Friday, March 29, 2013

The Slush Pile Survival Guide

"Twelve Tips for Making A Good First Impression"

by Katherine Karr, Editorial Minion

When you send a submission to STUPEFYING STORIES, the very first thing that happens is that it's received by a kindly, somewhat gray-haired, grandmotherly type woman -- in other words, me. Some mornings Bruce beats me to the inbox, but most morning's it's my job to:
  • receive the email
  • download the attachment
  • run it through our anti-virus and anti-malware filters
  • verify that the story file is actually openable and readable
  • log the submission into our tracking system
  • send the author an email confirming receipt of the submission and providing the tracking number
  • and then and only then do I put your submission into the review queue, for consideration by the first readers and editors
Since my mother taught me that it's always important to make a good first impression, here's what you can do to make a good first impression on me.
  1. Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date. If my anti-nastyware filters find a virus or trojan in your submission, it's dead on arrival.
  2. Make sure you're sending us the story you want us to consider. You wouldn't believe how often a submission arrives with one story title given in the cover letter, a different title as the name of the attached file, and yet another title in the manuscript itself. I have no way of knowing whether you decided to change the title of your story or sent us the wrong file by mistake.
  3. Make sure you're sending us a file we can read. Whatever else you may have heard, .rtf files are best, Word 97-2003 (.doc) files are the next-best, and Word 2010 (.docx) files the nextest-bestest. Bruce has a philosophical attachment to Open Office and its friends, but .odt files often prove troublesome. Don't send us Apple .pages files, PDF files, or Word Template or Macro files or anything like that.
  4. Send us a file, not a link to a file-sharing site. Email accounts get hacked or spoofed all the time and we receive an unbelievable number of email messages that ostensibly are from names we recognize, but in fact contain a link to a Belorussian malware site or something. All such email messages are deleted immediately.
  5. Be careful about putting web links in your cover letter. If you include too many, our filtering software may decide your message is spam and can it. Just this morning I fished such a submission out of the trash. The author had included so many links to other sites where his fiction is available, our filters decided it was spam and trashed it.
  6. ARTISTS! If you're hoping to get a cover assignment, send a query first, and preferably send it directly to Bruce. If you try to email your portfolio to the submissions address, it just overflows our inbox and takes me offline until Bruce can go in and manually delete your messages from our email server. He gets very crabby when he has to do that.
  7. Put the name of your story on the subject line. Including your name is nice, too, but don't go overboard in either the TMI or minimalist directions. I receive a lot of submissions that try to pack the author's entire c.v. into the subject line, but even more with the subject line, "Story Submission." When I have to search through several thousand email messages to find a particular one, meaningless subject lines make me cranky.
  8. Send one story per email. If you send one email with three story files, it complicates my job and according to Bruce is a pretty good indicator that you've just discovered us and decided to dump all your old trunk stories on us. Multiple submissions go straight to the "short shrift" pile.
  9. Write some kind of cover letter. You don't have to give us your entire resume, your philosophy of literature, or a detailed synopsis of your story, but whenever I receive an email with a blank subject line, no body content, and an attached file named "story.docx," it gets put into containment until Bruce has the time to examine it thoroughly and verify that it's safe to open.
  10. In the body of your message, be sure to include your name, your pen name if used, the title of the story, and whether this submission is exclusive to us or a simultaneous submission. This is important because exclusive submissions go to the top of the pile. This may only mean that your story gets rejected faster, but still, the editors will look at your story sooner rather than later.
  11. If you've sold to us previously, be sure to include that in your cover letter, because submissions from previous contributors also go to the top of the pile. (It's a big pile. There's a lot of room at the top.) Don't count on me to recognize your name, because as much as I wish I knew each and every one of your personally, I don't. I mean, how often does your own grandmother have trouble remembering whether your name is Katy, Kari, or Kathy?
  12. Finally, if you send a query about your story or a withdrawal because you've placed it with another publisher, please include the story title and the tracking number we sent you when we received your submission. It makes it a lot easier for me to track down your submission and keep our tracking database up-to-date.
Thanks for reading this, and I look forward to seeing your submissions,

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013: The Year in Review, So Far

Good grief, is it the end of March already?

