I have said many times that one of my favorite things about this job is that I get to read some fantastic stories. Our slush pile at times has been bursting at the seams with with stories. Reading through them is really one of the great benefits of this job.
Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad, and with the very good sometimes comes the very bad. While I enjoy the really good stories it can downright painful to read the ones that come in that are not so good.
As much as reading the not so good stories is not fun, what comes after reading them is the part I like least about my job here. I have to write a review of the story, and explain why I didn’t like it. Having been on the receiving end of rejection letters and bad reviews I know what that can mean to an author.
I know how hard sending a story into a publisher can be. It is not just in the amount of work that it takes to create and write a story. That should never be discounted. Then you have to put it into the submission format that publisher wants and actually get it send in. It take a lot of courage to take that step, knowing that you could mean a rejection.
In the nearly two years I have worked for Flying Island Press I can honestly say that most of the times I have written a negative review of a story can fall into two main categories.
1. The author did not read the submission guidelines. This is truly unfortunate, but the truth is, if you can’t be bothered to read our guidelines we can’t be bothered to publish your work. That is just the way it is.
2. The story needed an honest review before it was submitted.
It is the second of these is the most tragic. Most of these stories, even the ones I didn’t personally like, are salvageable. They needed: stronger endings, more description, better characterization, work on plot holes, or to be checked for missing or misspelled words and grammatical issues. They had: open endings, unexplained changes in direction, over flowery language, unresolved issues in the plot. They were: incomplete stories, a story bibles, descriptive scenes without a plot, the first chapter of novel or much longer work.
In most cases, had the author sent the story out to beta readers before they submitted it they would have been in a lot better shape. And I don’t mean sending the story to your mother. You need some really good beta readers who are going to be willing to give you some honest feedback.
I will admit finding these readers can be a little difficult, but you would would be surprised at the number of people that would be willing to give your story a read. (*Pro-tip don’t find your favorite author online and send your story to them asking them to beta read it.) Online writing communities are great for this sort of thing, just be willing to reciprocate.
This is where the courage part of this essay comes in. As hard as it can be to send a story into a publisher and get a rejection letter, it can be harder to put it in front of your peers and get an honest review. I think that is why so many authors skip this step. Let me tell you DON’T! It really is essential. You are too close to the work to see the plot holes, too close to see that your main character has a fatal flaw that should have killed him, too close to see that your story just needs more work.
It can be very hard to send your work out to a group of readers or even just one reader (although I suggest at least two.) Those negative reviews coming back and feel like a crushing blow. The trick is to read them for what they are. They are not a critique of you, they are critiques of the story, the plot, the characters. Who, though you may love them dearly are not you. The critiques are meant as a helping hand. Take that hand, and pull yourself up, do the next rewrite and then you will be ready.