for some. It used be the ONLY way; now there are more options. Love everything you said above Jeri. Even more proof that you REALLY know your stuff:) I’d like to share one of the things that has always stuck with me; this advice from an agent…make every sentence project a sense of urgency.

    Post a Reply
  3. Fabulous tips, Jeri.

    I like this one: #4: Does every word count

    I LOVE when writers can say something in a sentence rather than a paragraph!

    For me, a good story is when the author can grab me fully inside the heart, soul, and guts & MAKE me feel something.

    xx

    Post a Reply
    • Kim, I’m all about making every word count. One of the best feelings for me as a writer and editor is to cut out all the fat! I hate wasted words 😉

      Post a Reply
  4. And thanks for your service. Thanks for sparing the world nearly 400 unpublishable short stories. And thanks for summarizing. Perhaps your “slush-pile” blog should be required reading for the next round of prospective authors.

    Post a Reply
    • Al, you comment made me laugh. We all know that most stories can eventually find a home if the writer is diligent enough to keep the dang things out though the submitting process can really start to wear on a person. I’d much rather aim for top-tier submissions than starting with lower-tier journals. I got in a hurry to self-publish my short stories when I should have taken a year to submit a couple of the best ones to journals.

      Post a Reply
  5. Jeri, I have questions. In spite of my advanced years of life, as a serious writer, I’m most definitely a novice. Even so, again because I’m on the 2 half of my life, I want direct answers instead of the ones that roam about during a class lecture.

    1) What is the difference between a literary fiction and a genre fiction?
    2) You made the distinction between a short story and a novel. Is there still such a thing as a novellette or novella?

    I think all writers want to create that “IT” factor. Unfortunately, very few of us achieve it in a story.

    Post a Reply
    • Glynis, literary fiction is often deemed as being more serious or artistic than genre fiction. That’s not to say genre fiction, which is read primarily for entertainment, can’t aim to be serious or that literary fiction can’t be read for entertainment’s sake. Some would say the line between the two is getting more narrow all the time. I don’t read much genre fiction because of its tendency to be all surface story with not much effort put into crafting great prose. I like layering and meaty themes in the books I read, so I gravitate toward literary stuff. As for you second question, novellas and novellettes are still alive and doing well. E-books have helped novellas gain more traction in recent years, but it’s less common for a publisher to want to print a novella, but putting a novella out in e-book form is a no-brainer.

      Post a Reply
  6. Hi Jeri – Good post. I think the prospect of presenting your work as a short story writer to the selection committee of any publication or contest is daunting. Reading of your experience with submissions to Idaho Review, and how only 1 story out of 400 submitted was deemed worthy of publication is extremely scary for those who sit down to write. It certainly would be a feather in one’s cap to have a story published under such demanding criteria for selection, and actually it might be some consolation to all the losers to consider sending their work to a publication or contest whose mission is to encourage writers. Why couldn’t the magazine offer to publish the ten best out of those submitted? Certainly, out of 400 submissions, more than 1 were worth reading, if not a masterpiece. If we have to pen a masterpiece every time out, we might as well go out to the oak tree in the backyard with a length of rope and a soapbox.

    Post a Reply
    • Larry, submitting to journals is daunting, but I also firmly believe it makes better writers out of those who make the attempt. As with any endeavor, it’s hard to say no to good talent, but there are only so many pages that can be filled in a yearly anthology. I’ve seen some websites put “almost” choices on their web pages only. Such journals tends to have small readerships though, but at least it’s a good way to aim for getting into one of the prize anthologies.

      Post a Reply
  7. Awesome post. Love #9. It’s probably my favorite when a story goes off the traditional/beaten path and makes me believe it. I love that ride more than anything. And YES, less is more when it comes to words! I once took a story from 134,000 words to 72,000 and not a thing was lost. hahaha

    Post a Reply
    • Beth, you are my hero! It’s music to my ears that you have proclaimed that cutting 62,000 words from your story make it better! I’ve cut so much from my novel as I’ve been working on it on and off these past few years. When I started to hack so much out of the story, I realized I was the type of writer who is better off doing more advance planning. Live and learn, eh?

      Post a Reply
  8. This is totally bizarre as my post today is also about short stories(courtesy of Bridget Whelan)! Your experience there must have been amazing for your own work, and particularly for short stories. In general short stories are very undervalued, and actually damned hard to write. But I particularly liked the point you mention about quirky. I do think people should go hog wild and experiment and try & do things differently, but quirky for quirky’s sake just doesn’t cut it. I think a common mistake short story writers make is to put in too many characters. We don’t need to know your cousin’s brother-in -laws name unless he’s relevant. Excellent post Jeri. A keeper.

