I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I used to read slush for a literary review. I may have mention this before, but it merits a blog post.
The publishing world is huge. Even for our small review, we received at least a hundred unsolicited manuscripts from across the United States. As a slush reader, my job was to read the manuscripts and judge whether or not they made the cut to even be discussed. After reading through one whole manuscript (it was dreadful) I asked if I had to read the whole thing. The rest of the people looked at my like I was crazy and tole me, “No. You don’t have to.” Still, I feel I was more generous. I would at least read the first page if not the second.
It was an interesting experience to work there for some time (volunteer of course). One thing I learned is that the editors and slush readers really want to publish. They really want quality fiction/poetry/nonfiction. As I read I wanted to read something that I couldn’t wait to share with others in the room.
I was also lucky enough to be trusted to vote on good fiction. When reading the slush, if it got two yes’s we’d discuss it (two no’s meant a rejection). In a small group of perhaps six or seven people, we’d discuss the merits of the story—what we liked, what we didn’t like, could we send it to get edits. We often chose fiction we though didn’t need much editing. Why? Because several of the editors that had been there a couple years had nightmare headaches dealing with authors and “the destruction” of their work. A few simple edits were no big deal; we would correct spelling, but that’s about it.
I suppose what you can take away from this is that publishers/editors want to publish you. They do. But you have to work hard at your craft, pushing yourself towards excellence, and perhaps most importantly, be willing and open to edits. As editors we did not want to destroy, only refine and clarify the work. In fact, we are all on the same team: we want to read and write great stories.