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Anthologies and oddities

Anthologies are a funny thing, for someone who started as indie: you write a short story, to a mandated length instead of “until it’s done”, and on a deadline. Sometimes, it has to be on a theme, sometimes in a particular universe. And then there’s the contracts: they range from life-of-copyright (an unthinkable contract for your own work… but what if you’re playing with someone else’s IP?) to reversion after a year just like a magazine. How do you decide to be in one?

With anthologies, we have these basic questions:
1. Who’s putting this together?
2. Is it interesting?
3. What rights am I licensing?
4. How and When will I be paid?
5. How and when do I get rights back?
6. What will I gain by doing this?
7. What will I lose by doing this?
8. How do you get invites, anyway?

1. Who’s putting this together?
As my father told me since I was knee high to a grasshopper, “It’s always who are the folks and what’s the deal, never the other way around.” Contracts exist to keep honest people honest, and to settle potential disputes before they can ever arise. Contracts can’t keep dishonest people from trying to cheat you, or jerks from being jerks, or flakes from flaking… no more than outlawing knives in Britain has stopped stabbings, eh?

So check into the person putting the package together, and the editor (often, but not always, the same person.) Are they honest? Are they upfront? Do they pay on time? In the case of even mildly controversial people, don’t rely on “everybody knows”; talk to people who’ve actually done business with them.

Speaking of: If you get the chance, I highly endorse Michael Z Williamson. He’s completely upfront and honest, communication is prompt, contract is clean and clear, pay is on time and to the penny.

2. Is it interesting?

Many anthologies are themed – CalExit, Chicks N’ Chained Males, Those in Peril, Noir Fatale, Forged In Blood, Kicking It (Chicagoland Vampires), TerraNova: Wars of Liberation, etc.

Take Noire Fatale: the title is a dead giveaway on they want noir stories with a femme fatale. If you really don’t enjoy noir, and you don’t write female characters, this is probably not the anthology for you. Chicks N’ Chained Males was a an anthology full of hilarious outtakes on the fantasy warrior with the chainmail bikini trope. If you don’t write fantasy or humour? Not the anthology for you. If an invite to something you don’t write crosses your inbox, take the time to thank the people who sent it for thinking of you (this helps get future offers passed your way!), and decline. Or, if it’s an open call instead of a specific invite, thank them and then pass it on to people you think might be interested and able.

By the way, the amount of interest in writing is necessary to determine before the contract side. Because you’re a creative being, and it’s best to seek out if the creative bit is interested and come up with something first. Which rolls directly into #3…

3. What rights am I licensing?

Because if you think playing in the world of Mad Mike’s FreeHold or Tom Kratman’s Carreraverse is really cool, it’s worth the much more rigorous contract that comes with playing in someone else’s world and with their intellectual property. (Note there are two sources of constraint here: creative, in that editing may include “This is awesome, but directly contradicts something I’m doing in the next book, so I need you to change it”, and contract, in that control of the IP is determined by the world creator’s contract with the publishing house, and then the subsequent contract for the anthology.)

What if you come up with a really cool story and they don’t take it? Easy enough; if it’s set in your own world, then send it out elsewhere or publish it. If it’s not? File the serial numbers off, make it your own, and send it out again or publish it yourself. (Just make sure you filed the serial numbers off really well and built your own world.)

4. How and When will I be paid?

This is an important thing: Artists Get Paid. Exposure is what you die of when you can’t pay the rent.

Payment can vary: bigger publishers often pay up-front, as well as royalties every quarter or twice a year. (This is a good thing. If the publisher doesn’t have any skin in the game, why would they push the book to succeed?) Smaller publishers, that lack the liquid capital, may pay royalties only.

Amateurs and shysters pay Net royalties (or Net receipts). Amateurs because they’re thinking “this book will earn X, less Costs Y, so I’ll pay X-Y split evenly among Z authors! Costs often balloon all out of anticipation, especially when the people doing it have lots of passion and very little business sense… and you’ll be lucky to see pennies for your work. Shysters present the same argument, but go into this anticipating fleecing the authors of almost all their income. Incompetence or malice… doesn’t matter, you’re not getting paid. Don’t get burned, get paid.

