Getting Beyond the Door

Note: This post does not reflect how things are handled at Shock Totem.

So you just finished a 5,000-word story. Read on…

Have you ever heard an editor say a story needs to grab him—or her—within the first few pages? Have you ever thought about what that means for you, as a writer? What it really means?

In the business of reading slush, where hundreds of stories pour in weekly, those first couple pages can mean the difference between rejection and acceptance. Some editors say a story needs to grab hold from the opening line, and while some authors pull this off with ease, others take a slower approach. Some authors start with explosions, while others light small fires that grow and grow…

Because some stories beg for the explosive intro, and others require a slow build. It all depends on the tale (excluding flash fiction, which has no excuse not getting right down to business). But how often is a great story overlooked because an editor—and there are plenty who subscribe to this school of thought—thinks a story needs that WHIZBANGPOW! opening?

I recently finished a 5,300-word story. In standard submission format—12pt Courier font, double-spaced—it’s 29 pages long. Now let’s discuss exactly what that translates to: Changing the format to Times New Roman, single-spaced, the story shrinks from 29 pages down to 11. What was once the first three pages an editor sees is now barely a quarter of the way down page two, and the story starts halfway down page one! So we’re talking a mere 483 words.

Frightening. But it’s worth thinking about.

We, the writers, must impress within the first few pages, right? We’re told this over and over again. But depending on the publication that standard may be an illusion, because in standard submission format, those pages represent but a handful of words—not pages. And that’s just to keep the door from closing, let alone getting your story across the threshold! And beyond that there’s a whole new set of obstacles.

Less than 500 words…

Scary.

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