Fantastic stories and how to spot them (beta reader helper)


Well-Known Member
Jul 15, 2022
Hey guys.
After rereading the stories I didn’t initially like, in most recent 300 I feel terrible. Most are actually really good, but I just didn’t understand them on first run.
It might be because i was binge reading them, might be because i wasn’t reading it that carefully. But anyway… my shortlist should be a longlist.

Ether most of the stuff i have read was preselected for me and indicated some level of ‘blessing from above’ and what I am reading something raw, I have some bias towards it, or most of stuff I read is a clone of one another so whenever i stumble on something too experimental — I don’t like it.

I am just interested… Do slush readers have some sort of reading technique.
I see there is a lot of resource on how to write, but seems like none about reading (as a writer - not as a hobbyst).
Anyone has any tips?

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Nov 10, 2008
nearly the New Forest
Well, first of all, don't beat yourself up about it. You're not the first to have discounted a story, then someone else remarks on it -- or after the voting, the author explains it -- and suddenly you (ie "one") realise it was very good and you'd (again "one had" -- OK -- I had) completely missed the point. It happens. It's late, you're reading all of them in one go instead of as they come in, you're tired -- we've all been there.

As for reading as a writer, don't worry it'll come, and there will be times you bitterly regret it. I find I'm much more critical** of stories now than I was because I can see the technical mistakes (eg POV) which before I'd have glossed over. It's the same with anything once you've learned it -- because I'm not a scientist, I can accept most any old rubbish in SF, whereas the same stuff will annoy those more knowledgeable; conversely, someone getting the law or historical-type issues wrong will send me into paroxysms of fury where others will just carry on reading regardless.

I read stories coming in for Kraxon, but I don't have a technique, I just read -- if I'm finding technical mistakes or errors of eg spelling etc, then I don't worry overmuch as there's an external editor will pick up anything of that kind if I accept the story. (That differs from me reading the Challenges -- mistakes there mean the entry gets marked down.) What I'm looking for (and this is the same in the Challenges) is a story that satisfies me, whether from plot, characters, plot twist, atmosphere, lyricism or whatever, and that I'm happy to read again. But the first read is for the story, to find out what happens, who the characters are etc. I then usually re-read immediately, to see how the story works with knowledge of the ending. Sometimes I like a story on first read but it feels somehow "off" in which case when I re-read it (on occasion after leaving it a day or two) I look more closely to see why it doesn't feel right -- very often I don't work out what I think needs re-working until a third read. Sometimes it's only on the second read, after being happy with it on the first, that I begin to think it's "off". (And again that's much the same in the Challenges, in that it's often only when giving feedback in the Improving threads that I begin to articulate, even to myself, what I think is wrong.)

As for bias, well we're all prone to it. For instance, I don't "get" some types of humour so those stories will find it hard to make my shortlist, whereas there are some people here whose work I usually love, so I perhaps try harder to understand their stories even if they seem incomprehensible. All we can do is try to re-read with an open mind.

Not sure if any of that is of help, but again, don't let it worry you. The only real advice is to give everything a chance and read it twice -- so it's best to read the Challenge stories as they come in, then again at the end.

Meanwhile, although you're asking about resources, I think this is better in Writing Discussion, so I'll move it over there.

** I heard that, members-who-shan't-be-named-to-protect-the-guilty -- and my pointy sword is waiting for you...


Member and remember
Mar 25, 2013
I just did a search on tips for slush readers and there are indeed articles on the topic, and on related topics such as how to survive a slush pile (which would at least speak to what they look for, which would give clues on *how* they look). With a bit of digging you will find stuff like this

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