Most especially, don’t fall for “We’re all friends and struggling artists, so let’s all contribute $50 and a story; that’ll cover the editing and art and marketing, and we’ll make tons!” The artist is not the revenue source; readers are. Unless there’s a clear, concise marketing plan and cost sheet already laid out, and a solid track record of this editor/packager doing this? Just walk away. (It’s actually a known thing in romance, especially when they were aiming a box set to hit the USA Today list…. but even there, it’s usually a tool of the malicious, and sometimes the incompetent and hopeful.)

5. How and When do I get rights back?

This varies from “You don’t; Star Trek anything doesn’t revert.” to “In one year from publication” to “When sales fall below 50 copies a quarter”… check your contract carefully. Decide if having the story locked up for that amount of time is worth it.

6. What will I gain by doing this?

This is actually a separate discussion from pay for a reason. Frankly, if the antho has some heavy hitters, it’ll bring their fanbase with, and hopefully gain exposure and cross-pollination among fanbases. That can be worth a lot – even to the heavy hitters!

If it’s all new authors and folks with less than 100 fans, exactly how many copies do you expect to sell / how many people do you expect to see it? Unless the editor has a large fanbase (whether from being the author of a popular series and it’s set in that world, or a long backing history like Writers of the Future contest), the anthology is likely to make happy meal money, and not get your name out there in lights on Broadway. Or even off-off-Broadway. Are you going to be happy with that? (At the beginning of our careers, the answer is often… yes! And that’s not a bad thing, as long as you walk in with open eyes.)

And it’s not just any heavy hitter, but people whose style and fandom overlaps yours. For example, an anthology with Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, Faith Hunter, and Patricia Briggs is going to have huge audience draw, and if our own Amanda Green could land a story in that, she’d have a heck of a lot of exposure to people who like Urban Fantasy, and might go looking for more by her… but if my darling man got a story in there? It’d stick out like a sore thumb and not be at all what the readers wanted.

That said, there are reasons to do this other than cash and fanbase cross-pollination. Sometimes you just want to get the story out there. Sometimes it’s for a charity. Sometimes it just tickles your fancy, and business sense be damned. Sometimes it’s to help a buddy out. Know what you’re getting, and if it’s worth it to you.

7. What will I lose by doing this?

In some cases, the story will be tied up and you’re not getting it back. In all cases, you’re spending time and mental energy on this one story that you can’t spend on something else.

If you expect to make $5K on a novel release, possibly $7K if you can rapid-release after the last one, but you’re losing 3 weeks to reading and taking notes on all the books in the other author’s world, and then researching all the bits for a short that’s going to pay only in royalties split 8 ways in 6 months, expected to be $200… There’s a severe opportunity cost to taking the job.

On the other hand, if that short will pay $500 on acceptance, and the novel release is two months in arrears, and the kids need a dentist Real Soon Now, then $500 in hand in a couple weeks to repay the dental bill put on the credit card may be a whole lot better than waiting 2+ months to get cash. Real life is a lot messier than theoretical absolutes!

8. How do you get invites, anyway?

A.) Prove you can write on length and on spec.
B.) Talk to other authors, friendly-like.

Seriously, the first part is critical. If no one knows you can write an 5,000 word short story, you’re highly unlikely to get an anthology invite, and people aren’t going to think to send the open calls across your inbox. “Uh, dude, you write epic novels, right? I’ve never seen you write a short. So I figured that wasn’t your bag, baby.” You all know the story of the guy who prayed to win the lottery every day for thirty years, and finally the heavens opened up up, and a voice spake like thunder: “Help me out here. Buy a ticket!”

Well, short stories you write are your tickets in this lottery. So write them, then get them out there. Put in for anthologies with open calls if you like, self-publish if you like, bundle them up and sell as collections if you like, submit to the magazines… (If you’re prolific, and especially if you also write novels, collections are best – because it means your fans can find your novels without scrolling through page after page of short stories. Even if you’re prolific and you don’t write novels, this makes it easier for fans to find the ones they want, and not accidentally buy twice.)

The second part is a very wise idea – because the more authors you’re friendly acquaintances with, the more likely they are to get an open call and think “I can’t use this. Maybe That Guy, This Guy, or Those two guys would be interested?” and forward it on. The more you hang out with your fellow wordsmiths, the more likely you are to be around when somebody says, “I’m thinking of doing an anthology on BlahBlahBlah. Anybody interested?” In the business world, this is called networking. Artists often get the mistaken impression that networking consists of a suit and business cards that you need to shove at everybody and anybody who holds still long enough. That’s… not especially productive.

