Sunday, March 31, 2013

On Becoming an Editor

Anthologies are awesome.

I've spent large amounts of time with short stories for the last five years. As part of learning how to write them, I worked at Clarkesworld Magazine for three years as a slush reader, evaluating over 5,000 of the stories that were submitted during that time; for each of those, I had to write a few sentences about why I liked or did not like the story, and send my recommendation about it to Neil Clarke, the editor. That's a job that wears you out because practically all of the stories aren't good enough to get into a magazine that accepts only one per month from the slush pile (as it did then), and even the ones that I loved often did not make it into the magazine.

Whenever I recommended a story and Neil rejected it, he would send me a note to explain what hadn't worked for him, and I would learn from that. Sometimes, later on in the same year, I would see that a different magazine had accepted one of those rejected stories, and that taught me that publishing fiction is not just a matter of quality, it's a matter of taste. When you're the editor what you're really doing is demonstrating your taste. The stories Neil publishes win awards and get reprinted in "year's best" anthologies all the time, but guess what? Several times, stories I loved that Neil passed on ended up winning awards and getting reprinted in "year's best" anthologies, after other editors decided to publish them. If anyone out there reads this as me attempting to criticize Neil, who is a fantastic person with excellent taste, I will give you many, many demerits. Pay attention. What I'm saying is that everybody has different taste, and that's okay. But not everybody gets to be the editor.

I have finally worked my way into being an anthology editor, so this month I get to be the one who decides on what's going into a book, and what isn't. This makes me extremely happy. Here's what I've done so far.

I've already shaped the book's outcome by choosing the people I've asked to submit stories. I decided that an open submission process would be a bad choice for my first anthology, because who knows how many submissions I would get? REMEMBER THE SLUSH PILE. So I asked writers I either knew, or was familiar with online, to send me stories. I chose people for a few reasons: 1) I already knew I liked their writing, 2) they seemed interesting because of the way they presented themselves online, and/or 3) they seemed reliable and unlikely to screw me over with flaky behavior. Not all of them fit all three criteria, but you can't have everything! Most of them said they would send me a story, but several of them said they wouldn't. That's okay; you never know what people are working on, what will interest them, or what else is going on in their lives. I ended up with a great list of writers that impressed my publisher, so yay!

Because of dealing with reality, I knew I had to ask a greater number of people to submit stories than the number of stories the book would require. I am not looking forward to having to reject stories, but when you ask a bunch of people to write for your theme, you are absolutely never going to get only stories that work for what you want. That would be literally impossible. Can't be done. Won't happen. So you need to think hard about the number of people to actually ask, realizing that some percentage of those people will say no, and some percentage of the people who say yes may actually not end up sending you a story for an astonishing variety of reasons that may or may not be respectable. And of the stories you get, some just won't work for you as stories, and others will show symptoms of "did not read the guidelines" syndrome, and others will probably overlap in some unforeseeable way, or not go together. I'm starting to freak myself out. Maybe I should have asked a hundred more people to send me stories. I'm a worrier.

The submission deadline is tomorrow. I've already received a bunch of early submissions, which is good; that's kept me from losing my mind while waiting for the majority of them, which I assume will mostly come in at 11:59 pm tomorrow night. It is FASCINATING to read stories that I've asked for. Way better than the slush pile. Do you even realize how amazing it feels to send out guidelines and get stories back that fulfill them? Editing an anthology is THE BEST. Even though I'm anxious about the outcome, every step so far has been so satisfying. I love this. I'm looking forward to seeing what other stories I get, and putting the best ones together in an order that makes sense--ideally, that creates its own overarching story through the whole book, if possible.

I'm building a fantasy anthology called What Fates Impose. Watch for updates on the process! There's going to be a Kickstarter project to make this book the best it can possibly be.