I further felt the urge to share my rather complicated (yet not really, if you think about it) system of choosing which selections to include in each issue. Selecting what to keep and what to release back to an author is never an easy task & in my case the process has evolved over the years. I primarily rely on two things to bring me through to the other side: 1) helpful readers, and 2) Submittable's labels. This is specifically what that looks like:
A prologue: In our first 9 days of open submissions this month (April 2020), we received 130 packets of submissions, each packet containing an average of 2.3 inclusions. Multiply those and you get 299 individual pieces of writing (and several lovely artwork selections) or about 33 separate readings per day. In order not to fall behind, I find it best to read and assign nearly every day. I never want to get to the place where I'm reading thoughtlessly and dismissing without proper consideration.
The personally-generated Submittable labels I use most often are: Think About, Consider, Keep For Consideration, Read More Carefully Later, Will Accept, Will Decline.
A note about the first three --
- "Think About," to me, means a piece of writing is in the first stage of real consideration.
- "Consider" means it has moved up the ladder a step.
- "Keep for Consideration" is pretty darn close to "Will Accept" but not a guaranteed shoo-in -- basically it means it's down to the wire and, chicky, is this a close race.
And then less often I'll use one of these labels: Assign More Readers, Add Personal Note, Chila's Note to Readers, Chila's Note to Herself, Decline at Higher Level, Needs Editing, Not Blind, etc.
And now the steps:
Step 1: I give each packet an initial look. This is where I generally add either the Think About or Will Decline label, and in the case of knowing the author, the Assign Readers label. If I like one or two pieces from a packet of two or three, I'll make myself a note about which one(s) on Submittable before sending the packet off to readers. The readers will not see my note and thus will not be influenced by what I think. I also try to remember to not allow them to see each other's notes either for the same reason. It's amazing how easily influenced we are -- so very human of us.
Reasons for declining a submission this early include such things as:
- an extreme deviation from the theme (assuming there is a theme, and this time there is)
- something is similar to something else with the "Consider" or "Keep for Consideration" label (and here I'll usually choose what I feel is the better of the two while releasing the other to fly back home, a red-tail hawk bestriding currents high in the bluest of skies, seeking a tree, a mate, a fleshy mouse in a field ....)
- generic language or theme or more likely both (uniqueness is, well, unique and desired, yet too weird is, well, too weird and not really appealing to me personally; it's an odd combination that I like)
- in an effort to further define "generic language," I can only say I know it when I see it; after reading the first dozen or two submissions each issue, the "better" language, the more skillful writers, bubble to the top, lava-like
- and other things less specific; gut feelings; preferences; needs; downright prejudices (admit it, editors)
- note here that I never view author bios until after at least the first few reads, and they truly never influence me, EVER, either way, to accept or decline; the writing must stand alone
- note also that approx. 85 to 90% of all submissions receive a Will Decline label at this stage; <sad face emoji>
Step 2: Anything labeled "Think About" usually goes to readers here, at least two readers at a time.
Step 3: I receive reader feedback, read, let sink in, make a decision to either pass on (Will Decline) or move along with the Consider or Keep for Consideration label. About 5% or less end up staying in the queue for further consideration here.
Step 4: I tend to accept (Will Accept) in dribs and drabs, a little here, a little there, rather than waiting until the end and making final selections all at once. This is because I like posting our chosen selections a little at a time, over several months rather than all at once. I'm not sure why I do it this way and I may change it in the future, but I suppose I don't like seeing those "empty months" on the website, like to offer fresh reading material often rather than once and done.
Final thought: I never try to send decline notices on holidays, especially days like Good Friday or Easter, Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving ("Hello, I'm thankful to be able to decline you on this special day") or
- National Chocolate Day which happens to be on October 28th this year
- National Chocolate Candy Day (December 28, 2020)
- National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day (August 4, 2020)
- National Brownie Day (December 8, 2020)
- National Chocolate Cake Day (January 27, 2021)
- National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day (January 3, 2021)
- National Chocolate Ice Cream Day (June 7, 2020)
- and National Hug a Sheep Day (October 26, 2020)
There may be others, but, you know, time.
I hope this enlightens you a little bit about my personal process of deciding on writing selections, and if nothing else, gave you a break from watching Tiger King a third time.