Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The Never-ending FAQ: clearing the backlog

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Never-ending FAQ, the constantly evolving adjunct to our Submission Guidelines. If you have a question you’d like to ask about Stupefying Stories or Rampant Loon Press, feel free to post it as a comment here or to email it to our submissions address. I can’t guarantee we’ll post a public answer, but can promise every question we receive will be read and considered.

This week, now that we’re finally closed to new submissions, I’m going to tackle the backlog of questions that piled up while we were preoccupied by the slush pile. In no particular order, and skipping attributions in the interests of expedience, here goes.

Q: You accepted my story [title] on [date]. When is it going to be published? 

A: The point of this open reading period was to get enough stories in the pipeline to keep SHOWCASE going through June. For the past few weeks we’ve been operating in a one-week-at-a-time mode. Now that we’re no longer dealing with the daily influx of new submissions, we have time to plan our schedule through June with a bit more care. So the short answer to this question is, “Sometime between now and the end of June.” You will be notified of your publication date once the schedule firms up.

Q: I submitted my story [title] on [date] and still haven’t heard from you. What’s going on?

A: We still have about 40 stories pending decisions. We should have all decisions made and acceptances or rejections sent out by end-of-day Friday of this week. If you haven’t heard from us by Monday, 8 April, please query. Both submissions and email messages can and do get lost. 

Q: You rejected my 1,000-word story, [title]. I have a longer version. Would you like to see it?

A: Thank you, but no. We’re serious about the 1,000-word limit for SHOWCASE. We keep a close eye on the readership metrics, and the ideal length for a story published online is around 750 words. Beyond that length readership drops off rapidly, and 1,000-words seems to be about the maximum length most people will read online.

Q: How many submissions did you receive in this reading period?

A: According to our tracking system, more than 800. To put this in more meaningful terms, this means we received about 20 stories for every single open publication slot. This is actually manageable. In previous open reading periods the ratio of submissions received to open publication slots has run as high as 50:1.

Q: You rejected my story ten minutes after I sent it! Did you even read it? 

A: Yes. I read everything that comes in. The first read is a quick scan, to see if the story meets our criteria and merits being passed on to my assistants for a more critical read. Their time is valuable. I want to make the best possible use of it. About half the submissions we receive are D.O.A. and never make it past my initial read.

If I happen to be in the email system at the time a submission comes in and have the time to give the story a quick scan right then; yes, a story can be rejected within minutes of being received.

Q: What sort of things make a submission D.O.A.?

A: We’re coming up with a short list and will be adding it to our Submission Guidelines before we reopen for the next reading period. For example, we’re not big fans of gross-out bodily function humor, so that will probably make the list.

Q: I sent you six stories and you rejected all of them, each one faster than the one before. What gives? What do you want?

A: We have heard of writers who actually brag about how they have hundreds of unsold stories in circulation and as soon as some market sends them a rejection, they immediately send their next available story to them.

If you have hundreds of unsold stories to circulate, perhaps you should give some thought to writing fewer but better stories. And perhaps, instead of just flinging whichever story is next on your stack at a given magazine with no forethought, you might consider sending them something they might like.

How do you find out what a given magazine editor might like? Reading a fair sampling of what they’ve already published is usually a good start.

Q: Ha! You rejected my story [title], but [another magazine] just accepted it and said it was great! Guess that shows you’re not so smart, huh?

A: Why bless your heart.

Look, if we all agreed on exactly what makes a story good to publish, we wouldn’t need so many editors working in this business. Nor would we need so many different magazines. In fact, we wouldn’t even need so many stories. We’d just have one perfect story, which would be reprinted and re-read down through ages, ad infinitum, and it would probably be either “Black Destroyer” by A. E. van Vogt or “The Cold Equations,” by Tom Godwin.

Q: I read your post on Ten Steps to Becoming Rich and Famous. If you’re so smart, how come you aren’t rich?

A: Because of a well-documented character flaw on my part: I hate to repeat myself. The market, however, rewards one-trick ponies who love to repeat themselves. I suppose I could have had a brilliantly successful career if I’d just kept writing “Cyberpunk” over and over, but to me, that would have been Sisyphean torture.

Q: On the same topic, you advise building a mailing list and putting 25% of your time into marketing. Isn’t that your publisher’s job?

A: Ideally, it’s both your jobs. Marketing comes in two flavors, push and pull, and while your publisher can do push marketing for a given book, you’ll draw far more readers and do better in the long run if you can pull them along into following you personally.

This doesn’t require an unreasonable amount of effort. It just requires being a little thoughtful and attentive. For example, whenever we publish a story by Karin Terebessy, she always checks the reader comments, and if anyone comments on her story she always responds, if only to thank them for reading. As a result, at least in part, Karin’s stories always draw at least twice the number of readers as most other stories we publish. She interacts with her readers, and thus they gladly follow her.

When I say “put 25% of your time into marketing,” I don’t mean hanging out on Facebook or Twitter or Mastodon or whatever. That’s playing, not working, and it’s an unproductive time-sink.

Q: Also on the same topic: if you’re so smart, why are you always asking for donations to Support Stupefying Stories

A: Because SHOWCASE is an experiment. We do SHOWCASE in place of buying more conventional advertising, because I’d prefer to pay authors for stories rather than pay Amazon for ad placement. The theory is that by publishing free stories on this web site, we can pull people along into supporting Stupefying Stories in general, and asking people to donate a few bucks to support the cause is a good way to gauge their appreciation and commitment.

However, if people continue to show us lots of Internet love, with plenty of likes and hearts and all of that stuff, but don’t support us with shares, retweets, and the occasional few bucks in the tip jar, then that makes the case that our advertising dollars would be better spent elsewhere.

I don’t know how to state it any more plainly than that.


If you like the stories we’re publishing, become a supporter today. We do Stupefying Stories out of pure love for genre fiction, but in publishing as in tennis, love means nothing. To keep Stupefying Stories going at this level we need to raise at least $500 USD monthly, and rather than doing so with pledge breaks or crowd-funding campaigns, we’d rather have supporters. If just 100 people commit to giving $5 monthly, we can keep going at this level indefinitely. If we can raise more, we will pay our authors more.


Please don’t make me escalate to posting pictures of sad kittens and puppies…


Karl Dandenell said...

Excellent points all around, sir!