How To Anthology: Part 1

I’d intended to write this up last week, on the heels of having edited, published, and illustrated a best-selling anthology. I’m glad I didn’t, since I was part of a panel of authors and anthologists on Thursday over on Live! from the Blanket Fort. The panel didn’t fully stay on topic (when do we ever?) but it did give me more of an idea of what should be covered in this post. Or should I say, a brief introductory post of what ought to be a whole series but I probably won’t do that just now and here… Dangit, my hands wore out so yes, there will be a short series.

Not just best new release… although we still have that tag two weeks in. Best seller in it’s category, which we held for days.

How Not to Shoot Fish is the third anthology, technically fourth, I’ve published under Sanderley Studios. I’ve edited three, and been publisher for four. There will be another volume of the hunting anthology out at the end of the month of September, titled The Deer Shot Back, which will make five. Because I’ve been fielding questions about ‘how to…’ I figured I’d talk about what I’ve done that has worked (or hasn’t) with the caveat that I am not really an anthologist, nor do I intend to keep doing these. I’ll leave that up to Raconteur Press. However, I do think that there is a market for short fiction, and anthologies are a great way to set up not only cross-pollination of fanbases for the authors involved, but they don’t have to be loss leaders for those authors. You can write for an anthology and get paid. I know this to be true now, based on my own experiences as an author, and as the publisher of anthologies.

The first step of creating and running an anthology is to consider the long tail of royalties. You can choose two routes here: handle the royalty accounting, taxes, and so forth on your own, every month or quarterly. Or, you can hand off that part to Chuck over at PubShare, and worry more about the other steps of anthologizing. As you might guess from my phrasing, I did the latter. I couldn’t have done this without that service to handle the money end, I know my own limitations and I simply haven’t enough spoons to do bookkeeping for 40-60 authors in addition to myself. Yes, Chuck takes 10% (and cheap at that) and it’s another layer between you and the distributors. I assure you, you can still make sure your authors get paid. For one thing, you aren’t going to set your ebook prices lower than 4.99 (not for an anthology you aren’t!) so you’ll be well within the 70% royalty band at Amazon…

The second thing you’ll want to do is some market research. Do you have a large enough audience to support an anthology? Do the authors who are committing stories to the anthology? Collectively? Sometimes it can be hard to tell, and you have to just experiment, which is what I did with the hunting anthology. I was in a unique position to be able to afford to do that. Was there an audience for non-fiction hunting tales largely written by fiction authors, seasoned hunters, and raconteurs? Turns out, there was. We’ve sold over 180 copies in the first two weeks, and that doesn’t count the ‘soft’ copies of Kindle Unlimited readthroughs. You won’t want to just plunge into an experiment, though. But on the other hand, don’t expect the moon on the first launch. Do your due diligence. Which brings me to…

Craft a strong call for stories, with a set deadline, and put this somewhere people can find it easily. One of the things that can founder an anthology, and both Raconteur Press and I ran into this bit of choppy water while navigating our way to anthologies, is not getting enough submissions to begin with. I have found that if I have a call, clearly defined, with a deadline, I’ll likely be looking at most of the stories subbed right at the deadline, but that’s far better than having a vague timeline where the stories got put off by authors until ‘what do you mean, it’s already been published?!’ Also, having an easily shareable link will enable good buzz about the submission call, being able to share it on social media and in writing groups, and will reduce you the publisher’s workload in having to answer the same set of questions over and over. I’d also say that if you want to maximize your story submissions, don’t make the theme of the anthology overly specific. Leave some room for the authors to be creative and I think you’ll be pleased at the results.

Along with that call, which should inspire writers to sit down and start typing while giggling madly… ahem. You’ll also want to make your submission guidelines crystal clear: where are you expecting them to send the completed story? What format should they use? How will you contact them to accept that magnificent tale? When can they expect to hear from you? Protip for authors: Include all your contact information in the story manuscript. All of it! Name, penname, email, story title should all be on the cover sheet, and if you don’t, you may wind up with a ghost rejection due to the publisher not knowing who the heck sent that story in. Every publisher is going to have slightly different requirements for formatting, but you can’t go too wrong if you look at the Baen submission guidelines (fonts, spacing, so forth).

You will want to draft a contract that you’ll be signing alongside your authors. There are some templates out there, but rule of thumb in this as in all things – keep it simple. If you can run it by an IP lawyer, do so, but don’t bother with any other kind of lawyer. For anthologies, I see a one-year exclusivity clause for that story most often. If it’s a shared world, you’ll want to retain the rights to the things that make your world unique, but don’t go too broad with this, authors will shy off (rightly!) if they feel that writing a short for you will strangle their ability to write elsewhere. The contract should lay out things like the copyright, the manner of payment and frequency, the author’s name in publication, the title of the publication, and so forth.

Finally, you’ll want to be ready to deal with submissions. Oddly enough, most folks have much more trouble with rejections than they do acceptances, fancy that! It’s not easy to tell an author ‘sorry, but your story doesn’t fit…’ and sometimes that is what you have to do. Keep it brief, professional, and resist the urge to explain. Definitely never make derogatory comments about the work, much less the author themselves. This isn’t a moment for drama. If the author is unprofessional enough to protest a rejection, don’t engage. Simply keep to the ‘didn’t fit’ and move on. Most of the time, that’s not going to be a problem. Rejections happen, and seasoned authors will understand that you aren’t rejecting them, it’s honestly the story didn’t fit a theme, wasn’t going to work in the space, and they will move on with life.

Once you have accepted the stories you plan to use in the anthology (roughly 12-15, rule of thumb, but if you’re working with long shorts of 10 K words you might not want more than 8, and if you’re taking super-shorts like I did with the hunting tales, you might wind up with 20. A number I do not recommend!) you must let the authors know ASAP. I’ve had more than one submission where I wasn’t sure I’d been accepted until the book released. Don’t do that to your authors! Send out the acceptance, the contract, and I have a how-to sheet for PubShare I send with my initial packet, to get newbies off and running.

Editing. Here’s where we start the hard work, and you’ll note how far down the checklist this is! Editing includes setting up the overall flow of the volume. Which story sets the tone? Put that one first. Which is the strongest story? Put that one last. Which is the strongest pull? Put that one in to prop up the middle. I’m not going to get into structural editing (I don’t, as an anthologist. I do copy edits, but if the story needs a lot of structure work I’m going to pass on it and send a rejection, as I don’t have the time or skills for it) here. I also start thinking about marketing while I am setting up the volume, and I’m not going to start the volume with an unknown author. The readers will often pick up the anthology based on the names on the front cover and you’ll want to sprinkle those names through the volume to entice the reader into discovering new authors they will also enjoy.

And my hands are giving out (I know, I need to be writing more!) so I’m going to finish this up next week. Please ask questions in the comments and I can address those next week, when I start diving into the publishing and marketing aspects of anthologies from both an author and now publisher’s perspective.

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