On the other hand, when my friend and fellow apprentice airplane mechanic went home over Christmas, and mentioned hijinks we’d gotten up into to her buddy Oleg, who was also, like her, a moderator on a gun rights board (actually, he was the owner), and he decided to call and chat because I sounded interesting? That’s networking. And when I told him handguns hurt to shoot due to injuries, he recommended this guy (and fellow moderator) who taught concealed carry to the disabled… and that’s how I met my husband, when he lived in Louisiana and I lived in Alaska. Networking!

So be friendly. Realize that other authors are human beings with their own faults and foibles, and you don’t have to be best buddies, but it doesn’t hurt to be friendly acquaintances. (And it doesn’t hurt to make friends, either!) You never know if that gentleman you hung outside on the steps at Libertycon with, cheerfully arguing history and how it informs culture and present day politics, laughing and swapping jokes until your husband and his lady both were making firm noises about “Bed! Now!” is going to turn around and offer an anthology slot almost a decade later. Or the gentleman you randomly asked if he wanted to go to a tea party, because darnit, you had a tea party scheduled even if no one else who’d planned to go could make it, will end up inviting your husband into an anthology years later. Or the conversation at the virtual bar that ended up wandering all over the place and became a pun war, and years later people still remember you…

As for why I have anthologies on the brain?
Check out what came out this week!

TerraNova

TerraNova: The Wars of Liberation
New stories set in Tom Kratman’s hard-hitting Carrera military sf series

“Send us your tired, your poor,” says the inscription at the base of the great statue, “your huddled masses yearning to be free.”

But the future of the colony planet, Terra Nova, and its relations with Old Earth is far more a case of boot out your tired, your poor, your dissidents and troublemakers. Use us for a dumping ground for all your problems. Go ahead and abandon these here. This may have been fine, too, but for the UN and its corrupt bureaucracy insisting on maintaining control and milking the new world and its settlers, willing and unwilling both, bone dry.

Contained herein are tales of the history of Mankind’s future first colony, from the first failed attempt at colonization, to the rise in crime, to the rise in terrorism, to its descent into widespread civil war and rebellion…and ultimately liberation. As with most of human history, this history is messy, with good men and women turning bad, bad men and women inadvertently doing good, and blood flowing in the streets.

Stories set in Tom Kratman’s Carrera series by
Kasey Ezell
Mike Massa
Rob Hampson
Chris Smith
Peter Grant
Chris Nutall
Justin Watson
Monalisa Foster
Alex Macris
Lawrence Railey
and Tom Kratman

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’ve been watching from “the other side of the curtain” so to speak on anthologies, and just want to add: turn in what you promise, and do it on time. That will take you even farther, and boost that networking reputation. If Life happens (family emergency, medical problem, Day Job transfers you across the state on two weeks notice) and you can’t do it, tell people as soon as possible so they can plan and regroup.

    August 11, 2019
  2. I’ve only had the privilege to participate in one anthology thus far. It was for one of the CKP Four Horseman Universe books. Working with Chris is awesome. I’ve done covers for him for years, but this was the first (hopefully not the last) time I had the opportunity to turn in a sample of my writing. It was tons of fun and the contract was very fair.

    August 11, 2019
  3. Draven #

    closest i have seen is watching some anthology projects disintegrate, or hearing enough of one to know it wasn’t happening.

    August 11, 2019
  4. Margaret Ball #

    I find it excruciating to participate in themed anthologies (I gotta write a story about WHAT? In 5000 words or less?) but it’s also good exercise. Forces me to think about hypotheses I’d never dream up on my own. And one anthology story gave me a character so loud she insisted on, and eventually got, her own novel.

    August 11, 2019
    • Mary #

      It can take a while to come up with a suitable idea. I’ve heard of writers who manage it only after turning down the invite.

      August 11, 2019
  5. Christopher M. Chupik #

    So far I’ve had pretty good luck with anthologies, having been in five. The latest came out this very weekend.

    August 11, 2019
  6. OldNFO #

    Sheesh… my anthology got misspelled… LOL But Dot is right, networking WILL benefit you, and yes, you CAN write to spec on short notice, if you really want to get out there. I will be in a third anthology coming out next month, this one from Chris Kennedy.

    August 12, 2019
    • Oops, sorry! Fixed now!

      And hey, congrats on the next one coming out! (and you get to guess how many times I had to proofread this comment.)

      August 13, 2019

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