So You Want To Be a First Reader

I thought I would share a few things about what my first reader experience was like. The mileage of other first readers and potential first readers will vary.

I read slowly, so slushing took up a significant amount of time for me. I didn’t keep track for the first four months, but for the last six months (February through July 2013) I first-read 357 stories for a total of 1,391,500 words. That’s like between eight and thirteen novels. And I was barely “keeping up”.

On a few rare occasions, I skimmed after the first 1000 words or so. But most of the time I read the entire story. Many first readers don’t do that – because it’s not a requirement – but I did. I’m not completely sure why I kept reading to the end. I guess I didn’t get jaded, but by the conclusion of my stint I was feeling burned out.

jellybeans

Reading from the slush pile was like eating Bertie Bots Every Flavor Beans. Sometimes the one I pulled out of the queue was like tiramisu. Occasionally I bit into earwax flavor. But generally I read a lot of interesting stories.

An often-repeated piece of writing advice is to read what you’re aspiring to create – read the best authors in the genre you’re writing in. I personally found that the time I spent reading slush severely limited the time I could spend reading anything else. On the plus side, I was exposed to genre stories I wouldn’t have read otherwise. I discovered that I really dislike “squick” and body-horror. I discovered that I quite like character-driven horror. (btw, Strange Horizons is NOT a horror market)

One of the bitter-sweet parts of my First Reader Experience was that when I read a really good story, I couldn’t share it. Because of course all submissions are confidential. But on the up side, if I wanted to I could read submissions even if they weren’t assigned to me. So occasionally I got to read brand-new stories written by authors I knew or knew of from their previous publications.

So, would I ever volunteer as a first reader again? The short answer is yes. I learned a great deal, and it was generally a positive experience. But first, I need to refuel. I have a huge stack of novels at home waiting to be read. I have a bunch of short stories and a novel churning in my head, begging to be written. And I want to apply some of what I’ve learned to my own writing.

I would definitely encourage my writerly (and readerly!) friends to apply for a First Reader position. My main caution would be make sure you have the time.

Have you ever thought about applying to be a first reader? Have you ever been a first reader? What was it like for you?

Happy Writing!

Advertisements

3 responses to “So You Want To Be a First Reader

  1. I don’t think I could handle being a first reader. But I have two questions for you. 1. How do you think the experience has affected the way you write? 2. Did you ever get the equivalent of the Bertie Botts vomit flavor?

  2. Thanks, Barb! I could write a whole post to answer each of those questions. But here goes…
    1. Being a first reader gave my inner editor long nasty talons and horns. Now when I write a short story first draft, I am extremely self-critical. It’s the main reason I haven’t finished and submitted a story for a few months.
    But right now I’m trying to continue writing – AND submitting – again.
    2. Eww. Yes.
    All submissions at SH (or any pro market) are confidential, so I can’t really elaborate on details. But there were a few times when I wished I could take a scrub brush to my eyes and brain.

  3. Of course, those unpleasant beans were balanced out by truly wonderful ones. I had the honor of reading Kate MacLeod’s “Din Ba Din” story FIRST as a first reader, and it was recently published! http://strangehorizons.com/2013/20130812/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s