Category Archives: Admin

Escape Pod: The New Rejectomancy

Good news for all you writers out there: starting immediately (last update February 5, 2019), Escape Pod is changing their rejection letters to a newer, more transparent pattern.

Escape Pod rejection letters will now be explicit and transparent about exactly where your story got in our editorial pipeline. For the last two years, the letters contained that information, but to interpret it you needed to read my website. No longer! That means you’re free to stop reading this post right now, its information is no longer necessary. But if you crave a deeper knowledge of rejectomantic arts, feel free to continue onward.

If the rejection letter provides no details about who enjoyed your story, that means your story was rejected after initial Associate Editor review. If your story passed any of the following milestones, the rejection letter will tell you whether:

  1. An Associate Editor passed your story up to the Assistant Editor.
  2. The Assistant Editor (me) held it for a second read.
  3. The Assistant Editor passed it to Co-Editors for the final round of consideration.

Associate Editors read each story anonymized1, but the Assistant Editor and Co-Editors can see the author’s name and cover letter.2 This process gives each story an initial read where it must stand on its text alone, while still allowing the cover letter to play a role, especially if the author has experiences relevant to the story.

The new letters also provide approximate statistics about the stages of our pipeline (“about X% of stories reach this level”). We hope this context will be useful, especially for new authors.

Rejection “level” is not an indication of story quality. It only tells you what it says on the proverbial tin: whom in our staff thought it might be a good fit for Escape Pod.

The only exceptions to this formula are three rare cases, all of them self-explanatory. “Violated guidelines” (generally for stories that are too long or too short), “Revise & Resubmit,” and of course “Acceptance.”

Unlike in the past, reprints and originals now receive the same rejection letters.

PERSONAL NOTES

When possible, we try to include personal comments in rejection letters, below the form text. Most personal notes are written by me based on Associate Editor input. In addition, sometimes the Associates write up the a note for me to paste in, and of course the Co-Editors write their own for the final round. The presence (or absence) of a personal note does not reflect how well we thought a story would fit at Escape Pod. Generally, five 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 our reaction something we could meaningfully condense down to a sentence or two?
  4. Was there something in your cover letter that affected our desire to provide feedback?
  5. How hurried was I while sending out rejection letters?
  6. Was the story a reprint? (Reprints almost never get personal notes, because the story has already achieved its final form.)

As you can see, many of these factors have nothing to do with your story. We offer feedback as often as manageable,3 but we’re not your critique group.

WHAT MAKES A STORY FIT (OR NOT)

If you receive a rejection letter of any kind, we didn’t think your story was a good fit for Escape Pod. This can happen for 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 math: 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.

NOTES AND 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. This skips a story over one or more of the early tiers, but is not usually faster than the usual pipeline, nor does it necessarily affect the ultimate odds of acceptance. You may never notice from the outside.

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.

We don’t recommend paying attention to your story status in Submittable. It can change from “New” to “In-Progress” for reasons related to your story’s place in the pipeline (e.g. an Associate Editor read your story), or completely unrelated reasons (e.g. a new person joined the Escape Pod team). From the outside there’s no way to tell the causes apart. Relax, be patient, we’ll respond as soon as we have information to share.

This is an explanation, not a contract. This process was different in the past, and will surely change again someday.

The Year of Declines: Parsecs and WOTF

Escape Pod won the 2018 Parsec Award for “Best Speculative Fiction Magazine or Anthology Podcast.”

But don’t congratulate us yet. Because we – and our siblings over at PodCastle, who won “Best Speculative Fiction Story: Small Cast (Short Form)” – are declining our award.

In short, the Parsecs gave an award to a notorious harasser and abuser.1 When they discovered this, their reaction was not to deny a platform and publicity to someone with years of documented abuse, but to double down on the supposed virtues of their anonymized process.

Escape Artists co-owners Alasdair Stewart and Marguerite Kenner described our collective decision-making process here. PodCastle has released their own statement here. Alasdair earlier released a personal statement here. Escape Pod is still pondering a statement of our own, but given how good those statements are, it’s not clear how much brainspace we want to waste on this.

But I wanted to add a personal element.

This marks the second time this year I’ve been involved in withdrawing from a major award. When I withdrew from Writers of the Future, I ended my announcement with the sentence, “For myself, no award is worth supporting an organization that has hurt and misused so many friends, fellow authors, illustrators, and human beings.”