    Post a Reply
    • A.K., I can’t remember what year of the Best American Short stories was guest edited by Stephen King in the recent past, but his intro piece talked all about how short stories get relegated to the bottom shelf. To a good degree, I think the rise of e-books and the ease of self-publishing has helped a resurgence of interest in the form, but short story writing really is an art form unto itself. I learned a lot as a submissions editor, but I also learned a good deal from teaching creative writing to high school students.

      Post a Reply
  9. You’ve given me something to think about. I write short stories all the time and sometimes even post them on my websites. Deciding what’s worthy of sharing is a tough judgement call. I may use your specific questions before I put the next one up.

    Post a Reply
    • Candy, it always strikes me how well I’ve taken to heart all I know about short stories, but yet producing a novel continues to allude me.

      Post a Reply
  10. Hi Jeri,

    I like the clarity and focus of this post, just akin to a good short story. I still trust experimentation as it opens many more avenues, which seem dreadful. In a short story, every word and every character holds a unique place if they are handled well. While I was reading this few names and stories cropped up immediately in my mind, which exemplify what we call – ‘a real short story’. The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde, The Man with the Scar by Somerset Maugham and The Open Window by Saki.

    Post a Reply
    • Balroop, great examples and your comment is spoken like a true purveyor of the short story form.

      Post a Reply
  11. Thanks Jeri! I will try to keep these points in mind the next time I work on a short story. One of the problems I see with contemporary short stories (say in the Sun, the New Yorker or Glittertrain) is they seem to be picked primarily for their quirkiness. Quirky can be fun but generally doesn’t stick with me very long. The story that haunts me to this day is Oysters by Anton Chekhov. It’s only about a page and a half long but the message is stunning. Okay – I see you have quite a pile of comments so I’ll keep this brief! Jan

    Post a Reply
    • Jan, I totally agree with the point you’ve made regarding quirkiness. I am attracted to it though when it came raise a story to another level. I shy away from quirky for the sake of quirkiness, just as stories that are overly clever rub me the wrong way as well. You’ve mentioned “The Oysters” a couple of times. This is my queue to Google this instant and read it 🙂

      Post a Reply
  12. If I read 400 short stories I can’t even imagine what it would take to leave an impression. This is a little beside the point, but the Idaho Review covers are really good.

    Post a Reply
    • Ken, it’s a long slog at times that can often feel like a blur. And we were encouraged to read the entire stories, though there were more than a few times when the first paragraph or less made it apparent the story didn’t have what it would take to make the cut. I agree about the covers. One of my favorites had a Godzilla picture on the cover.

      Post a Reply
  13. So many stories and yet just a few ones left a durable impression on you…
    I guess the same happens with the books we read, somehow…
    The key questions you have highlighted above are crucial ones, indeed
    But I have the belief that a brief story might also result from “random” facts… I don’t know If you would agree with me in that statement…
    Anyway talking about the art of writing (and therefore also editing and reading) I wanted to send you this link which I am quite sure you’ll enjoy.

    Horacio Quiroga’s Ten Rules For Writing A Perfect Short Story: http://wp.me/p2FNcC-1x

    Great post a always, dear Jeri. All the best to you, Aquileana 🙂

    Post a Reply
    • Aqui, some good stories do indeed have a sense of randomness about that, but it just seems to take a true master of the craft to pull such a story off. Thanks for the link to Quiroga’s post. I especially agree with the advice not to write without knowing where your going. First and last lines do matter a lot and can shape an entire piece profoundly. Then again, I’m much more a plotter than a pantster.

      Post a Reply
  14. What an experience! It must have been somewhat frustrating to read so many stories that were just okay. It is super that you put what you learned into words and I think this article should be treasured by all writers of short stories. Every once in a long while I read a story that I truly love and in each case it was something different, or as you put it, quirky.

    Post a Reply
    • Beth, most stories are merely okay, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In our age of five-star reviews, we often forget the true place of criticism in separating the great from the merely good.

      Post a Reply
  15. As a writer submitting to slush piles, I must admit I found some of the things you said a bit disheartening. Thanks for the tips though, I will keep them in mind.

    Post a Reply
    • Kerri, submitting writing to journals, magazines, and contests must be about the most disheartening thing in the world! On the other hand, it’s a true love of stories that keeps a person like me diving into the slush pile in search of the “one.”

