Since some time last December, I am happily reading slush for Niteblade Magazine. I only ever see stories, so my poetry slush experience is still non existent. I got to do some more reading as a first reader for the Odd Contest; that was really rewarding.
What I like most about slush reading is the sort of talent you get to see, people who you can tell are only just starting out with arranging words right there on that scary, empty white page, and those who show you so little when you want to see so much more of that writing.
Allow me to tell you what will get favorable attention, at least from this set of eyes.
See, there is this totally obvious, seemingly no-brainer: read the guidelines. Even if you disagree with them, stick to them. Just sayin'. I mean, if you managed to write this awesome, awesome piece of dark delight, you can go the whole nine and format it correctly, right? Please, do.
Also, if you do sent something to a certain magazine, make sure it fits. For example, Niteblade stories need an element of fantasy or horror. Your story can be fabulous, but without horror or fantasy, at least for Niteblade, you'll unfortunately not get an acceptance, instead you'll spend time waiting for a rejection slip.
A hook is a really good idea. Not that I myself always get that one right, but you want something at the beginning of your story that makes sure your reader cannot stop until it's all over. It has to be something shiny, for who among us does not share the magpie's like for shiny things, or something sensuously dark that likewise will make you want more.
I like conflict in a story. By this I suppose I mean a certain conflict that is resolved in a satisfying manner. Aristotle called it catharsis, the feeling of cleansing. I do not mean to say that I want to feel like I need to take a shower after I read a story, mind you!
This leaves me with The End. Yes, how a story ends matters to me. Even if the writing so far was great, a story will lose all its appeal if somehow I get the feeling that something is missing, that not all questions were answered, that I am left wanting. Keep your reader satisfied.
Of course, after you wrote the Perfect Story, proofread it. Properly.
And then, there is zombies. Now, I don't have anything against zombies as such. But zombies are a bit like vampires: you can only stand so much of them and as the genre has been explored a lot already, the part that you actually want to see had better be damn good. This is doubly true for zombie apocalypse. Yet, this story is a great example for a well thought out, well executed zombie apocalypse tale. I love this piece.
See, it's the badly written zombies that I fear...