There are a lot of ways to hurt and misuse. The Parsecs aren’t directly, obviously harmful in the way Writers of the Future is. But if we’ve (all, collectively) learned anything from the internet over the last few years, it’s that unmoderated spaces become spaces dominated by harassers and abusers. Bad actors drive everyone else away. If an organization refrains from passing judgment, then only the worst participants will have the will and power to make judgments.

I understand the appeal and principles of above-the-fray neutrality. In practice, any organization must choose between those who would act abusively, and their victims. If you won’t banish anyone, the harmful people will do the banishing.

As Jennifer Albert said in the PodCastle statement, “Being non-partisan is not an excuse to shirk the responsibility to stand for justice.” As Alasdair said in his personal statement, “[Judging solely on merit] is impossible, and, bluntly, naïve.” And as Marguerite Kenner said in the Escape Artists statement, “No situation involving a group of people is apolitical; to claim to act in such a way… is willful ignorance.”

Identifying the abusers isn’t always easy. But sometimes an abuser has a multi-year, media-documented history of threatening behavior, and the basic standard of care for your community is clear. Or certainly should be.

For myself, no award is worth supporting an organization that would allow someone to hurt and misuse so many friends, fellow authors, podcasters, and human beings.

2018 in Review & Awards Eligibility

Another year is coming to a close, and much to show for it, ups and downs and every direction. I finished the first draft of a new novel, and worked on more short stories than I can shake a metaphor at. I made the Campbell Award longlist! I lost a Hugo award with the rest of the amazing Escape Pod team, and took part as we won and rejected a Parsec award. My final submission to Writers of the Future became a finalist, but I withdrew my story over ethical concerns. I sold 4 original stories, but two of those sales fell through when the magazines closed.

I had five original stories come out in 2018. In chronological order:

  1. Toward Lands Uncharted – Mind Candy, Feb 2018 (secondary world fantasy, 4900 words). A diplomat and spy must try to save her nation and its very history from their conqueror’s Sykes-Picot border magic.
  2. Where the Anchor Lies – Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Feb 2018 (science fantasy, 4000 words). A general visits the grave of the sentient battleship she loved, to use it as a political tool.
  3. The Seeds We Plant – Compelling SF special issue, Sep 2018 (science fiction, 2200 words). When a colony ship suffers a brutal accident, the pilot must reply on his emotional-control neuroprosthesis to save his cargo.
    • Not available free online. Contact me for a copy in the format of your choice.
  4. Elegy of Carbon – The Internet Is Where The Robots Live Now, Nov 2018 (science fiction, 4100 words). In the waning days of the solar system, a mining AI must find a new way to fulfill the purpose it loves.1
    • Not available free online. Contact me for a copy in the format of your choice.
  5. The Hammer’s Prayer – Diabolical Plots, Dec 2018 (contemporary fantasy, 3300 words). A golem hides away in ugly places, to help him resist the compulsion to share his gift of animation.2
    • If you only have time to read one story, this is the one I recommend.

I didn’t have much time for nonfiction this year, but I did publish:

  1. The chapter “What’s Possible with Cyborgs and Cybernetics” in Putting the Science in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books). I’m also quite proud of my associated writing-prompts post, “Machines, You, and Other Synonyms.”
    • Putting the Science in Fiction – a collection of 59 essays by scientists and other experts, designed to help authors write with authenticity – is eligible for the Hugo award for Best Related Work .
  2. Twelve new entries in the #NeuroThursday Twitter feature.

If you’re in a position to nominate for awards of any kind, I hope you’ll consider not only these fine works, but the whole team over at Escape Pod. We work hard every week to bring you the finest in audio fiction, and we’ll be eligible once again for the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine. We also published a lot of awesome stories, so take a look back at that list and see if one of them feels worthy of your love too!

Withdrawing from Writers of the Future

Earlier this week, I received a phone call informing me that my final submission to the Writers of the Future contest (first quarter 2018) had been selected as a finalist. However, after contemplating the information1 that past winners have shared about the contest in recent weeks, I have withdrawn my finalist story from consideration.

I would not judge anyone for their past (or future) decisions to be involved in the contest, whether or not they act(ed) out of ignorance. After all, many writers – myself included – have long treated this contest as a normal fixture of our community. I hope my choice will help encourage others to reexamine that assumption.2

For myself, no award is worth supporting an organization that has hurt and misused so many friends, fellow authors, illustrators, and human beings.