      Post a Reply
  16. As always Jeri I take what you say to heart and apply to either the thought process behind the writing or the actual writing itself. One of the best lessons I’ve learned over time has been the economy of words and the importance of each one. To often you find melo-drama in writing less than original descriptions. What a good story means to me is feeling the subtext; being able to place yourself in the very situation the writer is in or is explaining to you. To me, if you can accomplish this, take a reader on a ride, then you have the foundation of a story.

    Post a Reply
    • Tim, I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s why Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where are you going? Where have you been?” is one of my favorite short stories. She really puts the reader into Connie and Arnold’s shoes in such an intensely suffocating type of way. It’s magic.

      Post a Reply
  17. Hi Jeri – I never realized there was so much to writing but I love the way you bullet things – makes each point easy to read and understand. I always find so much to learn from your posts that I think I’m going to come back and spend a day just going through your archives.

    Post a Reply
    • Lenie, oh no! Not the archives. My old classroom posts are buried deep in the website’s structure and I used to have travel posts and restaurant reviews here as well. It took me a while to figure out what type of blogger I wanted to be when I grew up 😉

      Post a Reply
  18. I liked your “When I write stories…” description at the end. Ironic in talking about the “it” factor as that is used universally in college and pro sports for the past several years for THAT really special athlete. I like how it applies to a story and writing as well. I have another question that I will ask offline. Good post and thank you again, Jeri! 🙂

    Post a Reply
    • Mike, for me my writing journey has been weird in that I did feel I had something a bit unique in my writing voice back in the day, but once I didn’t write creatively for years, I’m finding it’s not been easy to get back to that same place. Granted, I’m a different writer than I was 15 years ago. I guess it’s a matter of finding my new voice.

      Post a Reply
  19. Hi Jeri,
    Wow- you had a busy time reading 400 short stories!
    Thanks for this post- it’s teaching me something new. It’s well written and easy to understand!

    Post a Reply
    • Noelle, and to think I only read at that intensity for four months. I don’t think it’s something I would covet doing on a regular basis, but I’m glad for the experience nonetheless.

      Post a Reply
  20. I’m not currently writing fiction but definitely try to thread stories when I do get behind a keyboard. For me, that’s important and challenging. Being economical is something I picked up in Grad School and attribute that to my professor slamming the idea of “Prime Writing” into our heads. To Be in Our Bonnets was a selection from the Atlantic that he made us read and know. Too bad that I already committed that crime in this comment!

    Post a Reply
    • Duke, thanks for mentioning the article from the Atlantic. I’ve just looked it up and will give it a read later.

      Post a Reply
  21. Great post, as usual. I’m not too surprised that self-publishing is viewed in the manner in which the person responded about writing actual sentences. But like most things in life, people shouldn’t generalize. Off the top of my head, I can name five traditionally published books that had no right to be published because of poor writing and editing. BUT the story captured people’s attention, thus bringing in the money for one of the big houses. This is also what has diminished the traditionally published world for me. It’s no longer about the quality as it is the money.

    Anyways, I could only imagine all the stories you read, good and bad. For me, reading is the best teacher to in understanding the dos and don’ts.

    A good story to me is one that allows me to take the venture with the characters. That pulls me in and sometimes captures a thought, feeling or setting in one phrase. I’m all about the balance of show vs. tell.

    I submitted stories to many literary magazines. When I’ve read the chosen published stories, I couldn’t understand why they were chosen. I think it’s because I can’t grasp the literary content. Maybe I’m not getting the sensational story and its emotional effect.

    Post a Reply
    • Denise, reading TONS really is the best teacher. I feel the same at times when it comes to reading many of the stories that get published in prize anthologies. If it’s a good year and the guest editor has similar tastes as me, I inevitably enjoy more of the stories. A lot of the time, I will just read the first pages and if my interest isn’t piqued, I move on. Literary stories tend to be quieter than genre pieces and can be an acquired tasted, but the best ones cross that elevated boundary and reach a balance between being art and entertainment.

      Post a Reply
  22. Fantastic post, Jeri. You are truly talented and I love the way YOUR words flow (and I love the images you chose for this post, too). I am not a published author – I would like to be as I have many stories to tell. Perhaps when I retire. A good story for me is one that catches my attention immediately and keeps me hooked. I love descriptions of scenery that I can almost touch and feel. And development of the characters; their inner thoughts and feelings. I am an avid reader and maybe one day a writer…. sigh… Thanks for sharing this marvelous post with us.

