So you want to be an anthology editor… Are you sure?

A mere five months ago, I’d never even considered editing as a potential occupation. Truthfully, I didn’t much care for editing—even my own work—seeing it only as a necessary evil on the path to writing success (which, for the record, remains elusive). Editors were mysterious, anal people I submitted to, got rejected by, and who seemed generally more grumpy, harried, and jaded than your average curmudgeon. At conventions I gave them a wide berth, preferring instead to peer enviously from a safe corner while braver writers than I chatted them up, bought them drinks, and pitched stories.

Fast forward to now: I’m an editor! (It’s true—my name’s on the cover of a book). I’m also interning for Jennifer Brozek, an award-winning anthologist and all-around awesome mentor, and have four (!) more anthology projects planned with my amazing co-editor, Jaym Gates. How did this happen?

Answer: See Christie Yant’s October 8th post  about volunteering (my experience can viewed as either an inspirational example or a cautionary tale).

When contemplating what to write for this, my inaugural blog post (anywhere, ever), I decided to stick with what has consumed my life for the last five months: putting together an open (i.e. non-invite, non-reprint) anthology—the process from beginning to end. I don’t claim to be an expert—I’ve only done it once—but hopefully I’ve learned something that may be of use to you, whether you’re a writer who’s curious about what editors actually do, or an aspiring anthologist yourself.

For those with short attention spans, the meat of the matter is this: generate an idea, query a publisher, develop guidelines, implement a submission process, obtain art, handle rewrites, negotiate contracts, send out acceptances and rejections, edit, proofread, promote, and correspond. The steps may or may not proceed in this order. Moral of the story: editors work very, very hard, for next to no money.

For those who crave a little (okay, a lot) more detail, read on. (And, no, the irony of a long blog post about editing is not lost on me.)

Idea

Pretty obvious, but the first thing you need is a premise or a theme likely to appeal to writers and readers alike. It’s great to come up with a catchy title, too.

Query a Publisher

This step can occur at almost any point in the process, whether before inviting submissions, to see if there’s interest in your idea, or after you have a complete manuscript in-hand. The reality is that as a new anthologist, you will probably aim for a small press and are unlikely to be offered a contract prior to acceptance of a manuscript. The difficulty with this is that you’ll be unable to guarantee rates of pay, publishing format (print, electronic, or both), publication date, etc. at the outset, which can make it more challenging to attract submissions, particularly from established authors. Unless you plan to fund and publish the project yourself, there is no getting around this (though you may at least get permission from a publisher to mention their interest). Ask submitters to take a leap of faith with you and set out a specific time-frame in which to shop the manuscript so as not to leave them hanging. Don’t make promises (e.g. rates of pay) you can’t keep.

Research publishers to find out who accepts anthologies and which one is the best fit for your idea. Follow their guidelines.

Of course, if you happen to know a publisher well (as I did), your initial query may be as informal as a quick email or conversation. However, most queries will be more formal and should: 1) establish your qualifications to edit; 2) intrigue the publisher about your idea; and 3) convince the publisher the anthology will be marketable.

Generate Guidelines

The guidelines should clearly set out things like what types of stories you want to see, what types of stories will be a tough sell, upper and lower word-counts, the deadline for submissions, technical details of manuscript presentation (e.g. font, font size, margins, file type, etc.), and instructions for submission (e.g. mail, email, electronic submissions form, etc.). You might also consider including research references, quotes, and/or mentions of previously published stories as inspiration. It is worth noting that, no matter how detailed your guidelines, the feel, tone, and organization of the anthology will be determined by the stories you receive—something that is difficult to predict at the outset, but a wonderful, surprising part of the process.

You will need a website or blog on which to post your guidelines, and a land or email address to receive submissions.

Broadcast your call for submissions as widely as possible by any means available (e.g. word-of-mouth, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.). It’s a good idea to get a listing on a website such as Duotrope’s Digest to attract more attention.

