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This is the fourth of a series of blog posts that I wrote last year in order to show how I create the anthologies for Zombies Need Brains, the small press that I founded in order to produce anthologies. It's basically a behind-the-scenes look at the process, which will be covered in multiple parts. Obviously, this is only how I produce an anthology and there may be other roads to follow in order to produce one. Keep that in mind.

This part of the series focuses on reading through the slush pile generated by the open call that Zombies Need Brains does for all of our recent anthologies. If you aren’t doing an open call for submissions, you can probably skip to the next part of the series. Here are the previous parts of the series:

Part 3: Funding:
Part 2: Authors:
Part 1: Concept:

ZNB firmly believes that sometimes the best stories for a particular theme will come from an unknown source and we want to support finding new and interesting voices in the SF&F field. Because of this, we run an open call for submissions for each of our anthologies, so that anyone with a story that fits the theme can submit and possibly end up in the anthology. I believe every anthology we’ve produced has contained at least one story from an unknown, unpublished author. Not because we specifically searched an unpublished author’s story out, but because they rose to the top of the slush pile on their own merits.

If you’re putting together an anthology, I strongly suggest that you have an open call for that anthology. But be aware that the slush pile has its own positives and negatives. The positive is that you’ll have a ton of stories to choose from, which means you’re going to get the best possible stories for your anthology. The negative is that you’ll have a ton of stories to choose from, which means you’re going to have to READ all of those stories to find the best possible ones for your anthology.

Depending on how many submissions you get, reading the slush pile can be time-consuming and often painful. But it’s worth it in the end. At this point, ZNB doesn’t receive so many stories with its open calls that they are impossible to get through. I personally read all of the stories, and I typically read them all the way through. Most editors reading slush piles don’t do this though. Writers have to capture the editor’s attention within the first page or two, give them a reason to keep reading to the end. I usually know within the first page or two whether or not we’ll be seriously considering the story for the anthology or not, but I keep reading (sometimes just skimming) to the end to see if there’s something there to change my mind. Only in extreme cases, where the writing is horrible or the story is obviously completely off theme, do I stop reading before I reach the end. Why do I read to the end? Because sometimes there’s a story that doesn’t really start until about halfway through, and then suddenly it clicks and gets good. If the writer just cut that first half off, maybe worked in anything relevant in that first half into the second somehow, then you’d have a stellar story. I don’t want to miss out on a good story because of that.

However, I can only do this because we aren’t being completely overwhelmed with stories. With each new anthology we produce, the number of submissions continues to grow. I expect that soon I’ll have to give up reading all stories to the end, simply because there won’t be enough time. At some point in the future, I may even have to rely on some slush pile readers to wade through it all and send me only what they feel are the best stories, so I may only end up reading part of this slush pile. As an anthologist, you may have to do this as well. You may want to do this anyway, regardless of how many submissions you get, simply so you can focus on other aspects of the process. This is simply a reality of open call submissions and it emphasizes that, when a writer submits a story, they MUST make it the best possible story you can before submission and they MUST have a strong opening.

For the writers out there: In that first page, perhaps even first paragraph, give the editor the “cool factor” of your story. Give them a strong character and strong voice. Give them a unique setting. Give them a hook to keep the editor reading. And please, please, please give them a story that actually fits the theme of the anthology! I’d estimate that at least 20% of all submissions I read for a particular anthology for ZNB don’t fit the theme—aren’t even CLOSE to the theme.

So slush piles have advantages and disadvantages, but I still strongly believe in them for finding the best stories for an anthology. If you have a story that fits, revise it, then revise it again, make it the strongest story you possibly can, and then submit it. If you’re an editor, prepare yourself for some heavy duty reading, some excruciating reading perhaps, but also prepare yourself for discovering that gem buried in the slush pile that makes your anthology shine.

At this point in the process of creating an anthology, you have all of the stories that you want to use, whether they came from invited authors or the slush pile. What’s next? Well, the actual job: editing. That’s the next focus in this series.

And now a word from our sponsor:


Zombies Need Brains is currently running a Kickstarter ( to fund THREE new SF&F anthologies and we need your help! We can't produce anthologies unless we can get the funding to pay the authors, the cover artists, the print and ebook designers, and the printers. That's where the Kickstarter comes in, and you, THE FANS! We've got a ton of stunning anchor authors on board, including NY Times bestselling authors and award winners. And we've got a ton of great reward levels, such as tuckerizations, signed copies of books by your favorite authors, and more! Our themes for this current Kickstarter are:

PORTALS: In the blink of an eye, the familiar disappears as you step into the unknown. What new creatures will you meet? What strange planets will you explore? Will you find happiness, or doom? Open the pages of PORTALS, the newest anthology from the small press Zombies Need Brains, and you just might find out. From wardrobes to monoliths, wormholes to fairy rings, there is a rich tradition of stories in both science fiction and fantasy that explore what happens when--by accident or design--characters are transported from one world to another. Join fourteen of today’s leading science fiction and fantasy authors as they offer fresh takes on this classic theme. Whether a routine trip or unexpected journey, each tale will explore new worlds of adventure, mystery, humor, and horror, with stories for every taste and fancy. Edited by S.C. Butler and Patricia Bray, PORTALS will contain approximately fourteen stories with an average length of up to 6,000 words each. It will include short stories by: Jacey Bedford, F. Brett Cox, James Enge, Esther Friesner, Nancy Holzner, Gini Koch, Violette Malan, Jaime Lee Moyer, and Ian Tregillis.

TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED: In our spam boxes today, we both received notices that our bank accounts required resolution, and the content of the spam contained the following sentence: "We have noticed that you need to resolve important security issues on your account to prevent temporal deactivation." Of course, our immediate thought was of a new anthology called TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED! For this follow-up to 2015’s TEMPORALLY OUT OF ORDER, we are looking for stories that take a person, object, event, or phenomenon and somehow, during the course of the plot, “temporally deactivate” it, whatever that may mean in the context of the story. “Temporal deactivation” should refer to something more than a simple death, malfunction, or termination, and instead should touch in some way on issues of time — its flow, distortion, dislocation, etc. Edited by David B. Coe & Joshua Palmatier, it will contain approximately 14 stories with an average length of up to 6000 words each. It will include short stories by: C.S. Friedman, Faith Hunter, D.B. Jackson, Gini Koch, Stephen Leigh, Misty Massey, Jenna Rhodes, and Edmund R. Schubert.

ALTERNATE PEACE: All too often, alternate histories are based on a battle or assassination. We’re looking for stories where change grew out of more peaceful activities…science, business, and culture. Imagine a world in which the branch point from our own was caused by scientific endeavor, social change, natural forces, or other points of divergence which don’t rely on military activity or violence. Edited by Steven H Silver & Joshua Palmatier, it will contain approximately 14 stories with an average length of up to 6000 words each. It will include short stories by: D.B. Jackson, Stephen Leigh, Ian R. MacLeod, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kari Sperring, Harry Turtledove, Rick Wilber.

If you'd like to help fund these anthologies, swing on by the Kickstarter at! And share the Kickstarter with your friends, family, and total strangers! We need more SF&F anthologies!

"Portals" by Justin Adams of Varia Studios


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Joshua Palmatier

March 2019

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