Our Submission Evaluation Protocol

Learn how our Gatekeepers (first readers) and Elder Gods (editors) evaluate submissions.


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

We utilize a blind review system.

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.

Whether your submission will be read in full depends on its quality.

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 1–5, 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.

We rank submissions on a scale of 1–5.

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.

Your submission will be evaluated by at least one editor.

Whether your submission receives more rounds of review depends on its rating.

If a submission is rated between 1–2 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 3–5 are forwarded to another Gatekeeper to receive a second (or third) rating.

After a few rounds of review, submissions rated 3-5 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. 

If we have time, we will send feedback, but only if invited.

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!


Try to anticipate our fickle whims.

Personal Facts

  • mother of five
  • certified copyeditor
  • avid gamer (both PC and tabletop)
  • voracious lifelong reader
  • writes fiction nobody’s allowed to read because “it’s too personal or whatever, leave me alone.”
  • works with Tim at Strikethrough Editing
  • sends Monica bad poetry
  • hates TV
  • loves Tumblr
  • lives on Discord (and in Connecticut)
  • has invested an unsettling number of hours into Disco Elysium

Favorite Authors

  • Charles Yu
  • Jesmyn Ward
  • Ken Liu
  • Gretchen Felker-Martin
  • Jenny Offill
  • Ling Ma
  • Tess Gunty
  • Mark Z. Danielewski

Favorite Poets

I rarely read poetry, but when I do:

  • Florence Welch
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Poe (shutup)
  • Avra Margariti


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 enjoy reading stories about technology being used or behaving in unexpected ways and seeing new takes on futuristic civilizations.


  • excessive use of passive verbs
  • real-life trauma leveraged for shock value
  • hackneyed tropes
  • arbitrary pet murders
  • cheap twists
  • stories written by people who haven’t read anything published after 1990

Alin's Favorite Stories

Picture of Monica Louzon

Monica Louzon

Monica Louzon (she/her) is a queer writer, Spanish-English translator, and editor. She has been Acquiring Editor for The Dread Machine since late 2020, and was founding editor of the MOSF Journal of Science Fiction. Her words have appeared in Apex Magazine, Dark Recesses, Haven Speculative Magazine, Paranoid Tree, Shoreline of Infinity, and others. Her story "9 Dystopias" was selected for Best Microfiction 2023.

Personal Facts

  • Writes stories and poems.
  • Translates speculative fiction.
  • Can’t watch horror movies.
  • Started a free, peer-reviewed academic journal examining sci-fi.
  • Has traveled to 18 countries (so far!).
  • Likes being in high places.
  • “Sounds tall” (according to Tina).
  • Knows more about plants than the average person. 
  • Has a croissant problem.
  • Adopted the sassy dog Tim found.

Favorite Authors

I like the way these authors build their worlds, string words together into a narrative, and suck me into their stories:


  • Reveling in, and playing with, language. 
  • Stories that make me feel like my brain is eating a rich chocolate cake. 
  • Writing that yanks me in and makes me turn off my critique brain because I NEED TO KNOW HOW THIS ENDS. 
  • Pieces that hit me in the feels.
  • People writing places they know well, or incorporating aspects of places they know well into their stories – it adds an indelible authenticity and helps the reader further suspend disbelief
  • Creative worlds populated with relatable characters who have real problems to overcome.
  • Cerebral horror (i.e., horror that relies on suspense and making you think beyond the page/screen)


  • Violence or (any kind of) abuse used for shock value. Shock is not dread. 
  • Excessive gore. Splatter horror is not my jam, and it never will be. 
  • Pieces intended solely to gross out the reader. I want characters to care about and get invested in. I don’t want to waste my time being nauseous.
  • Sexism. 
  • Protagonists being jerks to animals.
  • WWII-themed stories (even if they’re alternate history). 
  • Most time-travel stories, because they all seem to have the same endings. 
  • Know-it-all protagonists
  • Excessive passive voice.
  • Poems that rely on rhyming at the expense of imagery.
  • Poetry without an emotional hook

Monica's Favorite Stories

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