Slush

For your first project, you may not get enough submissions to warrant having a “slush reader” (i.e. someone to help sort submissions at first instance). For Rigor Amortis we initially had a slush reader, but found we could keep up with submissions on our own. If you do take on a reader, make sure it’s someone you trust, they have a strong reading/writing background, and that their job is clear (usually only weeding out obviously unpublishable material and passing on the rest to the editor(s)). You may choose to put a more sophisticated system in place, such as an email account with “No,” “Maybe,” and “Yes” folders into which the slush reader can sort submissions for review by the editors. Or you might have your slush reader prepare a short, written review with their recommendation for each story. Caution your slush reader not to talk about submissions—ever—with anyone except you.

Whether or not you have a slush reader, it’s a good idea to keep up with submissions—you don’t want a hundred (or more) submissions staring you in the face come the deadline.

Art

At the very least you will need cover art. The cover must be eye-catching and representative of the feel and content of the anthology. If you are working with a publisher, they may want to handle this or may have a preference for the type of cover they want to see.

There are three, main ways of finding cover art: 1) accept submissions from artists (which will require guidelines and a submission process); 2) purchase the rights to an existing piece of art; or 3) commission a piece of art. Obviously work from a more well-established artist will be more expensive, especially if you commission a piece. The same process applies for interior art. How early you need to start looking for art depends on your overall time-frame and whether you are buying existing art or asking for something new. A tight deadline and/or new art will require more lead time.

If you are responsible for finding art and are working with a publisher, check their requirements. They may prefer a specific file format and size, as well as a certain type of illustration (e.g. black and white line drawings instead of gray-scale images, which don’t reproduce as well).

Art and artists can be found on websites such as deviantART, or through a simple Google search on your topic. Again, it can be problematic to solicit art without a firm budget, but newer artists are often willing to take a chance.

Rewrites

As you are reading slush, you may come across stories that, while unpolished or problematic in some respect, have strong potential. You can either reject such stories or ask the author for a rewrite to address the problems. This may involve only a short note setting out the issues to be addressed, or marking up the manuscript with suggested changes. Make it clear that a rewrite does not guarantee acceptance.

Contract Negotiations with Publisher

Let me just say at the outset, this is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion of contractual terms and their implications, as I am not qualified or experienced enough to speak on these subjects. But I will cover some basic points below.

You will need a contract for yourself (as editor), as well for the authors and artists. The latter two will be quite similar, while the former may include terms such as deadlines for the submission of the edited manuscript, an obligation on the part of the publisher to actually publish and by what date, etc. While you have very little negotiating power as a first time anthologist, it never hurts to ask for what you want, or counter a publisher’s first offer, as long as you do so in a courteous and professional manner. If they are very interested in your project you may get them to move a little.

The two most important things to see in a contract, in my opinion, are: 1) money flowing towards the author or artist (even if it’s only a token amount); and 2) that the publisher is purchasing either non-exclusive rights, or single use and time limited exclusive rights, so the story/drawing can be sold and/or published again by the author/artist. Royalties are a nice bonus if you can get them (we didn’t), but many small presses will not offer royalties because of the complicated accounting required in proportion to the small number of sales in overall terms.

Acceptances and Rejections

Rejecting stories is, by far, the worst part of editing an anthology. You’re going to hurt feelings. You’re going to discourage someone, maybe even to the point that they threaten to quit writing. You may even experience outright hostility (we haven’t yet, thankfully). You will have to reject friends and respected colleagues. And you may have to reject strong stories that just don’t fit. Unfortunately all of this comes with the territory and is not fun. Whether your rejections are personalized or form, keep them polite, to the point, and encouraging. Respond (within reason) to requests for feedback, but don’t engage in any back-and-forth arguments about whether something should have been accepted. You simply can’t win. And remember, if you experience conflict at this, or any other point, keep your composure and act professional. As Jennifer Brozek so aptly puts it, “Keep your tie on in public.”

While I recommend sending out rejections as you go along (i.e. prior to the deadline) so that the author can send the story elsewhere, the same isn’t true for acceptances. Reason? Other, later stories might be better. You won’t know what you have until the deadline closes and it’s best to keep your options open.