    Post a Reply
    • Laurie, I’m a huge scenery junkie too. Some of my favorite books like The Grapes of Wrath and The Color Purple rely heavily on creating a sense of place. I hope you do try your hand at writing stories someday because your blog posts show the knack you have for reeling readers in.

      Post a Reply
  23. I don’t read much in the short medium, but I do read a hell of a lot, and I’ve found that after a couple of days, some stories [novels] simply disappear into the black hole of my memory. I know I’ve read them, but that’s it. No images, no memories. The best ones, however, linger for years if not forever. Now if I could only quantify that process! lol

    Post a Reply
    • Andrea, don’t we all wish we could quantify what it is that makes a piece of writing linger? I’m sure we all treasure those types of books. I’d rank Sophie’s Choice as one that really stuck with me.

      Post a Reply
  24. Wow! Six stories out of 400 that made a lasting impression. The thing is that often times what makes a story resonate with one person may draw a yawn from the next reader because the reader brings their own background and experiences to the story. I do find it shocking that so few of the submissions met the basic structural requirement of a short story with a beginning, middle and an end, a main character and a single voice in a story of that size, particularly if many were MFA students.

    What lifts a story out of the slush pile and makes it sublime, rather than merely pedestrian is difficult to define. But one would think the basic structure of a short story would be well known to any student.

    Post a Reply
    • Pat, I don’t think I stated so few of the stories met the basic structural requirement. I did point how how few do leave a lasting impression though. Many MFA students want to experiment, so the stories don’t quite hit the mark, but without experimentation, there’s little chance of eventually hitting on something that really leaves a mark. I’d say all students (and anyone who reads or watches films) knows basic story structure. Unfortunately, that knowledge doesn’t always make it to the page. Some writers will write by the seat of their pants, but then not go back to see the places they need to revise to make the narrative stronger.

      Post a Reply
  25. It’s lamentable but it’s happening not only to short stories but articles as well. There are far too many journalists in this world and less and less jobs. Can’t help wondering why so many people still pay to educate themselves as journalists? In Sweden all magazines are flooded with articles about everything under the sun from all these journalists who try to make some money freelancing. One in a million is published. There’s one thing about all these new journalists and writers that I can’t get my head around, why do so many people who don’t read decide to start writing?

    Post a Reply
  26. I love your points. For me, a character will make or break a story. Plot can meander. The story can start in thought. But if the character is there, and I can feel and like the personality, I’m sold.

    Post a Reply
    • Loni, I’d agree as well that a story can start in thought if the mind of the character is captivating enough. Too often though, stories will start with a character thinking about doing something or how their day or life has gone in such a mundane fashion. Snoozzzzzzze…. 😉

      Post a Reply
  27. It is surprising, rather shocking that from that big amount you like only 6 stories. I really like all your points and every time I read your post it help me to learn something.
    I do not know if I am improving my writing or not but I know I am learning. Hopefully all such tips will bring some change.

    I love when you said,” Each word counts”.
    I think this is a great skill, by some writers; who wrap up stuff in few lines with an ever lasting impression on minds and hearts of readers and each word grab us till end.

    Post a Reply
    • Anna, the ability to write concise prose does indeed help someone stand out of the slush pile. If I’m reading a story and my inner-editor kicks in, that’s when I lose interest because the writer hasn’t finished doing their job.

      Post a Reply
  28. Hi Jeri, The first two thoughts that come to my mind are I can’t believe the guy wondered if a self-published authored could even write a sentence. Jeez. I hope you set him straight. 🙂 My second thought was, I can’t imagine having to sit and read 400 stories and only have 6 of them be good enough to leave a lasting impression. Hopefully the writers of the others stories will get a hold of your tips or read your blog and can tighten up those short stories and give them the “it” factor.

    Post a Reply
    • Susan, that’s just the thing though. I’d say the majority of writers who submit to literary journals have the basics down, but it’s so hard to write that rare beast of a story that stands heads above all the others.

      Post a Reply
  29. A good short story writer: economic with the use of words, does not abuse adverbs, and writes like Raymond Carver 🙂

    Post a Reply
  30. Whoa Jeri. Kind of like your wow. Whoa to that person making disparaging remarks about indie writers. It’s quite pompous.

    I’ve heard you say before, make every word count. I learned this first hand in the editing of my upcoming book as paragraphs in several chapters fell to the cutting room floor.

    What makes a good story for me is language I can understand right from the start. If I can’t understand or even relate within the first couple of paragraphs I’d have to choose something else to read.

