Friday Guest Blog: Sacchi Green – The Lowdown on Editing Anthologies, Part 2
Now we move on to the what-do-editors-do-besides-reject stories part. Actually, rejecting stories is a major part of it, and possibly the most painful, so we’ll be including that too.
So you’ve managed to get a contract for an anthology from a publisher, or maybe you’ve decided to put an anthology together first and then work on getting it published. The latter used to be a really bad idea, but everything’s changing, so who knows? What I do know is that experienced writers are very unlikely to submit their work to an anthology with no publisher already lined up.
In any case, now you need to get submissions, and for that you need to circulate a call for submissions. If you wrote a knock-out proposal for the publisher, you can usually build on that for your CFS. The challenge is to make it very clear just what kind of story you want to see, and the overall effect you want your book to have, without being so didactically specific that you seem to want them to write to some exact formula. Getting stories that surprise you by being just what you didn’t know you wanted is one of the best rewards of the job. Keep it fairly short, and don’t lecture about “only your best work” or some variation thereof. No matter what you say you’ll have to wade through some less-than-stellar material. That’s part of the job. Do include your minimum and maximum desired word count, deadline for submissions, pay rate, contact information, publisher, and projected publication date if possible. If you omit any of these things you’ll get questions about them. Even if you don’t omit them you’ll get questions about them, but not as many.
Once you’ve composed your brilliant CFS (or guidelines, which is almost the same thing but implies more emphasis on the exact formatting you want, if you’re picky about that sort of thing) you need to get them out where writers can see them. You may want to send them only to a select group of writers you know, which would mean “invitation only,” but if you want to reach likely writers in general, send your CFS to the market listing web sites that specialize in the appropriate genre. For sf/f those would include ralan.com, duotrope, Cindy Ward’s and the Gila Queen’s lists, and others, which will probably pick them up from the first ones anyway. For erotica, Erotica Authors Resources is the main place to be seen, and others will spread the word.
Then you wait for the submissions to come in. And you wait. And worry. Bear in mind, though, that any stories that come in right away were probably already written beforehand, and quite possibly already sent out to other places quite a few times. Some of these might turn out to be the perfect fit for your anthology, but the chances of that are considerably better with work written especially for your theme, which takes time. In my experience much of the best work comes in very close to the deadline. So you still worry.
Some editors don’t read any of the submissions until they’re all in. Even so, they should acknowledge their receipt so the writers know they haven’t gone astray. I like to keep up with things more or less as they come in, give or take a week or so, but I still let people know that I’m not making decisions until later. Some editors say they do “rolling” acceptances as things come in, but I’m sure they leave some room for those of us whose creative juices flow best under the pressure of a deadline.
I tend to group things into “Yes,” “Maybe,” and “No” files, but once I know what I have to work with, I may well go into the “No” file to choose work that fills a gap in the range I want, even if it will require some rewriting. Sometimes I’ll choose one story over a similar piece that might by some standards be better written, because it covers more bases than the other one; sometimes the writing will just blow me away and I’ll use it even if it scarcely comes close to what I thought I wanted. It’s all subjective—and then again, it isn’t, because I need to provide the publisher with a book that lives up to my proposal, and I need to give readers who pick up a book with this theme at least some of what they think they want.
I like best to give them more than they thought they wanted, but that can be risky. I go for variety, in tone, setting, characters, ideas, style, whatever, but some editors stick closer to what they know their readers prefer, and that’s not a bad plan, either. Whatever your editorial style is, you’ll get the credit (or blame) for the way the book as a whole turns out, even though we all know that the most important part is getting good stories to work with. Without the writers, we’re nowhere.
Once you’ve decided which stories you’ll use, you really get down to work. Sending out acceptances is fun; sending out rejections is awful. With acceptances, I always say that they’re conditional, pending approval by the publisher. With rejections, when I can, I include a few specific points as to what was good or not so good, but really, it generally boils down to just not fitting into the anthology as a whole, for whatever reason, and if there are hundreds of submissions, it’s better to hurry up and let folks know that they can send their work elsewhere than to take a lot of time on each one.
At this point you need to send out contracts for the chosen writers to sign, with the understanding that the publisher may yet decide against them. You need the contracts now, so that you can guarantee to the publisher that all the stories are available. Usually you e-mail your version and ask the writers to print out two copies, sign them, and send both back to you. The usual practice is to send back one countersigned copy to them with their payment when the book comes out. Some publishers have a form contract they want you to use, and sometimes they leave it to you. Some want you to send them copies of the contracts, and some would rather have you keep them. The exact contents of contracts is a topic I’m not going to deal with here.
Then comes the real editing part. Some stories need next to nothing beyond copyediting for typos; some prompt you to do considerable fact-checking just in case; and some can be improved by a several sessions of back-and-forth revisions until writer and editor are both satisfied. Good publishers have good copyeditors, and no matter how careful you are they’ll probably find something you missed, but it’s nice to be told that the manuscripts you turn in are remarkably “clean.” (And sometimes you find things in the galley proofs that all of you missed before. That can be fun.)
When the stories are as good as they can be, it’s time to decide on their order in the book. Strong first and last stories—and middle ones; good variation, unless grouping similar ones fits your purpose better—or whatever feels right to you. Sometimes even a chronological order can apply. If the publisher doesn’t agree with the way you’ve done it, it can be changed. The thing now, as you’re facing your own deadline, is to write an introduction (if that’s customary with your publisher,) get the whole thing formatted as the publisher prefers (if you’ve been told,) and send it off on time.
Then you wait. Maybe not for long, but you never know. If you’re getting an advance, usually half of it will be paid when the manuscript is accepted, and half when the book comes out. When you do know which stories have been approved (and possibly gone to bat for a few, or chosen some yourself to cut because they say the book is too long,) it’s time to let the lucky writers know, and encourage them to publicize the fact on all their social networks. It’s never too early to start promoting.
Promotion these days is at least as important as any other part of the process. More important, in fact, since however good a book is, if it doesn’t sell and isn’t read, it’s wasted. I’m not going to get into that here, first because I’m still struggling with the concept myself, and second because it seems that everyone is struggling with it, and the whole idea of how books are published and distributed and read is in such flux that things could change at any time. Some people have a better grasp on promotion than others, though, so I hope to see an expert guest blog here on that very subject. I’ll certainly pay attention.
If any of you post your own Calls for Submission for anthologies, I’ll pay attention to those, too. Good luck!