A word from the editor
I try to provide all the information a submitter could want in our responses. However, for those of you who like to dig deeper, here’s a little information on how we respond.
I look at artists’ galleries. If interested to work with them, I discuss process.
The bulk of submissions are stories. We’re still refining our process, but here’s how it works now.
Stories are first read the day after they arrive (sometimes the same day). I read all the stories myself. If I don’t want a story, I send out a rejection. If I think a story has promise, I assign it to slush readers. (If you’re interested to be one, see the About page). When I get their comments back, I make a determination whether to reject the story, reject it with a request for a rewrite, or accept it.
For those who request feedback, I try to note:
- cutoff – when we decided the story was not for us: start, middle, end. ‘Start’ cutoffs almost always indicate a problem with opener or prose quality. ‘End’ cutoffs often indicate a problem with the resolution.
- prose scale – how close the prose was to what we’re looking for (1=far, 5=close). This is a very rough measure of how well I thought the prose worked, not its match to a particular style.
- comments – brief comments on what we thought were weaknesses.
The prose scale
In broad terms, all with relation to what this particular editor is looking for, the prose score corresponds roughly to:
- 1 – your prose needs a lot of work on basics – grammar, punctuation, etc. Your focus should be on improving your prose.
- 2 – your prose works, but is clumsy, has frequent grammar issues, etc. Your focus should be on improving your prose.
- 3 – your prose is functional, but isn’t particularly subtle or evocative. Most submissions fall in this category. You should still work on your prose, but along with other issues.
- 4 – your prose is strong, and often works on two levels at once. The balance is generally good. You don’t need to worry much about your prose.
- 5 – your prose is excellent.
I’ve bought stories that started at 3, and rejected stories that earned a 5. Prose quality is important to me, but it isn’t all there is to a story.
I currently use the following categories, each of which has a specific response template:
- Reject (default) – most stories fall in this category. It simply means that I didn’t think the story matched our needs. The story may work elsewhere, and other stories by the author might work for us.
- Reject (encourage) – in some cases, I didn’t feel the story worked for us, but there was something about the writing that intrigued me. I specifically encourage these authors to try us again with something else.
- Reject (rewrite) – in some cases, I really liked the story, but didn’t think it quite worked for us, and felt it needed more than minor changes. I offer these writers the opportunity to submit a revised version of the story. Usually that leads to several exchanges before we reach a final version.
- Accept – I may suggest minor edits, but we’ll buy the story. Once we agree a final text, I’ll send out a contract for you to sign, along with a 1Q interview question. As soon as I get back the signed contract and your PayPal address, you get paid.
See the statistics page if you’re interested in a breakdown with a little more data.
What I look for
I read each story personally, and I make the final decision. Here’s what I find most important:
- Opener – I want the opening line to be strong. If it’s awkward, convoluted, or tortured, that’s often a sign that I won’t like the rest of the piece either.
- Prose – I can usually tell whether I’m satisfied with the quality of the prose within a couple of paragraphs. Occasionally there’s an exception for an experimental approach, an epigraph, etc., but usually my read of those first paragraphs is pretty accurate.
- Resolution – I want the story to have a satisfying and appropriate ending.
Below are some terms that tend to turn up in comments from me or the slushreaders.
- Weak opener. The opening sentence is a key indicator. Ideally, it will grab the reader’s interest, set the tone for the story, and give a sense of the premise. That’s a lot to ask of one sentence, which is why it’s worth spending some time on. Not all stories have to start with quite such a kick, of course, but we see a lot that try to and fail. If your opener is ambiguous, has lots of clauses, or isn’t gripping, you may want to rethink it.
- Clumsy prose. This is probably the most frequent comment I make and see. It encompasses a range of evils, but basically means that the prose just doesn’t flow smoothly. It’s not a question of adornment, but of grace. Highly poetic prose can suffer from this as much as simpler styles, though it happens less often.
- Overwritten/overwrought. This usually means that the writer has gone overboard with images and metaphors. They may be good individually, but occur too often, or they may be strained from the start. Metaphors are great (cf. title of magazine), but should be used with finesse.
- Awkward backstory/infodump/exposition. You have to get your backstory in somehow (or do you? We often see backstory that could be cut), and the easiest way is to just dump it into one long paragraph. Most of the time, that’s either dull or interrupts the flow of the story. There are authorial tricks to avoid this (“remind me what happened in 2089, Linda”), but mostly they come across as just that – tricks.
- Grammar/punctuation/tense/semantic errors. Poor grammar, typos, sudden tense shifts, happen to all of us sometime. Too many of these, though, indicates the writer hasn’t proofread carefully. Semantic errors generally means we think you’ve chosen the wrong word – not just that there’s a typo, but an impression you don’t know what the word means, or you’ve chosen the wrong homonym.
- Character not credible/distant/… There’s a lot to say about character, and I can’t cover it all here. The word ‘character’ in the comments is a flag that we think there’s a weakness of some kind there. When I say a character is distant, it generally indicates I didn’t empathize with, sympathize with, or relate to a character – that I didn’t find a reason to care what happened to them. It’s often because I don’t know them very well, or don’t see what they’re feeling/thinking.
- No story/resolution. A surprising number of stories don’t have enough story to them. That is, they’re slice-of-life pieces, or vignettes, or for some other reason add up to “So what?” ‘Weak resolution’ is my shorthand for “I didn’t feel satisfied with the emotional climax of the story. It didn’t wrap up in a way that made me feel reading the story had been a worthwhile investment of time and intellectual energy.” Sometimes the story just stops. Sometimes the end is fine, but just not strong enough for the bulk of story preceding it (a.k.a., the story was too long for the ending). As a reader, I want to feel some kind of emotional resolution when I reach the end of the piece – something that ties all the pieces together and makes me feel something more than “Gosh what a clever idea/unusual situation.”
Of course, we’re not unique in providing feedback to authors. From my own experience, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Deep Magic, Shimmer, and ASIM all consistently provide useful feedback. I’m sure there are many more venues that do, and of course Grinder and Duotrope provide an easy way to find these. Feel free to suggest other venues in the comments.
If you have submitted five or more stories without an acceptance, were a Patreon supporter when you submitted, and want some overview feedback, send us an e-mail. If I see a common weakness among your submissions, I’ll let you know, and suggest areas you might work on if you want to sell to us.