I was doing some unnecessary grumbling the other day, along the lines of why am I so tired and where has all the time gone, when my wife simply said, "Look at your planner." So I did.

Oh yeah, that's right. I've been on The Kick since the second week of February.

The Kick, if you're not familiar with it, is a distance-runner's term for the last leg, the last lap, that last chance to change the outcome of the race. It's the moment when you dig down deep within yourself, find every last reserve of energy you've been holding back, and pour it all out in one enormous burst, to leave everything on the track and save nothing for whatever may come after you've crossed the finish line. Which, in case you've wondered, is why so many distance runners celebrate finishing a big race by immediately keeling over and barfing.

I don't run anymore, thanks to a downhill skiing accident some years ago that made hamburger out of the cartilage in my right knee. I do however work in software development, and the last weeks before a big software release have more in common with the end of a big race than you might imagine, except that distance runners generally don't carbo-load on Dr. Pepper and Nacho Cheese Doritos and programmers generally attribute their keeling over and barfing to having had too much fun at the release party.

One software release, I could have taken in stride. Two releases would have been doable. But I've wound up running the anchor leg on three different software releases in the past two months, and something had to give. I'm sorry to say it was STUPEFYING STORIES.

Some things are going very well. The changes to our submissions process have proven effective: we're now getting much faster turnaround on first and second reads, and the Fearless Slush Pile Reader Corps is back to keeping pace with new submissions. The submissions audit has gone mostly pretty well: we still have a few stories in the Curios & Relics bin, but are largely caught up to about 60 days ago. At present there are 44 stories in the "Well, do we buy it or not?" bin, 54 stories in the "Let's buy it now!" bin -- (although there are some issues here; more about that in a moment) -- and 24 stories currently awaiting rejection. Sorry, I don't have the aging data handy at the moment.

The contract audit has gone rather less well. After several rounds of, "It was filed where?", we've decided to start over and reissue new contracts for everything we currently have under contract but not yet published, save for those folks who've asked to be released from their contracts. I'm somewhat disappointed that some writers have lost faith in us, but honestly, can't fault them for doing so. Our publishing schedule has been wildly erratic, and is likely to remain so for the next three months.

Ergo, if you're waiting for us to send you a contract, or waiting for us to send you the renewal for a contract that's either expired recently or is set to expire soon: please bear with us just a little longer. We are getting this straightened out. The mess was just plain bigger and more complicated than it looked at first. Particularly if you're one of the 54 authors in the "Let's buy it now!" spaghetti bowl bin: we're still figuring who's been sent a formal acceptance and now needs a contract; who's been sent a message saying they're going to be receiving a formal acceptance Real Soon Now but hasn't actually been sent an acceptance letter; and who still hasn't even been notified that we're holding their story for a second read, much less that we like it and want to buy it.

And, if you're one of the many authors who's sent me a query lately asking one thing or another: no, I'm not ignoring you. I am keenly aware of the stack of unanswered email sitting in that bin, and it gnaws at my conscience...

But I have a few more mods to check-in for the big software release that's scheduled to go out at the end of this week, and once I get them all buttoned up and ready to go, I can get back to getting caught up on answering email.

This is not where I wanted STUPEFYING STORIES to be at the end of March. I'd hoped to have at least two new books released -- preferably four -- and be in position to announce some of the big changes that we've been working on behind the scenes for the past few months. But Otogu the Insatiable is a capricious and sometimes whimsical taskmaster, and once again our plans ha' gang agley, as aft they do. Always learning and evolving, we are.

Stay tuned,

Friday, March 8, 2013

In lieu of a column today...

Here's a golden oldie from the archives of The Friday Challenge. The challenge was:
It's a few years in the future. You're a freelance writer working for some publication whose nature you're free to define, and you're writing a review of the controversial new children's book: Heather Has Two Mommies, Three Daddies, A Pig's Spleen and a Baboon's Heart. What do you want to tell your readers about this book?
Herewith, one of the more unforgettable answers.