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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Slushpile Survival Guide

A Manuscript's Odyssey, Part 2

...continued from Part 1...

Once a manuscript has passed the initial battery of sniff tests and is well and fairly received, it goes into -- dun! dun! DAAAAAA! -- the Dreaded Slush Pile, where it awaits its turn to face the Fearless Slush Pile Reader Corps.

Actually, the STUPEFYING STORIES slush pile isn't all that bad a place. Strictly speaking it's a FIFO queue, which at any given time contains between 200 and 300 story files awaiting disposition. It's hard to get a precise fix on the exact dimensions of the slush pile because it's constantly changing, as new submissions come in and acceptances or rejections go out; for example this morning it contains exactly 271 files, but I also know that this number presents merely the illusion of precision, because these files are in different states ranging from just received to awaiting final disposition, and the number does not include the dozen or so new submissions that appear to be sitting in the inbox this morning. Moreover, it does include at least 50 stories that I know are waiting to be rejected; I just haven't found the time yet to write the rejection letters.

If you think of the slush pile as the DMV Waiting Room of the Damned for stories, you've about got the idea. Thank you for your submission. Please take a number, be seated, and wait to be called. Now serving number 1205103...

Your story's initial wait in the slush pile is actually much shorter than you might think. As soon as we collect new ten stories, we roll them up into a zip file and send them off to one of our first readers. The first reader in turn has a simple but crucial job: to look at the story -- to read the entire thing, if possible (sometimes it isn't) -- and then to return a verdict, either PASS or FAIL. Either the story is worth considering further, or it's D.O.A.

Some of our slush pile readers weren't happy with the simple PASS/FAIL system, though, so they came up with this seven-point scale for rating submissions:

PASS-6: I love it! I wish I'd written this one! Buy it now!
PASS-5: Not perfect, but a strong contender for acceptance.
PASS-4: I dunno. I'm not sure. Someone else needs to read this one.
FAIL-3: Not acceptable as-is, but could be if the author addressed these specific issues. Ask for a rewrite.
FAIL-2: Not acceptable and not obviously repairable, but the writing shows strong promise, so maybe his or her next story will be acceptable. Reject with encouragement.
FAIL-1: Not acceptable and the writing shows no promise of future improvement. Send a form rejection.
FAIL-0: My God in Heaven, what is wrong with this person? Reject with insults.

Of course, as soon as we adopted this system, our first readers started returning stories with ratings of "3.5," or ratings that extended the FAIL range deeply into negative numbers.

...to be continued...
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