Escape Pod: Submissions & Rejectomancy

Gentle reader, I present to you: a behind-the-scenes look into the Escape Pod editorial process!1

REJECTION LETTERS

The Escape Pod general submission queue has 8 kinds of response letters (4 rejection tiers, plus a Reprint letter and three special cases). The exact wording may vary over time, so here are the key phrases that identify each letter:

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 the Assistant Editor (me) didn’t 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 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 (instead of the usual Assistant Editor signature)

Reprints: Replaces Tiers 1-2 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.

Acceptance: Also self-explanatory. Huzzah! Go you!

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. Instead, it tells you where your story got in our pipeline. If you want to understand exactly what that 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.2 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.3 If the Associate Editor voted No, I send a Tier 1 (or Reprint) rejection. If they voted Yes or Maybe, I read the story. 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. 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 Tier 4. 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?

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

Reprints 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. At Tier 3 I usually include personal notes even for reprints; I’ve developed the summary during my decision-making process, so to omit it would just be hiding information from the author.

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 different in the past, and could change again someday.

SUBMITTABLE STATUS

If you check your story status in Submittable, you might (or might not) at some point spot it changing from “New” to “In-Progress.” Unfortunately, this tells you very little. All it means it that someone has done something with your story. Maybe it’s been read by an Associate Editor, or maybe its’ been downloaded to someone’s Kindle for later reading, or maybe the software has changed every story’s “assignment” status because we added or removed someone from our team.

Sometimes a status-change contains information about story progress, but sometimes it tells you nothing at all. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell which from the outside. Sorry!

  1. Last major update October 29, 2018: “Submittable Status” section.
  2. If you leave your contact info in the manuscript, we don’t trash it or send an Ineligible, but your failure to follow the rules will probably count against you.
  3. I and the Co-Editors see the submissions de-anonymized. That way, each story gets an initial anonymized read where it stands on its text alone, but the cover letter can still play a role, especially if the author has experiences relevant to the story.

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