    Post a Reply
    • Patricia, another doozie I heard when I was there was how it was hard to tell the difference between a self-pubbed title and a traditionally-pubbed title. I think that says a lot about how far self-pubbing has come that with the right skills and effort, almost anyone can get a book out into the world. Plus, a lot of journals would be well-served to look into POD services rather than paying up-front to have a thousand or more copies printed.

      Post a Reply
  31. I have a strong need to say this right now… But killing off characters is fun. How can you argue against wanton killing. I mean, it’s death, it’s bloody, it’s violent, it’s fun…

    Post a Reply
    • Jon, but it’s not literary 😉 Well most of the time it isn’t anyway. Your comment is spoken from the true heart of a horror writer.

      Post a Reply
  32. It tells me enough of the story in the first sentence to make me keep reading. By the end of the first paragraph, the basis of it has flesh. That’s a good short story, including three or four characters to carry it.

    Post a Reply
    • Deidre, so much can be discerned fro a first paragraph. The content and the writing have to pull of so much to snag a reader. As in real life, first impressions on the page count for so much.

      Post a Reply
  33. I think character development and a good plot is what makes a story good or not.

    Post a Reply
    • Jason, I’m with you on that, but for me the writing has to be top-notch as well. If I start to edit the text in my head, I know my attention has already been lost. And by edit, I just don’t mean proofread. I get carried away with grand re-workings of sentences so they will be more concise. Lazy sentences are the enemy.

      Post a Reply
  34. Maybe a short story should be the way to go if I consider really writing something other than my blog. These 10 tips are very helpful.

    Post a Reply
  35. For me what makes a good story is that I don’t skimm over what I am reading. I will give whatever I am reading about three paragraphs, if I am not drawn in, I am done.

    Post a Reply
    • Arleen, I envy you in that regard. I tend to slog through even the books I pick up for entertainment’s sake. I’ve gotten better about being able to quit books over the years, but it’s still a struggle.

      Post a Reply
  36. The amazing thing is I read on average 3 to 4 books a week and still had to think a few minutes about what makes a great story. Now, I’m coming from a reader’s perspective not an editor or literary scholar – what I am is a re-reader and that’s probably the point for me. If I can truly loose myself in the story, relate to the characters in a way that makes me care about them and know before I ever finish the book that I’ll be re-reading it from time to time – then it’s a great story.

    Post a Reply
    • Marquita, you are amazing for being able to read 3-4 books a week! I generally aim for one a week, but it can be a stretch. I’ll stick with a book if my inner-editor doesn’t kick in too much 😉

      Post a Reply
  37. What a wonderful blog.
    I often wondered the process that editors go through, and the difficult task you have.
    I also ponder, how much is your personal taste. Why is a story, or novel, rejected so many times, then it is accepted.

    Post a Reply
    • William, that’s the most difficult part of reading submissions. There are a lot of good stories, but not many great ones. Thank goodness the “maybes” were brought to the table and discussed as a group.

      Post a Reply
  38. I struggle sometimes with whether to post a short story or flash fiction on my blog or submit it to a magazine. Now I have a better understanding of how to figure out if it will make the cut or not! I hope you have a terrific weekend, Jeri 🙂

    Post a Reply
    • Christy, all I think most writers can do is continue writing from the heart and hoping a piece eventually finds its place. Reading submissions really is eye-opening though and I’m glad I had the chance for such an experience.

      Post a Reply
  39. Jeri — I think that over the years the short story has fallen out of favor. The major publishers are focused on promoting the next big “blockbuster” novel. So new readers don’t have the opportunity to become familiar with this genre. I speak from experience. I used to read short stories as a child but rarely do nowadays (unless it’s the collection of short stories by a writer friend). Like Arleen, I need to be drawn into a story immediately or I move on. I think it’s because I’m an aficionado of mysteries which often have a shocking opening to grab the reader.

    But here’s an irony — as people’s attention spans have become shorter, conditioned by the Internet and social media where you consume information in bite sizes – there could be a resurgence of the short story. That would be nice.

    Post a Reply
    • Jeannette, I’m holding out hope that the popularity of e-books will help short stories get some much deserved recognition.

      Post a Reply
  40. Sounds like the way to do it is to skip the slush pile, contact the editor-in-chief directly, and get him to ask for your story.

    Good observations.

    Post a Reply
    • Geoffrey, many journals do solicit stories, and from established writers at that. It can be a tough process for sure. I love journals like Glimmer Train and the Missouri Review that tend publish newer writers.

      Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *