I’m Tina (aka Alin), the executive editor of The Dread Machine. We saw some talk on Twitter about how obscure the slush reading and rating process can be, and we completely agree. While we’re open about all of our protocols in our Discord server and happy to answer questions, we agreed it would be a good idea to share our practices here, where everyone can see them.
Every publication processes submissions differently, but it’s important for writers and poets to remember that art is very subjective. Some of our editors’ favorite stories were rejected up to twenty times before finding a home with us. If you’re interested, you can see our submissions metrics here.
Every submission put before our Gatekeepers has been stripped of the author’s identifying details. Only after a submission has been accepted do we learn the author’s identity. This system creates a level playing field. Stories must stand on their own merit, separate from the author’s name, reach, and professional accomplishments.
We receive a lot of submissions. To keep our workload manageable and our response times prompt, Gatekeepers are instructed to read the first 3-5 paragraphs of each submission, then ask themselves two questions:
1.) Is the writing grammatically and mechanically sound?
2.) Am I compelled to read more?
If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” they are to stop reading, rate the submission on a scale of 1–10, and explain why they couldn’t continue.
If they’re interested and engaged with the text, they continue reading until they reach a conclusion about the story, one way or another.
Our team weighs the quality of the writing, originality of the premise, our level of investment as readers, the submission’s suitability for The Dread Machine, and more.
Once a reader or editor rates a submission, they explain their rating in a detailed comment.
Whether your submission receives more rounds of review depends on its rating.
If a submission is rated between 1–4 by a first reader, it will be forwarded to our acquiring editor (Monica), who will read the comments and perform a quick review of the submission. She will then decide whether to reject the submission or reassign it to another reader for a second opinion.
Submissions rated between 5–7 are forwarded to another Gatekeeper to receive a second (or third) rating.
Submissions rated from 8–10 are forwarded to our acquiring editor (Monica), who decides whether to reject, reassign, or elevate the submission for consideration.
Elevated submissions are considered by all three editors before a final decision is made.
In some circumstances (the kind that result in swift rejections), a single editor will be the only person to evaluate your submission. During initial screening, for instance, an editor may notice you have forgotten to remove personally identifying information from your submission and send you a rejection for failing to adhere to our submission guidelines.
We don’t send unsolicited critique. If you’re open to receiving constructive feedback about your submission, please indicate so in your cover letter. We can’t promise we’ll have the time, but we will try!
I rarely read poetry, but when I do:
My tastes lean literary. I like intelligent, meaningful stories featuring characters I can’t help but care deeply about. I enjoy active, present-tense writing, unforgettable settings, tight POVs (first, second, close-third), interesting unconventional structures, driven protagonists, and a well-executed ambiguous ending. I prize beautiful language and tend to favor quiet, emotional stories, creeping dread, and dark humor, but I have a chaotic streak and an enduring love of gritty narrators.
I like the way these authors build their worlds, string words together into a narrative, and suck me into their stories: