Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ask the Editor: How Do You Become a Slushpile Editor?

Reader Bonnie Fernandes asked: "How do you become a slushpile editor?"

Great question.

You know what they tell you when you go to job search seminars?

They tell you to network.

And finding a job as a slushpile editor is no different.  It's really all about WHO you know.  Of course WHAT you know certainly helps too.

A good slushreader is more than just a reader.  A good slush reader knows the mechanics of writing, inside and out.  A good slush reader doesn't have to BE a writer, per se.  But he knows HOW to write.  He knows how to recognize good writing in the work of others. He knows how to recognize errors in writing mechanics.

These qualifications are crucial, but they're only a gateway to finding a position as a slush reader.

So how, exactly, does one network?

Your first step is to join writing communities.  Online writing communities and workshops are a great place to meet people who know people.  And some of those people you get to know are bound to have connections of their own, and eventually one of those friends or acquaintances is bound to know someone who happens to work at such and such a magazine who, at some point, is bound to let their network of friends know that their magazine is looking for slush readers.

For example, at Flash Fiction Online, when we are in need of slush readers we first go to our staff to ask for recommendations.  They look through their lists if friends and writing acquaintances, send out a few emails, and send me names and email addresses of interested parties.  On occasion we've advertised for positions at writing workshops we frequent.

At least that's how it works in the larger publishing community.  In other words, the vast number of magazines--online and in print--that are run on a shoestring budget and seldom have money to pay staff.  (There are definite benefits to reading slush that compensate for the lack of actual pay.)

If you're looking for a professional, paying job as a slush reader, it's slightly more complicated.  Still, it's all about who you know and what you know.

At the larger publishing houses--those few who still have a slushpile--they accept applications and look at resumes.  They want to see relevant college degrees and work experience.  If you can name-drop a friend in the publishing industry, even better.  Networking.  It's crucial.

I once spoke to an editor who said her first editing gig was copy editing phone books. Her English degree helped her get that job, which gave her a toe in the door at her next job--reading slush for a small local publishing company.  As she worked she gained further experience, more lines on her resume, until she broke into the New York publishing industry--as a slush reader again, but, dang!  In New York!!  More working, more experience, now she works as an acquisition editor for a small publishing house, gaining more experience, making better money.  

But with so few major publishing houses accepting slush anymore, where does one look for slush reading jobs?

Agencies.  These days most accepted, published manuscripts are acquired through literary agents, and literary agents need a handful of slush readers to wade through the piles of potential-client manuscripts they receive.  And how do you land a job reading slush for a literary agent?  Network.  Get to know people.

Also, start small.  Do some pro bono slush reading for a small press online magazine, for example, to put a line of relevant experience on your resume.  Use that to move up to the next level, and so on.

Be persistent, be professional, be able to prove you know your way around the world of writers and writing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"One occasion we've advertised for positions at writing workshops we frequent."

"On occasion..." ;)