Let’s think of this as a memoir, because we all know just how — shall we say, imprecise? — memoirs can be these days. I should also say upfront that my editing has been largely in the erotica genre, rather than speculative fiction, although I have written enough of the latter to be an active member of SFWA.
Some of the best editors in any genres don’t get there by writing fiction themselves, but in my experience having a substantial body of published work is a good way to get a publisher’s attention. Being a competent writer is no guarantee at all of being a good anthology editor, but it has one great benefit; when you’ve had work in enough books or magazines with writers you admire, those writers will have enough confidence in you to send you their work, and without good stories to publish, you’re nowhere. You’re more likely to attract submissions from new writers, too, if they’ve seen your work or at least can google your name and come up with some credentials.
Another plus would be having a really good idea and the specialized expertise to back it up, possibly including non-fiction articles published in that field. An example would be an expert in fire-fighting technology proposing an anthology of future fire-fighting stories. There was a time when the go-to man for sf/f anthologies was Marty Greenberg, legendary for the editors and publishers he put together (Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail series is one example out of many hundreds.) But Marty died just a week or so ago; I’ve been reading many fond anecdotes about him in the obituaries discussion group on webnews.sff.net. The days when a chat with Marty Greenberg in the bar at an sf convention would lead to a publishing contract within hours are gone forever, and in any case, the publishing world, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, has changed greatly and is still floundering.
Some things haven’t changed so much. The very first consideration in pitching an anthology is to make sure the publisher you’re aiming at actually publishes anthologies, preferably those similar to what you have in mind, although offering something new and different just might work. You also need to decide whether you want to hold out for print, or will consider e-books. Look at the calls for submissions at ralan.com or duotrope or some similar market listings site, and see which publishers might fit with your ideas. Send a brief query letter (it’s best if you know the name of the publisher or an editor there) with a description of your idea and the reasons you’d be a good editor for it. They may tell you that their anthologies are all done in-house, but you just might hit them at the right time.
Which brings me to the memoir part, and the way I did it, with all the ups and considerable downs.
My first erotica anthology was pitched with a co-editor to a smallish, respected LGBT press. I’d had work published pretty widely by then, including a story in one book from that press and several where the owners themselves had shared the table of contents. My co-editor Rakelle Valencia had a few good publishing credits, and expertise in the theme we were pitching — Lesbian Cowboys (she’s a noted horse breeder and trainer.) It was a fine fit. Generally the press published work that was both literary and off-the-wall, very worthy books that were hard to place but deserved to be read. Something a bit lighter appealed to them just then. They were wonderful to work with, and loved our title: Rode Hard, Put Away Wet: Lesbian Cowboy Erotica. (Later publishers were more concerned with titles that were straightforward and likely to come up on Google and Amazon subject searches.) The book did well by small press standards, was a finalist for a Lambda Award, and did at least its share to support the publishing of more literary books, but soon, as distributors folded without paying and traditional publishing was in chaos, the press had to cut back and finally dwindle away. Our rights to the book, published in 2005 and out of print for several years, were just returned to us a few weeks ago. We never complained, or asked for what we were owed, and we still love those guys and honor what they tried to do.
When the first publisher began to retrench and limit new production, we pitched a lesbian motorcycle book to another publisher, where they happened to be considering trying some erotica. Hard Road, Easy Riding had barely hit the shelves when the company, always chiefly oriented toward academic books, merged with a bigger company and dropped all their fiction (including an alternate history anthology I’d just contracted for with them.) The biker book was eventually reissued by Lethe Press, a growing outfit concentrating mostly on LGBT speculative fiction, and Lethe also brought out my orphaned alternate history book, Time Well Bent (as well as a brand-new collection of my own work, A Ride to Remember. Meanwhile, we continued our rocky journey with another anthology for a very small company that couldn’t handle the shifting tides of distribution. Lipstick on Her Collar became another finalist for the Lambda Award, though, and that publisher recommended me to a somewhat larger, more stable company looking for a free-lance editor who could handle the administrative parts of the job, after having a bad experience with one who couldn’t. They contacted me with their own theme for an anthology, and I’ve done three more for them since, with another in progress. One of those, Lesbian Cowboys, also co-edited with Rakelle, did win the Lambda Award for lesbian erotica in 2010, and another, Lesbian Lust, won the GCLS award this year, but only the first one, Girl Crazy, has been selling well enough to provide much in the way of royalties beyond paying off the advance. The newest one, Lesbian Cops, hasn’t been out long enough to tell how it’s doing. If it were entirely up to bookstores with their consuming interest in how many print copies a writer/editor’s last book sold, I’d be death-spiraling out of the editing business, but e-book versions may keep me going.
From what I’ve heard and read, this kind of win/lose progression is pretty typical, in sf/f as well as erotica. As far as I can tell, so are the royalties and advances. For the first two anthologies, we got no advance but we did get funds to pay the contributors. For the third, we got a $2000 advance (to split) and paid the contributors out of that. My subsequent anthologies have been on the same terms, with royalties set at 7% of cover price, which is a better deal than a percentage of what the publisher takes in after distributors have their cut. Read your contracts closely! (And bear in mind that at that rate 2000 books have to be sold before I’ve earned out the advance.) Companies that are entirely or mainly e-presses have different arrangements, and it’s my impression that they mainly do their anthologies in-house, but it wouldn’t hurt to check them out.
A somewhat recent development in publishing (one that I’ve seen coming for quite a while) is an emphasis on writers/editors who have developed their own fan bases online, and have a celebrity sort of charisma. Name recognition sells books. Networking sells books. This is yet another reason to get your own writing out there. I’m a dinosaur in this respect, lacking in the charisma department, and all about the writing and editing. Even when I blog, which I do on Facebook and at sacchi-green.blogspot.com, it’s all about the writing. But that’s still important, too, and next time I’ll get into the details of what an anthology editor’s job is actually like. It’s not for sissies.
Connie Wilkins/Sacchi Green
Connie Wilkins’s first love was writing fantasy and science fiction, where she published work in such diverse venues as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Strange Horizons, and two of Bruce Coville’s anthologies for children. Then her alter-ego Sacchi Green became seduced by the erotic side of the force, where she published scores of stories in books including seven volumes of Best Lesbian Erotica, four volumes of Best Women’s Erotica, and three volumes of Best Lesbian Romance. She has also edited or co-edited seven anthologies of lesbian erotica, including Girl Crazy: Coming Out Erotica, Lesbian Cowboys: Erotic Adventures (a Lambda Literary Award winner,) Lesbian Lust: Erotic Stories, and Lesbian Cops: Erotic Investigations, all for Cleis Press. Lately she’s returned to her speculative fiction roots as editor of Time Well Bent: Queer Alternative Histories from Lethe Press. Her own story from that anthology also appears in Best Erotic Fantasy & Science Fiction from Circlet Press.