Category Archives: Short Stories

Escape Pod: Submissions & Rejectomancy

Gentle reader, I present to you: a behind-the-scenes look into the Escape Pod editorial process!

REJECTION LETTERS

The Escape Pod general submission queue has 6 kinds of response letters (4 tiers, plus a Reprint letter and two special cases). 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.
Key phrase:
– “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.
Key phrases:
– “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.
Key phrases:
– “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.
Key phrases:
– “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 any tier for reprint submissions.
Key phrase:
– “We enjoyed reading this reprint, but unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us.”

Ineligible: For stories that don’t meet critical parts of our guidelines, usually by being too long or too short. No matter how well the story might fit otherwise, we can’t publish it.
Key phrase:
–”Unfortunately, we cannot consider it because it does not meet our submission guidelines.”

Revise & Resubmit: Self-explanatory if you get one. Very rare; less frequent than acceptances.

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:

  1. The story didn’t suit our personal tastes.
  2. We found problems with the story.
  3. We’ve seen too many stories like this.
  4. The prose would require too much editing.
  5. The story felt more like fantasy or horror than science fiction.
  6. 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.2 If the Associate Editor voted No, I send a Tier 1 or Tier 2 (or Reprint) rejection depending on their comments. If they voted Yes or a Maybe, I read the story 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.

PERSONAL NOTES

Some rejection letters may include personal comments in addition to the form text. Most personal notes are written by me based on Associate Editor input, but sometimes the Associates write up the a note for me to paste in. 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:

  1. Who on our staff read your story? (Are they someone more or less inclined to write personals?)
  2. Did we think a comment would help this story or your future stories?
  3. Was there something in your cover letter that affected our desire to provide feedback?
  4. 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 almost never get personal notes, because the story has already achieved its final form.

EXCEPTIONS

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.

If a reprint submission gets a personal note or a regular Tier 1/2 rejection (instead of a Reprint rejection), don’t read anything into it. I’m sufficiently overtrained on the original-story workflow that sometimes I accidentally follow it for a reprint.

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.

Publication: Cyborg Shark Battle

Today’s the day, my friends: time to unleash Cyborg Shark Battle (Season 4, O’ahu Frenzy) upon the world!

The anthology Cat’s Breakfast is now available for purchase in ebook, and a trade paperback will be available from that same link in a few days.

I’m thrilled to be able to share this story with you all at last. It’s got ridiculous social rituals, backstabby social dynamics, reality TV, and brain-machine interfaces. In other words, a recounting of my time in graduate school, only with more reality TV and less-dangerous animals.

As silly as this story may sound, I actually consider it hard SF. It extrapolates modern trends and technologies into entirely plausible directions of new profit…

P.S. If you sign up for my mailing list soon, the June newsletter will contain a free teaser excerpt!

Story Sale: Setting of the Sun

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve just sold “The Setting of the Sun” to Compelling Science Fiction!

Compelling is a new professional science fiction market with a focus on hard SF, and this story should fit right in: it’s full of cosmology and chronology, told from the point of view of a Dyson swarm across nine hundred million years of history.

Did I mention the story is only 1300 words long? Yeah.

Coming August 1, 2017!

Story Sale: Cyborg Sharks!

I’m thrilled to announce that my flash-length science fiction story, Cyborg Shark Battle (Season 4, O’ahu Frenzy), will be appearing in the Cat’s Breakfast anthology, coming out this summer in e-book and paper from Third Flatiron Press!

It’s a small press, but they’re a pro market, and from what I hear about the table of contents, it’s going to an amazing anthology, on the theme of Kurt Vonnegut’s style and sensibility. I think my little story will fit right in, with its dry and wicked tale of the back-stage and -stabbing shenanigans among reality TV show competitors. And cyborg sharks, naturally.

I’ll be back to tell you more about it in June when the anthology comes out!

Reprint publication – Sweeter than Lead

My neo-Lovecraftian short story, “Sweeter than Lead,” is now up at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores!

Subscription required, but it’s only a few dollars a year – and all the stories there (mine included) come with original artwork! Money well spent, with the articles and stories that come out every week.

If you want to read more about the story, check out the notes that accompanied its original publication at PodCastle.

Event Horizon 2017 Anthology

The Event Horizon anthology has come out today, and is free for all to download until July 15!

This is the latest in a long line of Campbellian Anthologies, containing the works of over 75 people eligible for this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Everyone in here published their first professional piece of science fiction or fantasy in 2015 or 2016. I’m eligible myself, so you’ll find one of my stories in the anthology – though if you follow my blog, you’ve probably read the story already!

The award is selected by members of this year’s World Science Fiction Convention, with the finalists decided this week, and the winners in a few months. But anyone can read and enjoy nearly 400,000 words by this year’s most promising new writers!

Reprint Sale: Sweeter than Lead

I’m thrilled to announce the sale of another reprint. My neo-Lovecraftian dark fantasy “Sweeter than Lead,” originally a PodCastle original, will be appearing in a future issue of Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores! Most exciting of all, they plan to publish it with an  illustration. This is my first time one of my stories will get artwork, and I can’t wait to see what emerges. I’ll make sure to let you all know when it does!

Reprint publication: Meltwater

My short story Meltwater came out today at Escape Pod, the internet’s oldest and finest source of audio science fiction! Rajan Khanna gave it an absolutely lovely reading, the perfect balance of mellow and melancholy. If you read the story last year, go forth and listen to the new interpretation – and if you didn’t, now’s your chance to discover my first professional short story!