There are cer­tain op­tional rites of pas­sage as a spec­u­la­tive fic­tion writer. One of those is to vol­un­teer as a first reader (sometimes known as a slush reader). Another is to write about the ex­pe­ri­ence.

The rea­son to be­come a first reader is that you gain more ex­pe­ri­ence. You see what it’s like from the other side’, go­ing from the writer with a man­u­script and high hopes, to a reader with 80 sto­ries to read and lit­tle time.

When you read that many sto­ries, lit­tle pat­terns emerge: how many peo­ple don’t read the sub­mis­sion guide­lines. How many peo­ple haven’t proof­read their own sub­mis­sions, or run it through a spell checker.

But when I thought about what made some­thing emerge from the pile, and made me want to push it up to the ed­i­tors, I was sur­prised by what it was. It was clar­ity.

That is, I had some sense that the writer was clear in her own mind what she wanted to ac­com­plish, and she had com­bined that with craft to get it there.

This does­n’t mean that the piece had to be ob­vi­ous. It’s fine for there to be mys­tery, or a twist in the tale. But make that clear in its own way, that you aren’t hedg­ing be­cause you don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen, or you’re still find­ing your way in the story.