Updates:
• More links in footnotes (8/12/2018)
• Dream Foundry info (10/26/2018)
• SFWA statement added to footnotes (12/5/2018)

Escape Pod Rejectomancy Update

As of today, I’ve made a small change to how we at Escape Pod choose our rejection letters.

In short, rejection letter type now reflects where the story got in our editorial pipeline. The criteria for Tiers 1&2 have been updated, so that now:

  • Tier 1: Rejected by Associate Editor (first reader)
  • Tier 2: Rejected by Assistant Editor (me)
  • Tier 3: Rejected during Assistant Editor Second Pass
  • Tier 4: Rejected by Co-Editors

Note that, as a result, we will be sending more Tier 1’s than in the past. We have tweaked its text accordingly.

Now more than ever, tier is not an estimate of story quality. “Who detected that the story wouldn’t be a fit for Escape Pod” is not highly correlated with the (subjective) question of “how close the story came to fitting.”

If you miss having some subjective opinion in your rejection letter, fear not! We continue to provide personalized rejections whenever possible for original story submissions.

If you want to learn more, including how to identify which tier you received, check out my full Submissions and Rejetomany post.

Hugo Nomination: Semiprozine 2018

I got home last night from a weekend traveling by train, plane, and automobile. All of it in a state of shock over being a 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Semiprozine as part of the amazing Escape Pod editorial team, led by co-editors S.B. Divya and Mur Lafferty (and outgoing editor Norm Sherman).

You can find Escape Pod’s official announcement here, and I’m trying to add a few thoughts of my own, despite being largely in a loss-for-words state. Which means I’m just going to do an EMOTIONAL BRAINDUMP and you all gotta live with it!

First and most importantly, my thanks and love to Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, my two excellent co-editors, the pilots and visionaries of the finest pod in the galaxy. It’s a pleasure to serve under the both of you. Mur: you need but say the word, and any gourd shall die. Divya: double-extra thanks for putting your trust in me back when  I was just a baby!author. Plus, my gratitude also to Norm Sherman, helmsman of the pod for many years; and to Alasdair Stewart and Marguerite Kenner, the spine and spark of all we do across the Escape Artists family.

Second and ALSO most importantly, thanks to all the listeners, readers, and fans who make Escape Pod possible. We work hard to bring you the very best science fiction to brighten your jog, commute, kitchen, and more. We’re glad you love it, and in return, you inspire us to keep dialing up our awesomeness for you, year after year. That’s a promise.

Third and STILL most importantly, thanks to the rest of the awesome Escape Pod crew! Only a few names fit on the nomination, but every turn and flight of the pod depends on you. Tina’s hosting, Adam’s production work, Kay and Laura’s fantastic work in Artemis Rising, and the rest of the team – Santiago, Erin, Jen, Sarah, Darcie, Sandy, Peter, Darusha, and everyone else who’s come and gone (and stayed in our hearts) over the years.

Yes, you are all the most important. (Even all you people who are critical to my success, but not specifically to Escape Pod: family, friends, mentors, workshopmates, Codexians, Magnificent Seven+, and more. ) Deal with it. It’s my first big award nomination and I’ll gush all I want.

Fan Writer Eligibility: Neuroscience in 2017

If you’ve been enjoying all my work to bring neuroscience to the SFF author and fan community, consider: all this stuff makes me eligible for the Best Fan Writer Hugo award!

Here’s all of my public-audience neuroscience writing1 published in 2017:

1. The Evolved Brain in Clarkesworld
2. Tools and Problems of Human Neuroscience at the File 770 blog
3. Right Hand, Human Brain: The Mysteries of Handedness at Baen.com
4-34. Thirty-one neuroscience essays via my #NeuroThursday Twitter feature.2 A few highlights:

[Edit: #1 and #3 appeared in professional magazines, and therefore technically may not create eligibility for Best Fan Writer. So, focus on NeuroThursday – but you can still be aware of my whole body of work!]

I hope these pieces have contributed to your knowledge, entertainment, and awesomeness! If it has, consider nominating me for Best Fan Writer. But make sure you also nominate more deserving people like Alasdair Stewart and Sarah Gailey.

On the fiction side I’m in my second year of eligibility for the John. W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, with 7 original short stories and a lot of editorial work in 2016-2017. Check out the summary here!

Awards Eligibility 2017

We have passed the end of 2017, into the beginning of 2018, and that means the Eye of Awards have fallen upon us all, with its bleak and terrifying gaze.

