A Short Note on Anthologies – What to do, and What Not to Do
Ever since I started writing, one of the staple markets for authors has been the anthology. Most of them are themed, some are less so – like the Borderlands Anthologies, Masques, and Cemetery Dance Publications’ Shivers series. In the 80s there were themed anthologies on all sides, with the advantage of selling to their themed audience, and the disadvantage that at least one big tension point is removed from every story – because, for instance, the anthology Werewolves, which I had a story in… you kind of knew a big furry dog person was going to be involved up front. The featured image for this post is a tentative cover for a project I may tackle in the near future. I am considering ALL of the points below, believe me.
That’s not what I want to talk about here, though. If you are a new publisher, independent author, new author or aspire to any of those callings, this is for you. I’m going to do this in a sort of bullet-point format because there’s a lot to cover, and most of it requires little in the way of explanation.
Know up front – the first rule of anthologies. They do not sell as well as novels. They never have, and they never will. There is a smaller, more insular audience for them. They have never sold in the numbers that novels have, and likely never will. It’s just the truth. You can check this with just about any professional editor or marketer. Harder sell… smaller audience. Still a very cool way to present short fiction. They are a good way to make some money as an author, and a bad idea if they don’t pay any.
- Anthologies are harder to sell.
- It will not sell more copies if you dedicate it to a charitable cause. It seems like it would, but it will not. It’s an extremely over-used gambit.
- If you are going to publish an anthology, you need to pay something up front to the authors, because it is likely most of what they will make. There is more chance of a turtle flying than there is of the exposure from an independently published anthology helping anyone’s career.
- The only exception to rule 1 is having a story from an absolute top-of-the-list author, not a reprint. It will not be cheap.
- May anthologies are filled by invite only. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you understand as editor and publisher that the book comes first. If your friend or colleague turns in a story you don’t like, don’t publish it. If you think it would be fine with edits, make the edits (You are the editor) and run it past the author. If they decline the edits, thank them for their interest, and move on to another author. Any compromise you make is a chink in the integrity of the book.
- Both the editor, and the publisher, are responsible for the quality of the stories. Most authors don’t do a very good job editing their own manuscripts. I have to go through mine multiple times and still need at least a second set of eyes. Unless you are a grammar expert, OCD, and willing to put in many hours editing stories you did not write, you should either hire an editor (not your buddy who will read it) or not edit an anthology. It does not mean put your name on the front and have people send you their stories… it means you are responsible.
- If you are going go crowd-fund your anthology, make sure that the amount you are trying to earn is fair… that you have money for the stories, and for the editor, and for the cover artist or designer. Make sure that you don’t get greedy on the amount that you think all your (probably didn’t do much) time is worth. Make sure contributors to the funding get everything they have been promised, and that the quality of the BOOK is the priority, not your fame as an editor, or your profit. This is actually a way to reach a particular audience, be certain the books will be bought and possibly even read, but it should not be a never-ending money machine with books delayed, editing crappy and the money actually funding other publishing bills.
The bottom line, and the point I want to make, is that a full-length anthology is an expensive project. It is a lot of work. It is not something to be taken on lightly, or alone, unless you have all the requisite skills and time and funds to make it happen. I love anthologies as much as the next book collector and reader. I’ve been in a ton of them, most often as “and others” over the years. More often than not, your time would be better spent writing and editing your own work… but if you feel this calling, answer it with quality and integrity. One of the biggest reasons people don’t buy many anthologies these days is the absolute mountain of horrible crap that’s been published. With a decent cover, almost anything can look professional. Remember what they say about books and covers.