1. READ AND FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES
When a pile of slush hits my desk, the first thing I do is a quick pre-reading check. I'm looking for stories I can reject without bothering to read them. These are the stories that have been submitted in an unacceptable file format, or that fall outside our word count requirements.
We're one of the nicer markets--at least nicer for submitters; not so nice for editors. At Flash Fiction Online we don't have hugely strict guidelines. But some markets do. Some markets have ridiculously specific guidelines.
Still, a writer will ALWAYS put himself in the good graces of a slush editor if he strictly follows all the given guidelines.
2. RESIST THE URGE TO CALL SPECIAL ATTENTION TO YOUR MANUSCRIPT
I'm not going to say I've seen it all. I haven't. Some tricks I've only heard about in legend. But occasionally a writer will 'dress up' his manuscript to make it more 'visible' to an editor.
Strange or changing fonts, colored fonts, strange page sizes, landscape formatted pages, strange margin choices, adding pictures. The list goes on.
Just be assured that editors are NEVER impressed with those sort of antics. We don't want to be sold by the cutesy font or the clever, witty self-introductions. We want to be sold by your story. If a writer puts half as much effort into learning how to write well instead of trying to prove how clever he is, he'd sell more stories. Guaranteed.
3. STANDARD MANUSCRIPT FORMAT
Don't know what that is? Look it up. Google "standard manuscript format" and you'll find dozens of references to it.
Use it. Don't add funny paragraph formatting. Don't use manual tabs at the beginning of your paragraphs. Don't double space between paragraphs. Do set your margins at 1". Do use first line indent for paragraphs. Do use a * or # at scene breaks. Do be consistent. Do use Courier New or Times New Roman font.
Why do we ask so much? It's not really much. It takes 10 minutes to create yourself a short story template that contains all the key features of SMF that you can use every time you start a new story. But I prefer stories formatted like this simply because I can easily manipulate them if I need to. For example, I sometimes print 10 or 15 stories to read while I'm sitting in the dentist's office. To save myself paper, I try to get every story on one or two pages (I can do that when a story is 1000 words or less.). It takes me SECONDS to do it when the story is in SMF.
The only reason NOT to use SMF is if the market specifically asks for something else. It happens. Sometimes online markets with an electronic submission system on their site will request a different submission format. Which is why you MUST do #1.
4. BE PATIENT
I'm going to tell you one of the dirty little secrets of the short story slush trade:
Most of us don't get paid! We do this for the love of it. Which necessarily means that we have other jobs and/or responsibilities that take the bulk of our time. Your story is generally not at the top of our list of priorities. Feeding our families is. Paying our mortgages is.
We're doing the best we can, and sometimes we have to wait on others to do their jobs in order for us to do our jobs, and THOSE people also have families to feed and mortgages to pay.
So if you haven't heard back from us in 3 weeks, don't query. Give us at least 6 to 8 weeks.
5. BE POLITE
I send, literally, hundreds of rejections each year. Last year that number approached 2000.
If you receive a rejection from me, don't take it personally. It's just a rejection. Thousands of writers receive millions of rejections every year. Just because you've gotten one doesn't mean it's the end of the world. It doesn't necessarily mean your story sucks. It doesn't mean the editors don't appreciate your talent.
It usually just means your story wasn't right for us. Usually.
There are dozens of reasons a story is rejected, and editors read SO many stories we're looking for ANY reason to reject a story. It could be merely your bad luck to have submitted a story too similar to one we've recently published, or it could be as shameful as the fact that your story is replete with spelling and grammar errors.
To be as certain as possible that it's not YOUR error, be sure to join up a good online workshop or critique group. Take classes. Read up on the craft of writing.
For more on how to up your odds in the slushpile, read this OLD article from my OLD blog: