SWMC/HBCS Submission Review Rubric

To help ensure objective reviewing, we anonymously code all writing samples that applicants submit and distribute each sample to three separate readers, who rate it using the following rubric. The version that we use is organized a little differently, but all the information/content on our rubric is the same. We rate works in 7 categories on a scale from 0 to 4; you can receive a half-point, so there are a total of 9 possible scores you can receive in each category (0, 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and 4 are all possible ratings). 0 should be interpreted as “the worst a story can be” and 4 as “the best a story can be.” An average story would get 2s across the board.

The lists provided for each category indicate what sub-topics we’ve assigned to each overarching category, give guidance to reviewers to help them track story features, and provide additional criteria to use when setting their numerical rating. There is no one-to-one point value conversion on list items, so don’t read this as “if you get 3 ‘thumbs up’ you’ll get a 3,” and note that we will NOT be forcing results to a bell-curve. Instead, we’ll do statistical standardizing based on the averages each reviewer gives, to account for reviewers who may grade more or less strictly.

Let us know if you have any questions!

Rubric Categories

Plot and Pacing

0: Plot is barely developed or non-existent. The sequence of events is indecipherable.

1: Plot is under-developed or hard to understand. The pacing is difficult to follow, or major events are skipped.

2: Plot is existent—by the time a reader has finished, they can say, “this is where the characters started, and now that the story is done, here is how they’ve changed.” The pacing is adequate, and the events portrayed are effective at conveying the story.

3: Plot is interesting, easy to follow, and unfolds in a logical fashion. The changes that happen in the lives of the characters feel significant. Pacing is strong and engaging, and events are well-suited to the story being told.

4: Plot is excellent and draws the reader in. The pacing is ideal. The story feels complete—though knowing more would be nice, because the best stories feel like enough, yet leave the reader wanting more!

Bullet Points—Positives:

  • 👍 Pacing is good.
  • 👍 Story has a beginning, a middle, and an end—and by the end, something has changed.
  • 👍 Adequate backstory is provided to contextualize the story and enable the reader to understand why the unfolding events are significant.
  • 👍 Questions and issues raised are resolved by the end of the story.

Bullet Points—Negatives:

  • 👎 Infodumping.
  • 👎 Information necessary to understand the plot was inadequately researched or incorrect.
  • 👎 Story broke suspension of disbelief.
  • 👎 Story has no plot—nothing changes.
  • 👎 Sequence of events is difficult to follow.
  • 👎 Events are laid out in a way that makes them confusing—it’s difficult to tell what’s happening and in what order.
  • 👎 Major events and/or outcomes are left unclear or overly ambiguous.
  • 👎 Story continuity is interrupted for extensive or unrelated descriptions.
  • 👎 Story is difficult to understand without fandom-specific knowledge.
  • 👎 Story feels like a vignette or coda—more like the moment between the events that matter, less like the actual important event.
  • 👎 This reads like an excerpt, with large aspects of the story missing or unresolved.
  • 👎 Elements of the story seem more like plot devices (“I need this for the plot to work, so poof it exists”) and less like developed facets of a world.

Characters and Characterization

0: Characters are barely developed.

1: Characters are two dimensional, make decisions that don’t make much sense, or are presented confusingly. A reader would struggle to say more than one defining characteristic of the character. If there are multiple characters, they seem interchangeable or generic.

2: Characters are clearly defined, distinct from each other, and described enough for a reader to have a basic idea of their appearance and characteristics.

3: Characters are well developed. Their behavior is consistent, their characterization makes sense, and their interactions are interesting. The reader has a decent idea of both their physical appearance and some of their mannerisms.

4: If this character walked into the room the reader is in right now, the reader would recognize them instantly and have an idea how they’d react to different situations.

Bullet Points—Positive:

  • 👍 Character descriptions are more than just physical—multiple senses are engaged.
  • 👍 Characters have distinct personalities and voices.
  • 👍 Characters have quirks and/or unique personality aspects.
  • 👍 Physical description is provided.

Bullet Points—Negative:

  • 👎 Character feels like an idealization or dream instead of an actual person (unless this was intentional, and that it was intentional is clear from context, of course).
  • 👎 Characters act over- or under-familiar, compared to how well they know each other.
  • 👎 Characters relate to each other in ways that don’t seem plausible—trust or mistrust too quickly, react out of proportion to events, etc.
  • 👎 Dialog language doesn’t match the characters’ presented personality.
  • 👎 If dialog and descriptive tags were removed it wouldn’t be possible to tell who was speaking—characters are interchangeable.
  • 👎 It’s difficult to tell who is speaking or who is doing what.
  • 👎 Mind reading (characters know things they couldn’t know without a point-of-view switch).
  • 👎 Characters are introduced but not used/they’re irrelevant to the plot.
  • 👎 There are elements of what reads, to an outsider, as unintentional bigotry, ableism, racism, etc. (and the author has not tagged to show that they’re aware that these are elements in their story).
  • 👎 Characters are difficult to relate to.
  • 👎 Understanding the characters requires fandom-specific knowledge.
  • 👎 Illogical or inconsistent characterization.


0: The setting doesn’t exist. Events take place in an endless expanse of blankness. This story could literally have happened anywhere.

1: The setting is described in only a vague sense. Characters don’t relate to their locations, or perhaps the setting merely feels like “window dressing” and is functionally irrelevant.

2: The setting is detailed enough to be relevant to the story. The characters engage with the setting in ways that make sense, and the setting is changed by the actions of the characters.

3: The setting is an integrated aspect of the story that enhances it and helps make the story more engaging.

4: The setting is vibrant, visceral, and significant. The reader would very much like to visit…or, if it sounds horrible, the reader would very very much like to not visit.

Bullet Points—Positive:

  • 👍 A setting is established for the story.
  • 👍 Aspects of their immediate surroundings (eg, a room) are mentioned to set the scene.
  • 👍 Characters interact with their setting in meaningful way.
  • 👍 Objects they directly interact with are described.
  • 👍 Worldbuilding elements presented contribute to and enhance the plot.

Bullet Points—Negative:

  • 👎 Irrelevant aspects of the setting are emphasized or dwelled on in the narrative.
  • 👎 Things are described that the characters couldn’t know or perceive.
  • 👎 Whether described or not, the setting is irrelevant—if the characters were moved elsewhere they story wouldn’t be effected at all.
  • 👎 Elements of the worldbuilding are illogical, can’t be explained, couldn’t actually be done, or otherwise don’t make sense.
  • 👎 Setting is inadequately described for people who aren’t in the fandom.

Description/Word Usage

0: Descriptions are minimal, repetitive, or irrelevant. Word usage is basic and opportunities to use language to enhance the story are missed. Words are misused.

1: Descriptions give some idea of what’s happening, but not adequately to support the story being told. Word usage is more or less inappropriate—maybe incorrect words are used, or the words chosen don’t fit with the nature of the setting, causing the language to seem stilted or incongruous.

2: Descriptions paint a general enough image for the reader to visualize events. Word choices are clear and ensure the story is understandable.

3: Descriptions are vivid, thorough without interfering with the flow of the story. Word usage is strong—appropriate words are used to clearly convey complex concepts, as appropriate depending on the narrative choices and character point of view.

4: The reader felt like they were there, and the various aspects of the story—characters, setting, items, etc.—are wonderfully described. Word choice is ideal. This author not only has a thesaurus but knows how to use it correctly.

Bullet Points – Positive:

  • 👍 A range of evocative language is used to accurately give a sense of the aspects of the story.
  • 👍 All the senses are evoked at one point or another in the descriptive text.
  • 👍 Diverse word usage.
  • 👍 Locations or places are described.
  • 👍 The characters interact with things, and those things are described.
  • 👍 Word choice is appropriate to the time period and/or character personalities presented.
  • 👍 Words are used correctly.
  • 👍 Interesting similes and/or metaphors are used that enhance the story and fit with the setting/theme/character personalities.
  • 👍 Narrative and word choices enhance the emotions and sensations the authors endeavors to evoke.

