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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Talking Shop

Status Update: Some Lessons from the Slush Pile


In the slightly more than three months since we reopened to unsolicited submissions, we’ve received nearly 600 stories. We do log and track every submission received, and we do generate stats and look for trends. Our submission guidelines and reviewing processes are not everlasting and unchanging: we will be refining them as we move forward.

For an example of a process change, beginning in mid-June, we began sending confirmation-of-submission-received messages to all authors, to reassure them that we had in fact received their story and logged it into our tracking system. The confirmation message now includes the tracking number, which makes it much easier for us to respond to author’s queries. Going forward, you should receive a confirmation-of-receipt message within 72 hours of submitting your story, and we’ll be working to shorten that response time. 

For an example of a guidelines change, let’s talk about zombie stories. We aren’t quite ready to declare that we won’t consider them at all, but we are getting very close to shooting them on sight. Please, read Stupefying Stories #20, or at least SHOWCASE. If you don’t have a story better than “Zombie Like Me” by Clancy Weeks or “Lucky” by Russell C. Connor, we’re probably not the market for it.

That’s “better than,” not “almost as good as.” We see a lot of stories that might best be described as prose karaoke—but that’s a topic for another column.

The slush pile did get a bit backed up while we were in Iceland, but I’ve waded in with my metaphorical plunger and gotten things flowing again. The slush must flow. As of this morning we have 48 stories tagged as to be rejected, but for one reason or another the rejections haven’t been sent yet. (Most often it’s because the story has been tagged as needing a personal rejection, because either I or one of the first or second readers has something substantial to communicate to the author. {And no, K., I am not going to ask that author whether she was on drugs or off her meds when she wrote that story.})

We have 44 more stories on hold, which most often means they’re off with a second reader. One of the little behind-the-scenes changes we’ve made recently has been to expand our cadre of second readers. The first readers have the easy job: they just have to separate the wheat from the chaff. The second readers have to grade the wheat and make recommendations, and that job is considerably harder.

My job, of course, is to make the final cuts. Choosing to buy Brilliant Story “A” and reject Brilliant Story “B” is not fun. I have a whole new level of respect for George Scithers and Charles C. Ryan now.

Right now we have 16 stories tagged to be accepted, but that part of the process has been taking a back seat to getting the slush flowing and the book production process rolling again. As of 0700 this morning we had 20 stories out with the first readers, although that’s probably up to 25 by now.

It’s been a messy past three-plus months, but the business is making forward progress again.

Upward and onward,
Bruce Bethke

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Your methodology sounds good. I have always held on to the idea the longer it takes for me to receive information on any story I have submitted, the greater the chance it will be published.

Mark Keigley said...

Thanks for the update! Roto-rooting for all of you!