When accepting stories, you may or may not have a contract to offer the author, depending on whether you have a publisher. Jennifer Brozek recommends that no contract be issued until the editing process is mostly complete (excellent advice Jaym and I will be following on our next project). In other words, the acceptance letter should indicate that a contract will be forthcoming if and when final edits have been agreed on between the editor and author. This ensures that either side can back away if an impasse is reached during the editing process.

You may want to request bios and possibly head shots at this point, as well as inquiring how much, and what sort of publicity the author would be interested in doing.  Confirming each author’s byline (i.e. the name under which they write) is also a good idea.

One of the very tricky parts about acceptances is that, not only are you constrained by story quality, but also by page count. Page count is integrally linked to price point: the longer the book, the higher the cost (different publishers will have different thresholds, but they’ll all have thresholds). If you hope to sell books, you’ll want to keep the cost as low as possible. For us, a total page count of 150 (including “front matter” such as the title page, table of contents, and introductions, as well as extra pages at the end) meant a price point of $14.95; one page over would’ve raised the price to $19.95. And, of course, it is not as simple as merely figuring out the words-per-page and dividing your word count by that number—stories take up partial pages, art and bios of unknown length must be inserted, etc. For Rigor Amortis we ended up rejecting a few stories based on page count limitations alone. Such limitations are definitely something to consider and, if possible, calculate, prior to sending out acceptances.

Editing

Editing is tough. How far do you go? Do you simply line-edit, looking for obvious errors like spelling mistakes and misused punctuation? Or go a bit further, correcting things like wordiness, and questionable word choices? Or even further still, suggesting changes based on the anthology’s theme or feel, or to strengthen a character’s motivation? There are differing opinions on these things, and no one, right answer. While one author might be extremely grateful for the effort and results of a thorough edit, another may feel their artistic integrity is being compromised, perhaps rightly so. The extent of your edits will depend on your personal style, the needs of the story, and the needs of the anthology as a whole. If it appears that extensive edits will be necessary for a particular story, it is probably better to ask for a rewrite, than to accept the story and then surprise the author by asking for major changes.

Once the editor and author agree on a final draft, the contract (if you have one) can go out to the author for signing.

Aside from correction of the author’s initial draft (or drafts), the editor’s job at this stage also includes writing back-cover and website copy (i.e. the description of the anthology that will be used to hook readers), writing an introduction and/or foreword, and, with the publisher’s permission (if there is one), sending out advance reading copies (“ARCs”) to solicit praise blurbs for the interior cover.

Story Ordering and Proofreading

Now that you have all of the stories in place, you’re ready to organize them in some logical fashion, whether in sections by theme, chronologically in time, or by some other method that makes sense—the stories will tell you. You want to offer readers a comfortable, seamless reading experience, while also making sure that any sections are relatively balanced in terms of length.

Make sure your manuscript is as clean as possible before sending it to the publisher. This means following their guidelines precisely and getting the document in as close to publishable shape as possible (e.g. no double spaces anywhere, no smart quotes, special instructions to the typesetter where necessary, etc.). The publisher will likely come back with changes, which may mean further go-rounds with authors on edits.

Proofreading the manuscript requires extreme attention to detail, including reviewing such things as headers, footers, bios, art placement, name spellings, font choices, etc. Multiple read-throughs are required and I recommend checking and double-checking that requested changes have been made. As the editor, you are ultimately responsible for the content.

Promotion

So, the final manuscript is on its way to the printer—you’re done, right?!

Um, no.

Most (if not all) publishers these days expect editors and authors to be involved in promotion. Where royalties are a part of the contract, there is a clear financial incentive for editors and authors to do this, but even when there’s not, it’s in everyone’s interest that the book do well. The editor will build his or her reputation for putting together a successful project, and the authors gain valuable exposure for their work. Strong sales put everyone in a more advantageous negotiating position the next time around.

