Last Saturday was the deadline for submissions to Sword & Sorceress 27. The good news is that by the end of Sunday I had a final line-up and had sent out the contracts. (I have Marion Zimmer Bradley's standards for prompt response to live up to.) The bad news is that I had to do the final rejections. Earlier rejections are easier. When I do them I'm rejecting stories that I know I'm not going to buy, stories that just aren't right for Sword & Sorceress. But the final rejections are difficult and painful.
When I'm reading for the anthology I try to give an initial response within two days. I either reject the story or notify the author that I'm holding it. (The reading period is only four weeks, so I'm not tying up somebody's story for long.) The stories I hold are ones that are right for Sword & Sorceress. They're stories I want to buy and include in the anthology. The problem is that by the deadline, I have enough stories for two or three good anthologies. Marion had the same problem; when she died, at the time of the Sword & Sorceress 18 deadline, she was holding enough stories for three anthologies. I split them up into Sword & Sorceress 18, Sword & Sorceress 19, and Sword & Sorceress 20.
So I spent a large part of the day on Sunday going through the hold pile. The long stories went back first; when the word-limit is 90,000 I can't fit too many 9,000-word stories. I start by taking a hard look at everything over 6,000 words. Usually I work down from there, but this year I got at least nine stories that fit in the "short and funny" category. I've been saying I can always use those–traditionally the anthology ends with one, but in previous years I've been lucky to get two of them. This year I got so many that I had to send some of them back, and it wasn't an easy choice. I also sent back ten stories by people who had sold to previous Sword & Sorceress anthologies. I hate rejecting stories by "MZB's writers," but there are approximately 400 of them, and a lot of them submit stories every year.
The final decisions remind me of an eye doctor's exam, when he's flipping lenses back and forth and asking, "Which is better: 1 or 2?" Frequently they're so close, that I'm saying, "Uh, 2?" or even "could you show me those again?" That's what the final decisions are like: having to choose between pairs of stories that are both very good and that I really like. (Also, by then I've re-read the stories so many times that my eyes are really tired–another similarity to an eye exam.)
So I make the best choices I can, knowing that I'm returning a lot of really good stories. I hope that, when Sword & Sorceress 27 comes out this November, the readers will like the stories I finally chose as much as I do.