Thursday, April 4, 2013

What Fates Impose: Inside the Anthology

When I was on Twitter yesterday, I mentioned that I'd like to tell people about the anthology-editing process, but I wasn't sure what or how much to say about it. It would not be right to discuss details about the stories for a variety of reasons, but I think it would be good for me—and possibly for other people—if I wrote down some of what goes on behind the Veil of Editing.

My friend Beth had a few good questions about it, so I'm going to answer those in this post:

"What has been the greatest delight so far? The biggest surprise? The hardest part?'

The greatest delight so far has been receiving and reading submissions. I came up with the idea for What Fates Impose, an anthology of original stories about divination, more than a year ago. I found a publisher who was interested in the idea last September. We had to work out the details of how we were going to do the project, and then I had to get authors to agree to write stories for it, and give them enough time to write. THAT'S A LOT OF WAITING. But when I finally started to get the stories, it was like presents arriving in my email, because look: I love to read. How much of a buzz do you suppose it is to have an idea of what kind of stories I'd like to read, and then be able to simultaneously support good writers and be the instigator of a bunch of stories like that being written? BIG BUZZ. Delightful!

The biggest surprise has been seeing how each of these writers work when handed a request to submit a story on a theme. Some of them communicate with me a lot, respond to email quickly, and ask a lot of questions to clarify what I'm looking for. Others are quieter, thinking things over for themselves. Some are super enthusiastic about an idea and agree to try it immediately. Others take a while to think about it before even deciding whether they want to try, and give me a more reserved answer about being willing to see what they can come up with. Maybe they'd all respond differently if given a different topic, or maybe this is their style all the time. I'll see about that over a variety of projects, because I already want to do this again. It's also a semi-surprise, every time, to see how each person chooses to approach the theme. I have an idea of what they're like as people, and in many cases I've seen some of what they've written before, but I get a different idea of the way they think when I see where they go within the guidelines I've sent them.

The hardest part is knowing for a fact that I can't accept all of the stories. I don't want to reject anybody's work! But I have to if I want to make the book I'm trying to make. There's only so much room, and some stories match what I want better than others, and that's the way the process goes. I'm also going to have to articulate what kind of changes I'd like to see in some of the stories, and get satisfactory changes back, before I accept them. That's work for me and for the writer, and I don't know how people will react to my comments on their stories. I want to make this as easy as possible for everyone, but I also want the stories to be the best they can be for the book.

I like it, though. This is the most satisfying work I've ever done. It suits me so well!

Coming soon: How Choosing Anthology Stories Is, and Is Not, Like Making a Mix Tape

(People under a certain age: replace "Mix Tape" with "Playlist.")


  1. As a writer it is fascinating for me to see things from the editor's point of view. I have considered volunteering to be a slush pile reader to enhance my experience and overall knowledge of the process. I'm sure this can be difficult work. But like you I love to read, and many of the stories I have come across astound me with their scope, creativity, and interpretation of given themes or prompts.

  2. Oh, definitely be a slush reader if you get the chance to volunteer! I did it for three years, and it helped both my writing and my critical reading tremendously.

  3. This is so interesting! I had always thought of anthologies as taking stories that had been published in magazines and putting them into a book; I'd never really thought of requesting custom work on a specific theme. It sounds like great fun -- although I would be terrible at rejecting people. I fully understand why it has to happen, but I'd still feel so bad telling someone that I couldn't use the story I'd asked them to write.

  4. Hi Cheryl! Yeah, anthologies are often entirely made of reprinted stories, but many out there contain either all original stories, or a combination of originals and reprints.

    And you're right, rejecting stories is hard, especially when the person has written it specifically for me. Sometimes a person who didn't get into a certain anthology can sell that story elsewhere, though, especially if the theme isn't too crazily specific.