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 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.
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.”

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.

“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.

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.

Worldcon 75 Schedule

Less than three weeks until the 75th World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki!

If you want to know where I’ll be, check out the appearances list of Escape Artists staff!

My two panels are:

  • Superintelligence (Thursday noon, 2014)
  • Critiquing: how to give and how to receive (Thursday 8pm, 209)

You can also find me at:

  • Escape Artists fan meetup (Wednesday 3pm, fan lounge)

Otherwise, I’ll be around acting excited!

Science Interview: With Me!

Want to learn more about what I do as a scientist? An interview with me went up today in the Science News and Information section at the up-and-coming pro SFF magazine Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores! The interview contains some discussion of my own research, but also a chat about how to get the public engaged in science, the big challenges of modern neuroscience, and how I squeeze science and writing into one life.

CRES is a great little publication, I’ve had stories appear there myself – but the science content is free for all to read. But if you enjoy it, consider a subscription to support their work and get access to all their great fiction!

Social & Conceptual Issues in Astrobiology

Last fall, I attended the 2016 Social and Conceptual Issues in Astrobiology conference (SoCIA, pronounced like “social”), a small academic conference on the big questions about life beyond Earth! The conference topic extends across a wide range, from social and ethical questions such as “What are our ethical obligations to alien life?” and “How can we leverage the popularity of astrobiology to improve science education?” to theoretical questions within science such as “What exactly is ‘life’ anyway?” and “What can be predicted about how extraterrestrial life might evolve and develop?”

Sound exciting? Well, that conference was only the start: SoCIA will return April 13-15, 2018, at the University of Reno in Nevada!

You don’t have to be an academic to present. In fact, the organizers would love to have some contributions from science fiction writers who want to tackle and discuss the future of humanity’s contact with alien life! Last year the speakers ranged from astronomers and biologists to social anthropologists and philosophers, plus two keynote speakers: one space simulation veteran and the former NASA historian.

If you’re a writer who’d like to contribute to the cutting edge of debate about the ramifications of real-world contact with extraterrestrial life (microbial or otherwise), consider submitting an abstract! 300 words, due date August 15. There’s no website yet for the 2018 conference1, so email me or leave a comment here and I’ll forward you the full info.2

Putting the Science in Fiction

My friend and fellow writer Dan Koboldt has just announced the sale of his nonfiction book, “Putting the Science in Fiction,” to Writer’s Digest Books.

An astute reader may notice that I don’t normally push other peoples’ books on this blog. But this one is a special case – because I’m going to have an essay on it! It’ll be based on Seven Things Authors Should Know About Cybernetics, my contribution to his Science in SF, Fact in Fantasy blog. But like all else in the book, the article will be expanded and deepened, so there’ll be plenty of new material – and ways to draw it together and apply it to your writing – when the book comes out in Fall 2018!