How Shimmer Falls in Love With Fiction

That you may have more fodder for your rejectomancy, here’s a behind-the-scenes view of how the submission and decision-making process works at Shimmer.

Submissions arrive in our submissions email: Currently, the volume is about 25 to 35 stories a day. At that rate, we’ll handle over 10,000 stories in a year. I do think that volume will continue; it’s about double what we were getting before we raised our pay rate (and has stabilized from more than 50 a day right after the announcement).

At most, we’ll publish around 30 stories a year, which means we need to be very good at rejections; otherwise, we would drown.  (Want to improve your odds? Read an issue or two. Issue 10 is even free. Read our guidelines. Also, be completely amazeballs.)

Every day, our Minister of Distribution, Sean Markey, distributes the day’s submissions evenly and randomly among the slush readers. (Sean gets that fancy title because he also helps out with distributing issues of the magazine: he’s the one who handles our conversion to other electronic formats, and gets them into Amazon and Weightless and other outlets.) We currently have 8 volunteers reading slush, and sometimes I’ll read some as well. You can see our current staff on our Shimmery People page.

Slush readers have two choices: they can either reject the story, which is what happens the vast majority of the time, or they can forward it on to the board for further consideration. It’s our goal to read each submission and make this first decision within three weeks. Often we’re able to reply much faster; currently, the oldest unread story in our submissions is dated August 21, which is a bit over 2 weeks. The biggest variability in response time for the first reading is the amount of time and energy the slush reader assigned to the story has.

We also do our best to write useful and friendly rejections; over and over again, we get feedback that writers appreciate them. We could probably reject stories a lot faster without this, but we have chosen to retain the personal touch. We don’t enjoy form letters any more than you.

Once a story reaches the board, Senior Editor Elise Tobler or I (sometimes both) give the story an initial read and give the story a “no” or a “maybe.” This usually happens within a week, but can take longer depending on personal circumstances. The “no” stories are rejected promptly, and the “maybe” stories rest.

Every year or so, there’s a story that we’re positive we’re going to accept from the first moment we read it. “Bullet Oracle Instinct,” by K. M. Ferebee. “Seek Him i’th’Other Place Yourself” by Josh Storey. There are a few others, but not many. Even those stories rest; we don’t accept them immediately. Why? Because sometimes a story that seems really shiny on the first reading doesn’t hold up on a second reading. We give ourselves the gift of distance and perspective on a story before making a final decision. It’s exactly the same dynamic as advising authors to take some time away from the story between drafts.

We let another week, or two, or more pass before the second reading. The decisions can get really tough at this stage. Are the story’s flaws fatal for us, or can they be fixed with edits? Should we ask for a rewrite (always fraught)? Am I reading this story fairly, or is my bias against, say, unicorns clouding my vision? What does the author intend in this section–do we agree with that intent, and can we bring it out more clearly? Do we still love the story after some time away, or was it forgettable? Even if it’s completely awesome, is it Shimmery? Occasionally, we’ll consult outside readers for their opinion on a technical matter or a style issue. Staff members comment on the stories, and Elise and I discuss them offline, sometimes at great length. Each story’s such a unique and personal thing, and we each have our own unique and personal takes on it

The decisions are very rarely clear or easy. They take time. Yeah, there’s some procrastination and avoidance at this stage — but it also just takes time. Elise tells me the longest wait within recent memory was about three months (which I think is shamefully long); our fastest was turned around within a week. (It is at this stage that sim sub withdrawal notices are problematic, especially since we do not accept sim subs.) We put a lot of careful thought into stories at this stage; we’re not just eating cake and watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race while your story languishes forgotten. I promise.

Will the decisions get easier now that we’re paying pro rates? It’s too early to say. Maybe there will be more obvious Yes stories; or maybe the decisions will get even harder when there are even more good stories to choose from, and the stakes are higher.

It’s easy for me to look at other editors and assume they all have the gift of instant clarity and make decisions faster than a speeding bullet, without any doubts or missteps. It’s easy to hear the chorus of voices that say UR DOIN IT RONG.  It’s the same trap I fall into as a writer, when I begin to believe that all other writers are constantly inspired and motivated and disciplined, and I’m the only one playing Plants vs Zombies instead of writing. It’s the trap of comparing my insides to everyone else’s outsides.

Publishing constantly teaches me to trust myself. This is my process. This is how I fall in love with Shimmer stories: slowly and carefully and deliberately. And that’s just fine.

To summarize:

Within 1 to 3 weeks, you should get a rejection or a hold notice. If it gets to be four weeks, by all means query; it is most likely that either your submission or our response went astray.

If you get a hold notice, you may get a rejection within 1 to 2 weeks. If it’s longer than that, your story is under very serious consideration, and you should hear one way or another within a few more weeks.


5 thoughts on “How Shimmer Falls in Love With Fiction”

  1. No, you’re not the only person playing Plants v Zombies instead of writing, that game is hilarious. Happens to everyone, that or one of those weird Diner Dash variations gets you…

  2. This was great to read. Also, I can’t stop playing Borderlands 2. I fret whenever a new video game comes out, becasue at that instant I KNOW I’m not gonna’ be writing as much as I should!

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