Promotion is a long-term commitment of a year or two (or more), and may include things like readings, interviews, book club appearances, guest blogging, on-line publicity of various kinds, researching possible awards, and attending conventions (at your own cost). You can also produce promotional materials (also likely at your own cost), such as posters, bookmarks, and postcards for distribution or display (note: be sure to secure the artist’s permission to use their image(s) in this way). Finally, you will want to seek as many reviews as possible, from big and small name reviewers alike. As one successful author recently told me: “It’s better to get a bad review than no review at all,” and also, “One’s need for publicity is inversely proportional to how much you’ll get from the publisher.”

The biggest challenge to being successful is not creating a great product; it’s getting noticed.

Correspondence and Meetings

In addition to everything mentioned above, be prepared for an absolute ton of correspondence. Authors, artists, and the publisher will have many questions. They’ll have concerns and ideas. You’ll need to remind authors to send back their signed contracts, promo forms, and edited drafts, maybe more than once. You’ll have announcements and news to share. You are the middle-man between authors and the publisher on issues such as payment, ordering discounted copies, etc. And, if you have a co-editor, you can expect a reduced workload but also hours and hours spent in meetings or talking on Skype (though not always about business, thankfully).

Final Thoughts

If you made it this far—congratulations!—you probably have what it takes to be an anthology editor (especially if you were mentally editing along the way).

As I said at the outset, be prepared to work very, very hard. Know that it will take over your life for a period of time, especially if you’re working under a tight deadline. The hours are long (350+ each for Jaym and I to this point), the pay is low, and there will be problems and mistakes along the way, possibly even interpersonal conflict.   Am I now more grumpy, harried, and jaded than your average curmudgeon?  Getting there.

But, together with the authors, artists, and publisher you will be part of a team (unlike writing, which can be lonely), and you will create something unique and wonderful. Seeing your book in print and seeing others enjoy it is very rewarding and makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Comments or questions? I’d love to hear, er, see them!

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  • Wow! First blog post EVER?! I had no idea!

    Great look behind the scenes at a small press anthology. I knew in general terms that you two were working very hard, but it’s interesting to see some of the details of what was involved! Congratulations on Rigor Amortis and best of luck with the next anthologies!

  • I’m calling it: most informative inkpunks post to-date. This is really awesome!

  • johnremy

    Erika,

    I knew you were going to create a helpful resource for future editors (and for writers to better empathize with and appreciate their editors), but this completely blows away even the high expectations I had for you! If I ever consider editing an anthology, I will start with this post, and will definitely send friends this way, to start them out (or dissuade them).

    I love, too, that you show editing to be part of the overall creative effort:

    “It is worth noting that, no matter how detailed your guidelines, the feel, tone, and organization of the anthology will be determined by the stories you receive—something that is difficult to predict at the outset, but a wonderful, surprising part of the process.”

  • Fantastic blog post!

    I think it’s safe to say after reading your words, first, you are AMAZING, second, I’ll be staying on the “author” side of things! LOL

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Jaym Gates

    ~waves weakly from beneath piles of paper~ Spreadsheets. ORGANIZATION. Lead time. Don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed, get things set up ahead of time. Be paranoid. Leave too much time, because then you’ll merely be late, and not OH MY GOD THE DEADLINE WAS A MONTH ago.

    Great post Erika, and yes. All of these things are absolutely essential!

    Hat off to a phenomenal co-editor!

  • This was such an informative post. Honestly, I love editing. I think I spend more time editing than I do writing. -blush- So, this post rocked, especially for a first!

    • Erika Holt

      Thanks, Crystal. I’m learning to enjoy editing more myself. 🙂

      Erika

  • Erika! Fabulous post. So very useful!

    • Erika Holt

      Oh, good! Thank you!

  • Eileen Bell

    Excellent post, Erika! You’ve given us on the other side a good look at the life of an anthology editor. (And like Sandra said, I think I’ll stay on this side! Looks pretty hard!) And so glad to hear you’ve come up with 4 more ideas! Guess it means this time around didn’t hurt TOO badly!

    Good luck with Rigor Amortis!

    • Erika Holt

      Thanks, Eileen! 🙂