Gentle reader, I present to you: a behind-the-scenes look into the Escape Pod editorial process!
The Escape Pod general submission queue has 5 kinds of response letters (4 tiers and a special Reprint letter). Because the exact wording may vary over time, I’m only reproducing the key phrases that identify each tier.
Tier 1: Associate Editors (slush readers) didn’t think it was a fit for Escape Pod.
– “We appreciate your interest in our magazine and wish you the best in finding a home for your story.”
Tier 2: Associate Editors liked it, but nevertheless they or the Assistant Editor didn’t quite think it would fit.
– “We enjoyed this story, but unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us.”
– “We wish you the best in finding this a good home and look forward to your next submission.”
Tier 3: The Assistant Editor (me) thought it could fit, but it didn’t make the Final Round cutoff.
– “We enjoyed reading it, and it was well-received among our staff. However, it’s not quite what we’re looking for right now, so we’ve decided to pass on this one.”
–”We wish you the best of luck in finding the right home for this one, and we look forward to reading more of your work in the future.”
Tier 4: Final Round from the Co-Editors.
– “While we enjoyed reading it, it’s not quite what we’re looking for right now, so we have decided to pass on this one.”
– “That said, your story was very well-received and reached the final round of consideration.”
– Signed by the Co-Editors (all other letters signed by Assistant Editor)
Reprints: Replaces Tiers 1-2 (and sometimes 3-4) for reprint submissions.
– “We enjoyed reading this reprint, but unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us.”
The astute reader will notice I keep saying “a fit [for Escape Pod].” What does that mean?
WHAT MAKES A STORY FIT (OR NOT)
When we say a story doesn’t fit, it can be any combination of the following reasons:
- The story didn’t suit our personal tastes.
- We found problems with the story.
- We’ve seen too many stories like this.
- The prose would require too much editing.
- The story felt more like fantasy or horror than science fiction.
- The style wasn’t a good fit for audio.
This is fiction, not logic: subjective taste is our only true yardstick. We encourage everyone to keep trying no matter what flavor of rejection they receive! Many of our authors received several rejections of various types before we bought one of their stories, and many of our staff still receive rejections from other Escape Artists podcasts.
Rejection tier is not an estimate of quality. If you want to understand exactly what each tier means, you’ll have to follow…
THE PATH OF A STORY
When you submit to Escape Pod, your story goes into a single big queue. From there, any reader can grab a story and read it. Our hard-working Associate Editors (slush readers) do most of the work at this level. They read each story anonymously, which means they don’t see the submitter’s name or cover letter.1 They rate each story with a Yes, No, or Maybe, and leave some notes about how they reached their decision.
Soon thereafter, I view each story, along with its rating, notes, and cover letter. If the Associate Editor didn’t think it would fit in at Escape Pod, I send a Tier 1 or Tier 2 (or Reprint) rejection depending on their comments. If they thought the story might fit, I read it fully. Depending on my opinion, I either send a Tier 2 (or Reprint) rejection, or put it in my Assistant Editor Pile.
We aim to get all stories to this point within 1 month of submission. Assuming we’re on schedule, if any story sticks around longer than a month, that’s probably a good sign.
I use the Assistant Editor Pile to regulate the flow up to the Co-Editors so they can safely drink from the firehose. They need to put a lot of attention and effort into each story, so I only want to send them a limited number per month. Every two weeks, I review the pile and choose my favorite few (usually ≈6). I pass those favorites up to the Co-Editors, and I send the author an email to let them know we’ve held their story for the Final Round. If I reject a story at this stage, it gets a Tier 3 letter.
After that, Final Round with Divya and Mur! If they reject a story, they’ll send a Tier 4 letter.
Some rejection letters may come with personal comments, in addition to the form text. The presence (or absence) of a personal note does not reflect how well we thought a story would fit at Escape Pod. Generally, four factors influence this choice:
- Who on our staff read your story? (Are they someone more or less likely to write personals?)
- Did we think a comment would help this story or your future stories?
- Was there something in your cover letter that affected our desire to provide feedback?
- How hurried was I while sending out rejection letters?
As you can see, there’s a lot of chance involved. We offer feedback when the stars align, but we’re not your critique group.
Reprint rejection letters never get personal notes, because the story has already achieved its final form.
So many possible exceptions!
We try to go through the main queue from oldest to newest, but there’s a lot of jitter. For example, if one of us downloads 10 stories to their Kindle, the next reader might come along ten minutes later and respond to the 11th story.
The workflow can vary if I or one of the Co-Editors plucks a story from the queue. That can skip a story straight to the Final Round selection, though this may or may not be faster than the usual route.
“Revise and resubmit” responses are rare, but do exist. They (as of very recently) have their own form. I didn’t include them in the letter list because they’re self-explanatory.
Special submission calls aren’t under my management. Artemis Rising generally follows a similar workflow, but has only two editorial levels, and tries to send more personal responses.
This is an explanation, not a contract! This process was developed from existing Escape Pod policies and my own ideas, it could change again someday. On the same note, the process had some major differences before I took over as Assistant Editor (May 2017); for example, Tier 3 is something I invented to ease my management.