Editing Anthologies

Editing an Anthology is part organisation, part knowing the market and part cat wrangling. As the editor for an anthology you do more than just Developmental, Structural or Copy editing, but you may end up doing some of this as well.

The anthology editor is responsible for the overall book, from theme selection to ordering of stories. Get any of the steps wrong and the impact of the book will be lessened. Get it right and readers will be talking about the collection for years to come.

So what does an anthology editor actually do?

Initially, the editor will determine the theme of the anthology. It could be broadly grouped stories around any topic or it might be a more narrowly focused topic such as a particular colour. The end goal of the anthology will also need to be decided at this point. Do you want to scare the readers? Promote a cause? Celebrate an occasion? Why are you creating this anthology?

From there, decisions will need to be made between the publisher and the editor as to the length of the final product, the number of contributors, the length of individual stories, the balance of writers (Established? Emerging? Genre?) and the guidelines for submission.

Once all these decisions have been made, the anthology editor needs to start reaching out for writers to submit stories. This could be through open calls, invitation to guest writers, magazine/internet advertisements, writer group talks or blogs, really, the list is endless.

When the word gets out about an open call anthology, stories will appear in the slush pile. These will need to be read to see if they fit with the editors vision for the book. Some the editor can see immediately that a story won’t work for the book; the writing may be weak, the theme not followed or the story not grabbing the attention of the editor. Other stories will need to be read through a few times and thought about. Often these will go in a maybe pile. While other stories instantly grab your attention and keep it (these tend to be rare, but they do occur).

As the fate of each story is decided, letters of acceptance or rejection are sent to the writers. Acceptance are celebrated. Rejections are commiserated because no matter how bad the writing, most editors do not enjoy saying no to a story, particularly one we’ve considered at length.

Eventually all the spots are filled and work begins on editing the stories. This work is the same as for any story; developmental editing to make sure the tale works; structural editing to make sure the story is told in the most impactful manner possible and copy editing to ensure the best possible word choices are made. The anthology editor may do this work by themself or they may have other editors who work on some or all of the stories, depending upon budget, time and publishing factors.

Next comes the task of ordering the stories. This is where an anthology will sink or swim. Getting the mix of stories right is essential. I like to think of it as baking the anthology, getting the balance of stories flavours to achieve the desired end result. This task is part science, part art, part luck, part experience. You need to make sure each story either complements or contrasts with the stories either side of it, but you don’t want stories that are too simpatico. You need a clear change of voice, change of character, change of style to ensure each writer is showcased to their best.

At this stage, it is often easiest to print all stories off (or at least a sample of each story) and play with arrangement to ensure the impact of the stories is maximised. The first story in the anthology is critical to setting the tone of the entire book, with the last story being vital to the emotional resonance in the reader. Most readers assume the first story reflects the level of writing in the book. If they don’t connect with that first story, they most likely won’t bother reading any further into the book.

The last story should reflect exactly what you wanted to achieve with the anthology. Do you want your reader too scared to leave the room? Happy and excited? Hugging their loved ones? Regardless of your end goal, this story is the last chance to affect the reader; therefore, the anthology editor will spend a significant amount of time considering which story will take this position.

Once all this has happened, the book is ready to go to the formatter. This is normally the end of the editors tasks until it comes time to market the book, but if the editor is self-publishing the anthology they may also be involved in formatting, cover art, distribution and uploading of files.

Overall, the anthology editor sets the tone of the book, ensures the flavour is perfect and then sends the book off into the expectant hands of the reading public.