What’s involved in editing an anthology?
As an editor you define the vision and theme for the project, select the stories to include, edit those stories, and usually write accompanying material like a foreword, introduction, or epilogue. You’ll determine the order in which the stories appear, and might write a short introduction to each story and/or author. Depending on how the project is structured, you might also write the sales copy, give direction to the cover designer—or design the cover, and put together promotional material.
You need to define the theme clearly enough so the authors understand what you’re looking for, review and edit manuscripts, and sometimes pass on a story you love because it’s not right for the collection you’re working on. Editing might go smoothly, or you might find yourself spending hours editing a story, only to find that the author isn’t willing to make the requested changes and you have to find a new author/story to fill in at the last minute. Thinking through your goals and making decisions ahead of time can make the whole process significantly easier.
How to Select Authors and Stories
Invitations vs. calls for submissions
If you extend invitations, think about the expectation you’re setting. Are you extending a blanket invitation to accept any story an author sends you? Or have you made it clear that you intend to review each story to make sure it’s a good fit for your theme?
If you put out a call for submissions, have you made sure your guidelines are clear enough so that you don’t end up having to wade through a zillion manuscripts that have nothing to do with the theme you’ve envisioned? Will you publish the guidelines on a website, in a newsletter, a Facebook group, mailing list, or all of the above?
A combination approach can work well in situations like if there’s a well-known author or two who you’d like to include in the collection, or if there’s a group of authors you know will write exactly what you’re looking for.
Suppose you’ve extended an invitation to an author based on reading some of their work. You know they’re capable and talented. Then they submit a story that’s not nearly as well-written as you know they can write. Do you have the time and energy to edit this story to get it up to par?
Do you want all of the stories to be similar, or do you like having more variety? The tighter the constraints you specify in your vision and guidelines, the more similar the stories will be.
Do you care if an author has a modern, professional-looking website, or perhaps doesn’t have a website at all? Do you want to work with authors who have experience with promotion, or are you and/or the publisher planning on handling this?
If you’re not counting on the authors to help out with marketing, you can choose to invite authors based solely on the quality of their stories. If instead you’re relying on the authors to help with promotion, you’ll need to base your selections on the quality of the stories and how effective you feel each author will be at marketing.
There’s no right or wrong way to choose which authors to work with. The key is to figure out what is important to you and to then be mindful of this while you make your decisions.
Your vision for the project should include both the genre and the theme of your project. The more clearly you envision and describe your project, the closer the authors will get to it. Just be sure to keep your vision in mind when reviewing the submissions, as sometimes authors will submit stories they know are close but not on point.
In addition to information about your vision for the project, project guidelines typically include things like allowed story lengths, the length for author biographies and, if you’re opening the collection up to submissions, how to submit a story, including the desired manuscript format.
The title of the collection is just as important as the title of any other book. Make sure it fits with your vision as well as the genre of the project. One way to figure out if the title is working is to compare it to other titles in the same genre.
Number/length of stories
You can either set a specific number of stories to include, or set a target word count for the anthology.
The word count range per story should be set in the guidelines. You might choose to give authors the option to check in with you if they’re over or under this range, or you could make it clear that there’s no wiggle room. Authors will often submit stories that are either too short or too long, regardless of how firm you’ve said the rules are, so you’ll need to figure out how to handle these situations.
Scheduling and deadlines
Make sure to set a deadline for submissions that allows authors enough time to write their stories, and factor in enough time for you to review and edit the submissions.
If you’re involved in other areas like formatting the book, designing the cover, and putting together promotional material, take the amount of time you’ll need to spend into consideration when setting both the launch date and the author deadlines.
If you’re working with a publisher, this may not apply. However, it’s becoming more and more common for editors to work very closely with small presses, and often the editor is also the publisher.
If you’re involved with setting the price for your collection, look at other, similar anthologies to see what prices are working well. You might also consider different strategies, like launching at a temporarily low price point for a week or two, or making the anthology available for pre-orders.
Contracts, licensing, and payment/royalties
This is another area that was traditionally outside of the hands of the editor, but today editors are often involved in.
Do you have a standard contract ready? If not, do you feel comfortable putting one together on your own, or do you need—and can afford—legal advice?
If you’re determining licensing terms, do you want to request stories be exclusive to your anthology—and for how long? Are you okay with reprints, or are you only interested in new stories?
Will you provide a one-time payment for each story? If so, will you provide a fixed fee per story, pay per word, or offer a contributor’s copy but no monetary payment?
Would you prefer to pay royalties, so that each author gets a percentage of the revenue in perpetuity—and if so, how will you track the sales and deliver regular payments? If you’re paying royalties, will each author get the same percentage, or do you want to give a larger percentage to a well-known author?
Anthologies can be fun!
While putting together an anthology can entail a fair amount of work, it’s incredibly rewarding to see your vision for a project come alive.
Jamie Ferguson has curated ten multi-author collections and is working on many more, including a monster-themed anthology series she’s co-editing with DeAnna Knippling. She’s also a member of the Uncollected Anthology, an urban and contemporary fantasy author collective, which she joined in the spring of 2018. She loves creating colorful spreadsheets and has spent her day job career working in software. Jamie lives in Colorado and spends her free time in a futile quest to wear out her two border collies, since she hasn’t given in and gotten them their own herd of sheep. Yet.