Since I’m a contributor here with my SFFWRTCHT column, when John saw that I was editing yet another anthology project, he asked me to talk a little bit about how I approach editing an anthology. Beyond The Sun is a bit different because I am packaging it, which means I bring the writers and stories (and in this case art) to the publisher pre-contract. The other way is to do a proposal with key writers committed, sign a contract with a publisher who likes it, then edit. That’s what I did for Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales 6. But other than the Kickstarter responsibilities and dealing with artists, the processes are very similar. Here are a few thoughts:
Obviously one of the most important tasks for editing an anthology is to find writers willing to work with you. Usually both friendships and networks helps, which means, people who like you. If you’re mister big shot name editor, you might get people even if you’re a jerk, but most of us can’t get away with that.
Cultivating my pool starts at Cons and online, every day. I am constantly meeting, chatting with, encouraging and supporting writers and creative people. In the process, we end up following each other and interacting. Often friendships result. 13 out of 17 writers in Space Battles were people I’d met online. I’ve since met several of them in person as well with more to come. But I only knew a few of them from face-to-face meetings before that. With Beyond The Sun, it’s 25 of 27 invited writers whom I met online. I’ve met 14 of those in person before this. And 17 of them were involved in Space Battles, one as editorial assistant, the others as writers. It pays to know people.
As far as recruiting them, you put together a simple pitch and key data and contact them to ask. This applies to both big name headliners and midlist/up and coming writers, although you may offer different pay rates depending upon their role and the cache of popularity they bring. Why? Because headliners sell more anthologies than Joe Blow writer. And they often won’t work for the beginner’s rate anyway. Their names and assistance in promotion, etc. are key to your success, so you line them up early and build around them. So many people joined this project because of excitement about the headliners, including not just writers but artists.
For Beyond The Sun, my pitch to writers looked like this:
Colonists take to the stars to discover new planets, new sentient beings, and build new lives for themselves and their families. Some travel years to find their destination, while others travel a year or less. Some discover a planet that just might be paradise, while others find nothing but unwelcoming aliens and terrain. It’s not just a struggle for territory but a struggle for understanding as cultures clash, disasters occur, danger lurks and lives are at risk. Twenty stories of space colonists, action, humor, and adventure amongst the stars by both leading and up and coming science fiction writers of today.
Like most of my work, this anthology will be family friendly in focus—one people of all ages can read, enjoy and discuss. Remember when space exploration filled you with awe? Do you remember sitting around dreaming about what it might be like if you too could go to the stars? That’s the sense I’d like to capture with these stories.
Length: 3-7k words
Estimated Date of Publication: Summer 2013
I also listed the per word pay offer, which depends on our Kickstarter. If it’s successful everyone but the headliners (who get more regardless) gets 5 cents per word. If not, 2-3 cents per word would be max but I’ll have to find another source for funding.
Sometimes you’ll just post these as submission guidelines online and have an open call. In my case, I have let in several writers who asked because I know their work, but I don’t have time to keep making a living if I deal with thousands of stories in slush all by myself. Not even with the help of my Assistant Editor. So I limited it to prevent that, and, in doing so, chose writers I knew would write diverse takes on the concept and deliver quality stuff. It’s a matter of practicality.
One final note: I make a concerted effort to invite equal numbers of men and women and to make sure I invite writers from non-Western backgrounds whenever I can. They may turn you down, so don’t get locked into percentages unless a publisher requires it, but making this effort is important for the SFF community as a whole.
This can be both fun and brutal. For one, you have to invite more people than you need stories. I have 13-14 open spots, depending on story length, after headliners and two reprints I bought. So that means 7 or 8 writers are going to get disappointment. I hate rejecting people because, well, I hate being rejected. In my case, I’ll cushion the blow by being honest about any issues, offering constructive feedback to help them polish, and suggesting editors and markets they should try. Some take advantage, some don’t, but at least they walk away with something for their time more than a form letter, which eases my mind a bit. I’d say you want to invite at least 5-10 more than you expect to buy. People forget, get blocked, get other projects they care about more, etc. and wind up not doing anything with the invitation. If you don’t have extras, you wind up scrambling, as I did with Space Battles, to find good stories and miss your editorial deadline, etc. Thankfully with Space Battles, I had extra time but it’s still a headache I’d recommend avoiding.
Once you have your top choices, you have to look at tone, theme and length as well as names. You want to lead off with 2 or 3 really strong stories that best convey the anthology over all. For me, I like to start with something that’s well paced and fun but too depressing. That can come later. We want people to read on, after all. You want to be sure you don’t have too many similar stories in setting, tone, style, etc. and if you do have similar ones that you don’t put them together back to back. Beyond that, you want to hold 2 or 3 strong ones for your ending as well and put the rest in the middle.
Length matters because if you put too many longer stories together, people may be turned off or skip them. It’s better to have varied lengths. Also, if you have a lighter one, putting it before or after a heavier themed story can really help the readers to remember that you have good variety and keep reading. Also, although I still use the top stories rule, headliner stories should be strategically placed to help get people to look through the rest. They may stumble upon something interesting while looking and reead it as well. And, in the case of reprints, unless you’re doing half in half or mostly/all reprints, I usually don’t lead or close with them. They need to fit somewhere in the middle.
It probably also bears saying that the bigger the name, the more valuable the reprint, but I also think that stories which have less exposure keep it more interesting than stories people see everywhere. Why buy it if you already have it or can see it other places for free?
Editing fellow writers can be intimidating. I know I was nervous the first time I edited Mike Resnick. After all, he’s one of my favorite writers. I own 50 of his books (I’ve lost count). So I read his story with extra care before sending any changes. I wound up loving it and asking for only a couple things plus a few minor corrections. He was gracious, as was Brad Torgersen, his cowriter, and it was so easy I was amazed. He’s a pro. And I think you can count on the fact that most pros will be like that. In my case, I have four headliners and four pool authors who are all experienced editors. They’ll be the easiest to edit, I guarantee.
As for changes, be sure you take good notes. Track Changes in Word works best. But if not, note page number, paragraph, and a good portion of the sentence so they can easily find it, explain the type of change and allow them the right to ask questions. Word changes for overuse, lack of clarity, run-ons, grammar, plotting issues, etc. are all perfectly fine, as are typos. Some will want to explain why they did what they did and discuss. Others will just say “Make the changes,” the rest will fall in between. One might even completely rewrite their story. [Writers, I don’t recommend this. You may end up removing the very things that made the editor excited about the story in the first place and get rejected. If an editor gives you notes to correct and resubmit, you are close to a sale, handle with care.] If a writer refuses to make changes you feel are vital, you can reject the story. But know before you send edit notes which changes you must have and which you can live without.
Also, be sure and thank and encourage them for a job well done regardless. Another reason I avoid huge slush piles. You don’t get personalized rejections very often from Asimov’s, Analog, etc. They just don’t have time. But showing writers your appreciate their efforts and care about them makes a difference in both networking for the future, your reputation as an editor and the general morale of any project, so it’s well worth it, in my opinion.
After that there are layout, galleys, and stuff I won’t go into, but those are the basics of how I approach editing anthologies. I really enjoy the give and take and the discovery of unique approaches each writer took to the same general concept. It’s also really cool to get writers like Resnick, Silverberg, Rusch, and Kress writing stories just for you and knowing you’ll be one of the very first to see it, I must admit. But that’s just a bonus of doing the job well.
In any case, I hope these tips are helpful to fellow writers and editors out there. And if you’re interested, please do check out and support the Beyond The Sun Kickstarter. We can’t do it without you.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.