The Pile

by Barb, who expected to be in Maine by now, but who is marooned in Mass with a bad knee

Yes it’s that time of year–the time when everywhere I go I am accompanied by a tote bag full of submissions for the Level Best Books anthology. We get 130+  submissions every year, and this year is no different.

The pile

The pile

Somehow, that will get whittled down to 25 to 30 stories that go into Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Red Dawn. In the meantime, I have a lot of reading to do. All four editors read every submission. In the past six years, I can think of only three stories I haven’t read to the end–one bit of violent pornography, one bit of pornographic violence and one story that was so far outside our guidelines for length so as to be considered a novel. But if a story meets our guidelines for content and length and submission deadline, we’re reading it.

I’ve tried a variety of rating schemes over the years. Sometimes I go elaborate–a ten point scale. Other times I swear I’ll keep it simple–yes-no-maybe. But then along comes a yes+ (I’ll fight hard for this one) or a no, no, no, no, no (I’ll quit if this gets in).

The spreadsheet

The spreadsheet

Over the next month or so, the editors will meet three times. The first meeting is the easiest, we weed out the definite “nos.” We also look for stories where all four of us are in the yes+ column. Those are IN.

The next couple of meetings get harder and more heated. Until we have a list of the finalists. Then we start arguing about the order they will appear in the book.

This year’s activity will have a bittersweet quality. My fellow editors, Mark Ammons, Kathy Fast, Leslie Wheeler and I have announced this anthology will be our last. We still have hopes some other group might pick up the mantel and the anthology will go on, but we are done.

But in the meantime, I have to keep reading. We’ve got an anthology to produce.

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at
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4 Responses to The Pile

  1. MCWriTers says:

    Been there. Done that. I think I still have the spread sheets in a file. It’s exciting and takes too long and is so rewarding when you find that special story, and surprising when your affirmative no is someone else’s affirmative yes.

    Hope that Level Best finds a new editorial group to take on the project. You’ve done such a fabulous job with the books.


  2. karla says:

    Between this and your Crime Wave class, I am finally beginning to understand spreadsheets! (good examples of show, not just tell)
    Thanks to all the Level Best editors for your time and consideration these past years.

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