A Manuscript's Odyssey, Part 1People always ask, but not always nicely, "What happens to my manuscript once you receive it?" Every publication is different, of course, but here at STUPEFYING STORIES, our process looks something like this.
When we receive a new, unsolicited manuscript, the first thing we do is bury it in soft peat for four months to give it that rich, smoky flavor—
Just kidding. The first thing we do is:
1. Check to make sure it's addressed to us. Yes, we do receive submissions addressed to other publishers. Unbelievable as it may seem, it happens all the time. One wonders what, say, Andromeda Spaceways makes of query letters demanding to know why they haven't responded to stories they never received.
And for future reference, the word in our publication name is Stupefying, meaning "to stun or astonish," not Stupifying, meaning "to make stupid." I used to be more tolerant of misaddressed email, but given the volume of submissions we receive, not any more.
2. Check to make sure there's a story file attached. You'd be amazed by how often we receive a cover letter without a story. And "story file attached" means attached, not posted on a file-sharing or "cloud" site. We're generally trusting people, but even we are not fools enough to click on links in unsolicited email messages.
3. Check to make sure the story that's attached matches the cover letter. Sometimes it's merely a matter of the writer giving his or her story file a goofy name, but about once a week someone sends us a cover letter extolling the virtues of one story and then the file for another. If the cover letter and file name don't match up, we'll try to figure out what's going on, and bounce the submission back to the author if needed.
4. Check to make sure the story is in a file format that we can read. Apple owners, this means you. We can't read .pages files. Stop sending them to us. There are other problematic formats, but Apple .pages files are the foremost offenders. Sending us an unreadable file only gets you an instant rejection.
5. Download the story file and scan it for viruses and malware. All submissions go into a quarantine area first, where they're isolated from our network, and then they're scanned to make certain they're safe to open. Yes, this is necessary, as we do receive infected files on a regular basis. Sending us an infected file only gets you an instant rejection.
By the way, this is the last point at which anyone sees your cover letter. Once the story file is separated from the cover letter, the cover letter goes into an archive, from which it is retrieved only when it's time to write the acceptance or rejection. Beyond this step, our readers will be judging your story strictly on its own merits; on what you've put into your story, not what you've written about it.
This step is also a significant point of failure for many stories. In perhaps ten percent of submissions, we'll see something in the cover letter that's so "off" it makes us want to look at the story right now.
This, despite what you may have been led to believe, is rarely a good thing. Once in an extremely rare while we'll be pleasantly surprised by the story. Far more often, though, this first look only confirms that creepy feeling we got from the cover letter: that at best, the would-be author has no frickin' clue how to write so much as a paragraph in intelligible English, and at worst, that the author writes fiction at the suggestion of his psychotherapist or parole officer, as a way to externalize his sickest sado-sexual psychiatric issues safely.
Such stories get an instant rejection. They never even make it as far as the slush pile, unless we're really overloaded with submissions and must open the floodgates solely to relieve the back-pressure.
6. Log the story as received. At this point we log the story into our manuscript tracking system by date received, author, and title; assign it a tracking number; generate a form letter to the author giving him or her the tracking number and our best (but rarely accurate) guess as to when he or she can expect to hear a response from us; retitle the story file, with a generated name composed of the tracking number_author name_story title
And now, we're ready to start passing the stories out to the Fearless Slush Pile Reader Corps, and for the real fun to begin!
...to be continued...