I sold five stories to professional markets in 2017, but three of them will be published in 2018, leaving me with only two pieces of new fiction for 2017:

  • The Setting of the Sun, in Compelling Science Fiction: a 1300-word piece encompassing nine hundred million years in the life of a Dyson swarm.
  • Cyborg Shark Battle (Season 4, O’ahu Frenzy), in the Cat’s Breakfast anthology: an 800-word satire about backstage politics in a remote-controlled-shark-combat reality TV show. Also it is the most neuroscientific thing I have yet published.1
    • Reprint now available for online at Curious Fictions, or email me for a copy!

Also, 2017 was my second and final year of eligibility for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. In my two years of eligibility I have:

  1. Published seven original short stories, six of them in professional magazines: Strange Horizons twice, PodCastle, Flash Fiction Online, Cat’s Breakfast anthology (Third Flatiron Press), and Compelling Science Fiction. Also one semi-pro story at Metaphorosis.
  2. Sold another three professional short stories (to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Mind Candy, and Diabolical Plots), but those won’t be out until 2018.
  3. Served as the Assistant Editor of Escape Pod since May 2017. In this role, I decide which stories to pass up to our illustrious Co-Editors, write ≥ 80% of the personal rejection letters2, and recruit & manage our amazing team of Associate Editors (first readers). I’ve also increased our editorial transparency to our process, with a writeup of our pipeline and rejection letters here.
  4. Published nonfiction pieces about neuroscience in Clarkesworld, the File 770 blog, and Baen.com. I later expanded the Clarkesworld one into a solo presentation at the 2017 Nebula conference.
  5. Written thirty-one Twitter essays (and more in 2018) about neuroscience via my NeuroThursday feature.
  6. Been recommended by Rich Horton for this here Campbell Award!

The nonfiction in #4-5 also makes me eligible for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award. More thoughts and details on that here!

It’s hard to believe I’ve been a so-called “pro” for only two years. In that time I’ve accomplished a lot more that doesn’t fit on that list (written novel, edited novel, started querying novel, sold another couple short stories), but most important of all is the amazing community I’ve found: at workshops (well before I was doing anything “pro” myself!), conventions, online, and in person. So many new friends, mentors, and fellow-travelers out there, and I’m honored to know every one of you.

I’d love to conclude with some recommendations, since there are so many amazing writers out there, new and veteran, young and old. Unfortunately, the majority of my reading happens in the Escape Pod slush pile these days, so I don’t read nearly broadly enough. I look forward to reading your recommendations in the weeks and months (and years) to come!

But speaking of Escape Pod, if you’re pondering Hugo nominations, may I suggest our fine podcast for Best Semiprozine? Remember that our editorial turnover happened in early 2017, so this year make sure to list Norm Sherman as well as Divya Breed & Mur Lafferty as editors.

Three Years

On this date in 2014, I finally revealed to my friends & family that I was a writer. I’d shrouded my hobby in secrecy while I worked for my first 2-3 years (I typed my first words in late 2011), because I didn’t want to be Mr. Working On A Screenplay In My Basement. But on October 11 2014, I had sold one semi-pro story (though it wouldn’t get published for another year). More importantly, I was en route to the Viable Paradise workshop, and I had to tell people why I was headed to Martha’s Vineyard for my vacation!

In the three years since Viable Paradise, I’ve had 8 short stories published (6 of them pro), with 4 more on the way. I’ve become the assistant editor of Escape Pod, where I manage an awesome team and help select stories that go out to thousands of listeners every week. I’ve joined amazing communities of writers, editors, fans, publishers, and mentors, all of whom are brilliant and incisive and empathetic in ways I strive every day to replicate.

It’s been a great journey so far, and I can’t wait to see what the next 3/30/60 years will bring!

Two Exciting Websites

I’ve run into two exciting new websites in the last week, both related to short stories of science fiction & fantasy. Perhaps some of you out there can enjoy, or even contribute to, one or both sites!

First up is Curious Fictions, a new online aggregator for short SFF fiction. It’s got a searchable database of stories that have all appeared in professional-quality markets, and the option for readers to pay as they go, tip-jar style. If you’re an author with qualifying stories, the setup process is as simple as can be – and if you’re a reader, perhaps you’ll find some new stories to love!

Second is SFFreviews.com, a new website for reviews of short SFF fiction. They’ve got a distributed model, where volunteers sign up to write short reviews of the stories at one favorite magazine. This could be a great place to learn about brand new stories (unlike the reprints at Curious Fictions), or if you want to share the love and expand the conversation, you could sign up to review one of the magazines they’re still looking to cover!