Question I got from a submitter this morning: “Are you looking for stories along the lines of any particular themes?”
I’m a writer, too. I submit my own work to slush piles, and it’s frustrating to get the feedback “Love your story, but we aren’t the right fit for it.” It leaves you wondering…what ARE you looking for? And why can’t you just tell me?
Disclaimer: I have no idea how any other editors navigate their slush piles. I can only tell you how we do it here.
Some things are auto-rejected. Didn’t follow directions? Delete. Sometimes, if I’m feeling generous, I will send you an email and let you know that you’ve been auto-rejected so you can resubmit.
Some things I know in the first pass aren’t going to be accepted. Poor grammar, confusing storyline, boring opening, or the dreaded “I’m halfway through it and I’m confused.” Delete and send form letter.
Every now and then, we get something that I know we will find a place for. It speaks to the show, it is a gorgeous piece of writing, and in our case it is usually really short because we specialize in flash fiction.
Everything else? Lands in the “maybe” pile and then it becomes a puzzle.
We’ve got X number of episodes to fill, and each is going to have somewhere between 2 and 4 stories. How long they are is a factor for us, not for all markets. Longer stories are much harder for us to place. We’ve accepted to date 76 stories out of the slush pile and less than a dozen of them are 1,000 words or more. So for us, shorter is better. Other markets have their own biases, and checking out prior issues really does help. You know, like you hear in writers workshops? But please, don’t lie and say you have researched us if you haven’t. This irritates editors. They can tell.
Once we get past all that, then there is the chance factor. A lot is going to depend on what else is being submitted. That’s your competition, sure, but it’s also your tribe. Stories have to play nicely together. In order to make it out of the “maybe” pile, you not only have to be good (you won’t stay in the maybe pile long if you aren’t good,) but you have to fit with what is developing, and what is developing depends on what else is being submitted.
So, yes, Submitter, we do have themes, and no, I can’t tell you what they are and I know that is so profoundly unfair because I hate getting those emails as well. I can tell you spending some time as an editor will help you understand your own work better and I recommend it. In the meantime, keep writing. It’s all any of us can do.