Imagine an app that lets you capture the email exchange between editors as they work to make the initial selection of stories for inclusion in an anthology. You would probably see comments like the following.
The comments are real. I didn’t identify the writers or their stories, of course. And the editors themselves, I’ll call Billy, Bob & Joe.
Billy: I find that the first read, leading to ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’, is pretty quick – just a matter of deciding if the writing’s ok and the story itself is interesting. After that we could compare lists and consolidate the categories. The main editing is obviously with the ‘maybes’ ones, but how many of those we decide to continue with will depend on how many ‘yeses’ we’ve got and the overall length we’re looking for.
Bob: I’m in. Sounds like fun.
Joe: Excellent! Send me some stories and I’ll get right on it!
Billy: Here they all are then, with names and emails removed. You can look at number #23 if you want, but, having read it, I don’t think it’s good enough to justify being included at over twice the maximum word count, even if we’re flexible.
Joe: My first thought on #23 is, we should only have to put up with writers who break the rules if they’re good writers.
Bob: I often tend to spot potential and think, ‘Ah, that story would be great if such and such…’ But it then depends how ready writers are to accept editorial suggestions.
Bob: Some of my choices are pretty soft. Shorter pieces tended to beneift from their brevity (including most of the poetry). In some cases I liked the quality or originality of the writing but wasn’t sure about the subject matter. A few showed promise but didn’t really have an ending.
Joe: Maybe on #12. I have a hard time judging a 20-page mental monologue. It put me to sleep. But, that’s just me.
Bob: You are right. Taste is subjective but there are objective qualities of good writing. A lot of the stories, even if they are competently wrtitten from a nuts and bolts perspective, are still sadly lacking when it comes to pacing, plot, realistic dialogue, that sort of thing — almost perplexingly so, in some cases.
Bob: As far as #24, I can take it or leave it. It would need a ton of cutting even if we did include it.
Billy: Yes on #14, if trimmed – takes a long time to deal with all the characters for no real gain to the story. Otherwise nice.
Joe: Yes on #47. Good story, well written, even if the hidden weapon seemed to magically appear when needed.
Billy: yes on #22 – dry and mischievous humor, nicely done.
Joe: No on #33. All tell, no show. (It could be brilliant in the end, but, my eyes glazed over before I got there.)
Bob: #48 is an okay idea for a story, but the writing is only meh, and the characters are so dull. They felt like unfinished holoprojections of people. I wish they had been. That would’ve been more interesting than the actual story.
Bob: #27 left me flat from the beginning, and you’re spot on about the ending. It was half a mouthful of nothing.
Joe: Maybe on #18. I like poetry that invokes feelings or images but I find these lines too
obscure to tantalize.
Bob: I wish the author of #38 had flipped the ending in some interesting way. As it is, it’s more like a five minute Hallmark made-for-TV special about how nice guys sometimes win after all. Heartwarming, I suppose, but ho-hum.
Joe: No on #16. Well done, but …thousands of words without dialogue until the last paragraph? My mind glassed over before then.
Billy: A minor flurry of submissions at the end, making a very healthy tally of 56 at the deadline. Now for the hard decisions…