Thursday, April 24, 2014


WE ARE INTO OUR SECOND PASS in reading the slush. The stories we are looking at now have been culled from the 500+ that we received during our last submissions window. If you haven't received a rejection letter from us at On Spec, then congratulations. Your story has been chosen for further consideration. I'm going to continue writing my Letters to the Slush Pile so I might shed a bit more light on what I'm thinking about these second-tier stories. Whether we buy the story or not is still up for discussion.

Dear ------,
Thank you for submitting ------ to us. All of us at On Spec like hard SF and we don't get a lot of it. (That said, we also love fantasy, but we do get more of that.) You've handled the action and setting in your story really well, showing me what the protocol would be if such a disaster were to occur. I want to talk about what I think your story still needs.

Your protagonist displays all the right physical reactions in dealing with an emergency - he attempts communication with the crew, etc. However, even though he does everything he possibly could, he doesn't react strongly enough. You've told me things to indicate what he is feeling like, "he desperately hoped the computer was malfunctioning..." (hope) or "he closed his eyes," (grief), or "an overwhelming sense of deja-vu gripped him," (confusion/fear/inevitability). In all of these examples, you've told me about your protagonist's emotions through exposition or body language, but you haven't told me enough. You're keeping the reader at an emotional distance.

I want to feel what your protagonist is feeling. Body language is a good start, but if you were to add the visceral reactions of grief, fear, hopelessness, etc., your writing would be much more vivid and engaging. Describe for me, the physical reactions of fear. Tear me apart with grief (the aching chest, the inability to breathe, the closing throat, the sense of panic that comes from losing control, that kind of thing). Readers live vicariously through a character's experience—within the safety of their armchairs. Give them a strong experience, something more they can relate to.

I also want to say something about the choices you've made about what emotions you present and how. Ironically, this has to do with logic. If your protagonist is the only survivor remaining after the ship has been destroyed, I think he would grieve his lost crew more than he does, or grieve his impending death, instead of focusing on the beauty of the planet as he hangs in space. Perhaps you meant to indicate he's in a state of shock, or this is his way of having faith—believing in something bigger than himself—but if so, again, that isn't as gripping a story. Readers are held by a strong emotional experience which generates reader sympathy. This reader sympathy can then can be directed to the other aspects of your story which I think you find important, ie., themes touching upon death, alternate lives, and the life hereafter.

- Susan.


  1. Anonymous4:56 PM

    One post you might want to consider doing would be walking readers through the process of submissions. How many OnSpec gets vs how many are finally published, how the stories are divided up for review, how many make it through the first pass, the second, fight night and so-on. Also, if this has changed through time, than how so. Are there more submissions now? How have the submissions faired over time for quality?

    Having said that, I get it would be a more data than educational posting than you normally do -- and the real value of your blog postings is the insights you offer. So, personally, I find myself wondering about the submission numbers but also would only want one post on this aspect of publishing.

    That's my 2 cents!

    Love, love, love your blog and hope to read a "Letter to the Slush Pile..." for one of my submissions some day! That would be a great honour.

    Thanks for the amazing insights you offer!

  2. Hi. Thanks for your comment. It's always nice to get kudos - glad you're enjoying the blog. I will plan a post around your questions, perhaps in a week or so. I have a few other things I want to talk about in the meantime, but I appreciate your giving me this post idea. Thanks, again!