This is what happens to stories that are submitted for publication in Unidentified Funny Objects.
I open all incoming mail and read the submissions first. At this stage I’m looking at a couple of things:
* Is the story well-written?
So far almost every submission I received clears this benchmark with ease. Then again, that’s because submissions have been open to SFWA and Codex members and you don’t get to join those without a considerable amount of skill. I’m also OK with some minor problems/issues that we can fix in editing. You will never get rejected because of a typo or because of 1-2 awkward sentences. Of course, if the manuscript is riddled with both, that’s another story.
* Is there a coherent story arc and a good ending?
This is where many of the submissions fail for me. In some cases (often in flash stories) they’re a delivery system for a joke or a clever idea the author had. In other cases the setup is great and the story is interesting, but it peters out in the end. Endings are *hard* to do well and it’s disappointing to see a story which shows a lot of potential early fail to live up to that potential on the last page.
* Is the story funny?
In order to be considered for UFO, the story has to be humor, and not merely lighthearted. To paraphrase a comment one of the associate editors made on a recent submission: “A story with a bit of character-based humor isn’t a ‘humorous story’ no matter how much you want five cents per word.” A large percentage of submissions are rejected because, while they’re good, competently written stories, they aren’t particularly funny.
“But Alex,” you might say, “everyone’s sense of humor is different. What if it isn’t funny to you but hilarious to lots of other people?”
Or, to quote the submission guidelines from Daily Science Fiction, one of my favorite SF ‘zines: “one alien’s funny bone is located near another species’ sac of indifference.”
I’ve tried to solve this problem by utilizing a panel of readers.
Which brings us to:
Stories that I like enough to consider publishable (including some that I don’t find very funny but suspect others might) are advanced into the second round of consideration.
I strip all author information from the document and pass them along, anonymously, to a panel of readers. Why, you ask? I want stories from unpublished authors to be given the same consideration as those from Nebula nominees. In fact, several submissions from actual Nebula nominees met an ignoble end in the second round thus far.
Each associate editor reads the story and sends me their vote and their comments. They can vote “No,” ‘Yes,” or “Maybe.” The “Maybe” vote is reserved for those stories where the reader thinks it might be good but its sense of humor doesn’t align with their own, or stories that someone is genuinely on the fence about. You’d be surprised at how often the “Maybe” vote is used.
Readers are encouraged (but not required) to provide a few sentences of comments on the submission, especially if their vote is a no. If the story is rejected in the second round I provide some of that feedback to the author, so they may consider it (or not) for making possible changes before they send their story on to the next market.
So far we’ve kept stories in round 2 anywhere between two days and eight days. Everything is read quickly, but some are more difficult decisions than others. Occasionally there’s quite a lot of back and forth between us on a particular story. One of us might champion a specific submission that others didn’t like as much, and vise versa.
Stories with a high percentage of “Yes” votes (and not a single one has been unanimous yet) are advanced into the third round of consideration and I e-mail the author a ‘Hold Request’ — asking permission to sit on their story until early September. At that time the remaining slots in the table of contents will be filled with these stories.
Why make people wait so long? Suppose an author submitted a good, funny story about time traveling to the 1950′s. The story advanced through the rounds and was held. But then, another author submitted a story that is absolutely brilliant, and it also happens to be a 1950′s time travel piece. We’re very unlikely to publish two similar stories, and so the former one has to be released.
Other considerations such as available space and variety (I want a mix of genres and styles) also come into play.
Not every story has to wait until September. On very few occasions the story is so amazing that I *know* I want to include it, no matter what. These stories get accepted early and we begin work on the copy-editing and contract process. Several acceptances have been sent out, and I hope to begin announcing them as early as this coming week