Status Update: UFO2 and Coffee anthologies

August 8, 2013


Figured I’d post a quick report on how the two anthologies I’m currently editing are coming along.

UFO2 is nearly done. The digital ARC has gone out to authors. They have until the 10th to review their stories and request changes. Our proofreader is going over the text as well. There are numerous small fixes that need to be made.  By mid-month, the ARC should be available to reviewers and Kickstarter supporters for whom early access was one of the rewards.

Arnie Swekel is working on the cover and should turn it in before the end of the month. Once we have it, the book is off to the printer and I’ll be able to announce the release date. The ebook files are being currently worked on as well.

Meanwhile, I’m still reading submissions for COFFEE, both originals and reprints.

As of today I have accepted 6 stories (4 reprints and 2 originals) totaling just under 15,000 words of fiction.

There are 18 more stories being held for consideration, totaling 43,000 words.

The book will total approximately 40,000 words (it will be smaller. but also cheaper, than one of the UFO anthologies). So even if we were to close to submissions today, I wouldn’t be able to accept every story I liked, and more are arriving at a clip of 5-8 per day. This is actually a very light load, compared to UFO, because the theme of this book is so narrow. I’m enjoying not getting buried under the slush pile and responding to most submissions in under 24 hours. As of right now, all submissions received prior to 6pm today have been responded to. This also means if you haven’t heard back from me, please query!

I will be out of town attending WorldCon when the submissions close, so it may take me a few days to read/catch up on everything when I get back. Still, I expect to make all final decisions in early September and have this book out in November.

And now, back to the previously scheduled reading of submissions.




It Came from the Slush Pile

May 6, 2013

It was only yesterday that I wrote a blog post about the UFO slush pile and had this to say:

This doesn’t mean that you can’t sell us a zombie reality TV story about a road trip in space. But it won’t be easy.

Challenge accepted! Less than 24 hours later, this story showed up in the UFO inbox.

Unfortunately I can’t include it in UFO2. A certain level of familiarity with the slush process is necessary to appreciate it. And reading the previous blog post is a must for an even better experience. But I thought it would make a perfect blog post, and also serve as a warning to all those who would submit real zombie/alien/reality TV stories to our slush pile, or any other. So I offered to buy the non-exclusive rights to post the story on this blog.

This is the author’s first story sale, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that.

Without further ado, presenting



By Rachel Winchester

“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Dr. Rostrum.  It’s hard to find a psychiatrist who’s taking on new patie… — of course, I can call you Bob. No problem.

“But, this gets a little personal, and if I could call you Doc– right, yes, I guess you’re used to hearing personal stuff. OK. Bob it is.

“Right, 50 minutes. So…it all began when I was reading submissions for a short story anthology. Science fiction stuff, supposed to be funny. You wouldn’t think there would be that many people willing to put in that kind of work for a shot at $100 or so, but there were thousands of submissions.

“I drank coffee and read manuscripts and drank more coffee and read more manuscripts until my eyelids felt like thresher blades and my eyeballs throbbed with each of their harvesting passes. I divided the stories into piles: FUNNY and NOT FUNNY. Then, to my horror, I realized I had to add another pile.


“I mean, I like some zombie movies, but I don’t get why they’re a thing, you know? They’ve got to be a symbol for something. Maybe because no one owns zombies. I mean, Lucas, or I guess Disney, isn’t going to sue anyone over zombies.

“And the submissions kept coming. Story after unfunny story about zombies, Bob. ‘I Was Married to a Zombie’, ‘Road Trip with a Zombie’, ‘We Can Zombie It For You Wholesale’, and ‘Do Zombies Dream of Electric Brains.’ And the worst part, Bob?  The absolute. Worst. Part? The zombie stories with bonus-gratuitous-rape.

“It was a veritable Penthouse Forum for Zombies.

“But I’d promised the editor I’d read them all. I didn’t even consider stopping.

“Then I got one in Comic Sans.

“What? No, I’m okay, I’m good…it’s just that…thinking about that font…I can see it…and…

“I’m good, seriously. Right here. Right here on the couch, Bob. See? Breathing normally. But thank you for the water. I think I’m ready to continue.

“Yes, there’s more. I know, you’d think it couldn’t get any worse than Com…that font. But it did. It did.

“Something about seeing a manuscript sent in looking like second-grade teacher’s syllabus jerked me awake, that’s the only way I can explain it. It made me realize how completely irrational it was to be living on coffee and Luna bars, reading slush. It made me realize that I’d been a total bitch to my partner every time she came in to suggest I take a shower or change my clothes. It made me realize that in the background, I’d been vaguely aware she was talking to a camera crew in the other room. About me.

“I know, I know, it sounds like paranoid delusions. But trust me, it wasn’t. It was much worse. You see, I realized then that I was on a reality show.

“Something called True Lives of Starving Writers. They were inter-cutting shots of authors slaving over pirated copies of Scrivener on refurbed laptops, voiceovers about how one guy had to switch to generic beer because he couldn’t afford MGD anymore, not until some magazine accepts his zombie porn story. Then they’d show me just shredding the submissions, and, God, they would even show my relationship coming apart. As you probably know, Bob, my partner had been telling the viewing audience about how she was trapped in this totally loveless marriage.

“I was mortified. I would never…I mean, sometimes I get into my writing, but I never thought I’d cut into our time together, and certainly not for slush.

“Also, and I have to explain this, the inner workings of the slush pile are sacrosanct. I’m doing this to pay my dues too, and learn from the submissions to make me a better writer. I would never go on a reality show and talk about it. And Darla…Darla would never go on one either.

“That’s when I knew something was really wrong. I knew it like I knew the sensation in my a–… my posterior–wasn’t from too much coffee and Luna bars. And I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but–

“Heh, yeah, I guess you would hear that a lot, Bob. But really, the pain in my…posterior, what I thought was the pain of reading a story with too many zombies and a vampire thrown in for good measure? That pain was actually a probe. An alien anal probe.

“Aliens had kidnapped me, beamed me up, and were making me believe I was on a reality TV show about science fiction writers, and they were doing it because they were on a road trip and they were bored.

“You got that, Bob? I was a goddamn travel game some alien teenagers had picked up during a road trip pit stop on Earth.

“As I realized my plight, a gizmo on the aliens’ space-van dashboard started to beep. It got louder and louder…the aliens started to run around the van, tentacles flailing over their heads.  But I knew that sound. I sat straight up in bed, my alarm clock beeping at top volume. I was in my own bed, and whole thing was a dream!

“But, Bob…waiting for me, on the desk in the corner, were all those unread submissions.  And there, on the floor next to the desk, were three piles of manuscripts:  FUNNY, UNFUNNY…and ZOMBIES.


Rachel Winchester (@RaqWinchester) was born in Roswell, NM, and believes her love for science fiction was inevitable.  She has lived and worked around the world, including in Bucharest, Kuala Lumpur, Sana’a, Athens, Caracas, and Los Angeles. She now works as a government consultant.  This is her first story sale.

Anthology Update – Our Reading Process

June 17, 2012

This is what happens to stories that are submitted for publication in Unidentified Funny Objects.

Round 1

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:


Round 2

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.


Round 3

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