This mini-essay will be in two parts.
The maybes are waiting, staring back at me. How frustrating to contemplate the maybe pile. I’m the editor in chief so people who I trust have already weeded out the ‘not ready for prime time” stories. I have handed a huge stack to my most trusted associate editors (thank you, Lisa and Zach and Leila). Still I’m faced with 42 stories for perhaps 8 slots. I have hesitated for days to open the blue file folder and the online forward-yes list. How many will I fall in love with when I have so little room? Here is a look inside my process –how I come to the final selection of short stories and essay for an issue.
I gather the stories together and let them stew on my husband’s pool table. If it is a serious maybe from the online submission system, I have to print it out and lay it with the snail mail submissions. I read opening paragraphs and make stacks of which to look at first. The stacks change over the period of 2-3weeks. The other constraint is my academic schedule. But now in the final trenches of May, the semester is over, grading is all done, and now I think about the shape and texture of the next issue.
Then I read the maybes, usually 3-4 at a time and make notes. Which ones are first person, third person, experimental? What is the subject of the stories? They all seem to be about suicides or prostitution this spring. I can’t just take the best of the best, because so many of them are very good. Which stories are edgy and interesting and will grow the reputation of the Potomac Review? I must seek a balance of styles, a variety of subjects to create an issue that I can be truly proud of.
As I stare at that stack, I think of the writers at the other end. I’m a writer who submits, too. If you haven’t heard from an editor for months, it is either very good news – you are lingering in their maybe pile or it is terrible news—a volunteer associate editor has lost your work. From where you sit, it is impossible to know which it is, until we respond with an encouraging rejection or a very late apologetic basic reject.