Every four months Lesley, Dave, and I spend a week or two reading the best stories of the lot. Right now our hold for voting file is running about 25 stories per issue. We each read on our own with no discussion, and we put them in order, our favorites listed first. I'm most concerned with the top ten stories, getting that order the way I want it. We often have the same stories in the top ten, and if one of us has one listed first, that can influence the vote, especially at the end of determining the issue. So it's important that I decide which is my absolute favorite story of the group.
You'll hear editors talk about "issue balance" a lot. I'd say that after good stories – and most of the stories in our hold file are good, quality stories – this is our primary concern. In speculative fiction there are several sub-genres: SF, Fantasy, Horror, and then sub-sub genres (I'm getting facetious here) like military SF, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, steampunk, hard SF, futuristic, and then cross-genre, like a military SF mystery or a vampire romance… you get the picture.
We stumble over genre sometimes. One round we got several good werewolf stories, almost enough to fill an issue. Well, short of doing a themed issue, we had to choose only one. Which leads me to the more particular, likely annoying aspect of choosing stories: subjective preference.
This is what can get us into trouble with each other, because our tastes run to wildly different styles and genres. After four years, though, we know each other pretty well. We've gone from arguing against stories more to "I knew you'd love that story."
Generally, we can settle on the top four very quickly. It's often that last story that makes our meeting drag on. Save issue balance, we have to battle it out. If we have a story one of us is adamant about, then the others will often defer. But we'll often dig deep into a couple of stories, examining the plot, theme, characterization, and actual writing, trying to get at which most deserves the spot.
Oh, and beer. There's always beer.
So there you have it, our production meeting. Thoughts?