Basically, it came down to this: I knew what I wanted. I just hoped that what I wanted ended up in the slush pile.
What I wanted:
- Stories of "Yes, let's go to Grants Pass."
--- Stories of "We are going to make it and see."
--- Stories of "We want to go to Grants Pass but we fall along the wayside."
--- Stories of "We're across the continent/ocean but we're going to try anyway."
- Stories of "No. I won't go to Grants Pass."
--- Stories of "I can't go. I'm across an ocean/continent. I'll make my own."
--- Stories of "I can't go. I'm across an ocean/continent. It's no use anyway."
--- Stories of "I won't go. Grants Pass is evil!"
I also knew what I did not want:
- No stories set in Grants Pass. I wanted Grants Pass itself to remain nebulous.
- No stories that did not mention Grants Pass. One of the plot points of the story had to be "I've heard of Grants Pass. Should I go or not?"
- No stories set mostly in flashbacks to before the apocalypse. I wanted to know what the characters were doing now… not back then.
That was the most basic criteria. Next up, for me, was "Is this story interesting? Does it have the feel that I want for this anthology?" Of course, poorly written stories were always at a detriment but if I could get past the technical writing mistakes and get drawn into the story - that was good. A well written story that had me forgetting about grammar, spelling and the like was golden.
I hate to say it but a lot of what an editor is doing after slogging through the stories that clearly do not meet the most basic requirements is to look for that "certain sort of something." This quality is largely undefined in that "I don't know what it is but I'll know it when I read it" sort of way. It has to do with whether or not the story grabs the editor and if it will fit into a collection of stories or not.
Really, creating an anthology is like choosing a chorus line. You want them all to mesh together. Some can be better than the others but no one story can be too different/better/worse/stand out more than any other story in the collection. For me, the trick to an anthology is to have an underlying level of cohesion to it. When a reader puts down the book, they will intrinsically understand why each story was in the collection.
This is easier said than done. Even harder when you have more than one editor and the two (or more) of them need to agree upon the shared vision.