Bullet Points – Negative:

  • 👎 Descriptions give incorrect or confusing impressions of places, characters, or actions.
  • 👎 Different words are used for the same things in a way that is confusing, or a character is referred to by multiple different names without explanation/clarification.
  • 👎 Lack of contractions where contractions should be (in a way that doesn’t work from a stylistic/characterization point of view).
  • 👎 Word choices are repetitious.
  • 👎 Dialog seems unnatural, unrealistic, stilted, or inappropriate to the story setting.
  • 👎 Repetitious sentence structures.
  • 👎 Overuse of epithets.
  • 👎 Purple prose (that didn’t work from a stylistic point of view).
  • 👎 Technospeak or fandom-specific vocabulary is used in ways that can’t be understood from context.
  • 👎 The balance between dialog and description is off.
  • 👎 Inconsistent spelling of in-verse words such as places, names, or setting-dependent vocabulary.

Technical Aspects

0: The technical aspects of this story are poor enough that the story is difficult to follow. The story is essentially word salad.

1: The technical aspects of this story are weak, which at times make the story difficult to follow, but the overall gist of events can still be understood.

2: The technical aspects of the story are basic but don’t hinder the reader’s ability to follow the story. There are some grammatical issues but nothing ruinous. The story is readable.

3: The technical aspects of the story are clean and the author clearly understands English grammar and usage, though a few errors slipped through.

4: On a technically level, this is flawless. Wow.

Bullet Points – Positive:

  • 👍 Formatting choices contribute to the clarity and readability of the story.
  • 👍 Author accurately tagged potentially triggering content when they submitted.

Bullet Points – Negative:

  • 👎 Awkward/confusing phrasing.
  • 👎 Formatting issues.
  • 👎 It’s difficult to tell who is speaking.
  • 👎 Missing words.
  • 👎 Overuse of weasel words (such as though, just, really, still).
  • 👎 Punctuation is misused or missing.
  • 👎 Run-on sentences (that don’t work from a stylistic point of view).
  • 👎 Sentence fragments (that don’t work from a stylistic point of view).
  • 👎 Speaker changes but no new paragraph is started.
  • 👎 Tense changes.
  • 👎 Typos.
  • 👎 Point of view is inconsistent or changes in ways that are difficult to follow.
  • 👎 Writing or dialog is stilted.
  • 👎 Paragraphs are too long or too short (in a way that doesn’t work from a stylistic point of view).
  • 👎 Authors notes, outlines, and/or non-story information were included in the submission.
  • 👎 Misuse, underuse, or overuse of italics, underlines, bold, strikethrough, or other formatting styles.
  • 👎 Story reads as if it hasn’t been edited.
  • 👎 Narrative choices don’t match the proposed plot, characters, setting, or other story elements.
  • 👎 Author didn’t follow the rules, submitted multiple stories, went over length, or the like (large infractions, we will not consider your submission).
  • 👎 The style or nature of the story submitted is a major mismatch to the tone or style the anthology theme would suggest we’re looking for.
  • 👎 This is an outline instead of a narrative.

Reader’s Subjective Point Addition

0: “I’m sorry. I can tell you tried, but this writing just isn’t ‘there’ yet.”

1: “There’s the start of something good here, but the pieces just didn’t add up.”

2: “There’s a lot of potential here—room for improvement, but there was a lot to recommend this story.”

3: “This was so good. Seriously.”


Because this is a subjective measure of the reader’s reaction to the story, it doesn’t have bullet points.

Reader’s Subjective Rating of the Story Pitch

0: No story pitch was submitted, or the submitted pitch was off-theme or otherwise inappropriate for the proposed anthology.

1: “I don’t know, it’s not really doing it for me, I’m sorry.”

2: “I like this idea!”

3: “Oh wow, there is a lot of potential here…tell me more.”

4: “I want to read this story literally right now. Where is it? Seriously. I’m begging.”

Because this is a subjective measure of the reader’s reaction to the story, it doesn’t have bullet points.


We’ve asked that all applicants include tags for the work sample they submit. We’ll be giving 1 point flat to all submissions that are correctly/accurately/adequately tagged, and 0 points for submissions that aren’t appropriately tagged.

Lastly, in case you’re wondering, the actual form looks like this. There’s also room at the bottom for the reviewer to leave positive and negative comments, if they wish to do so.