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.

Cultural Appropriation OR Diversity and Inclusion: Can We Have Both

As an editor and writer, I have been following the argument over cultural appropriation with interest. I’ve also been watching the calls for cultural diversity in books closely. At the moment, I can’t see how any writer is able to walk this line between appropriation and representation with any kind of success.

On the one hand, you have people telling writers we can’t/shouldn’t write about cultures unless they are a part of that culture or know that culture very, very well because we are hindering writers from that culture getting published and telling their own stories. Fair call and I support it. I prefer to read about characters who are completely true to the ‘reality’ that character would have faced in the real world when I’m reading about a ‘real world’ situation.

On the other hand, writers get slammed by critics for not having culturally diverse characters in their novels. Again, fair call. Books with only one cultural perspective can be limiting and less than engaging. But why would the writer create culturally diverse characters if they are going to get accused of cultural appropriation?

I understand that culture and identity is an important and emotive topic. But having diversity in characters is just as important and emotive. But how is the modern writer suppose to balance both?

As a topic, this juggle requires serious consideration and discussions. How does any writer create a character who is different from their own experience? Does this mean I should only create characters who are female? Have a chronic illness? Are mothers? Should settings stay only in the time period since I was born in 1970? Or should I focus on creating entirely new worlds, new problems rather than explore the issues and problems that interest me?

The biggest benefit I can see to fiction (other than relaxation) is the ability of the reader to see into the inner world of the characters and hopefully gain insight into what makes those characters real. This can then be transferred to a wider context of society. This takes dedication, research, communication. A writer creating a character outside of their own culture needs to be willing to use all available options for getting that character correct. But does it really mean the writer cannot create diverse characters? Or more importantly, how do we create culturally diverse stories and characters that are honest, appropriate and real? As a profession, writers and creators need to be having this discussion but at the moment, rhetoric from one side of the fence or the other is almost all I can find.

At the moment, it seems like writers are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

Or is that just me?

Cherry Picking Writing Advice.

Recently, I’ve been exploring the world of advice that is available to author and I’ve made the discovery that a lot of it makes my teeth itch.

• Write what you know.
• Write every day.
• Keep going until you finish. You can always fix it later.

Initially this advice seemed to make sense. On the surface it looks applicable to every writer, no matter what stage of their career the writer is in. But if you look deeper, some of this advice isn’t going to stand up to scrutiny for many writers.
Write what you know.

If I wrote only what I knew, my stories would be filled with sullen teenagers, boisterous dogs and the cats who try to terrify them. By limiting myself to writing what I know well, I’d be stuck writing about the minutiae of the everyday. Shopping list, work deadlines, broken hot water services and a never ending stream of permission notes tossed across the breakfast table.

Instead of writing what you know, how about writing what you want to know. Instead of focusing on writing about the life you live, what if we all wrote about the life we wanted to live? After all, we writers tend to have many different characters living out their lives through our fingers. We might as well have fun with the experience.

For me, one of the joys of writing is delving into someone else’s experiences. Learning new skills. Discovering new outlooks on life. This focus on looking through another set of eyes helps me create characters who I’d love to have dinner with, but more importantly, it makes me a better writer. Some days I have to stretch myself to write about topics that are beyond my personal, direct understanding, but that’s the challenge of being a writer.

Write every day. Get up early. Stay up late. Sacrifice something else for your writing.

This collection of advice derailed my fiction writing for many years. I’m not fit for human company if I get up any earlier. Staying up late isn’t an option because I fall asleep at my keyboard if I try. The only thing left to sacrifice was my time with the children, and as they were little, I wasn’t willing to. When you add the day job of technical and instructional writing and editing, there were days I would have thrown the monitor out the window if I had to spend another second staring at it.

For me, what worked was a weekly target of 7,000 words. Some weeks this was done in a frenetic burst of focus, while other weeks it was in 1,000 words a day. But by allowing myself the freedom to work writing into the weekly schedule (rather than the daily schedule), I found I was more productive. That’s not to say I don’t work on the stories each day, I do. But that work isn’t always writing. Some days it will be day dreaming about the story. Other days it is more involved thinking, trying to work out why the story isn’t working the way I want it to be.

Keep going until you finish. You can fix it later.

Sometimes fixing it later is more trouble than the story is worth. Some stories you don’t have the passion for anymore. Or the direction.
There are legitimate times, stories and reasons to stop working on a piece. As the creator of the universe in which your story is set, only you can say if the story needs to be finished to plan. But if you’re really pushing yourself to finish the story, you should be examining your motivation with writing the story.

My guess is, most authors will have unfinished manuscripts buried in a bottom draw, on a floppy disc or an old hard drive. I’m not going to give you a trite or glib answer along the lines of the story that is meant to be will be easy to write. It won’t be, but if you’re beating yourself senseless over a story, it’s time to step back and examine your expectations of the story.

• Are you trying to make a short story a novel?
• Are you trying to make a young adult story fit the adult market?
• Are your characters acting true to form?
• Are you manipulating the characters so the plot will work?
• Do you have a plot or a series of events?

As an editor, I can always tell when a writer is lost. When they’ve finished the work not because they wanted to; not because they needed to, but simply because they followed the always finish rule. If you feel lost, stop. Play with the characters. Work out if the story means enough to you to finish it. After all, unless you’re under contract, no one is waiting for this story. The only reason to finish writing the story is because you feel a burning passion for the story or the characters. Because you want to see these characters, this setting, this story free in the world.

If you haven’t got that burning passion for this story, consider putting the story aside until you find the passion to finish it.
The most freeing writing lesson I’ve learnt, is nothing is written in stone. Getting advice is cheap and easy but the doing can be impossibly hard. Creating a routine and a workflow that works for you as a person, as a parent, as an employee, as a boss and as a creative being is all that matters.

Cherry pick the bits of advice that work for you, discard the rest. It’s the only way you’ll create a writing career that fits with your life.

How Writing Non-fiction Helped My Writing Career.

As much as I’d love to be able to say I make a comfortable living from writing fiction, I can’t. The large majority of my income comes from writing in the non-fiction field. With a background in adult education I tend to write a lot of textbooks, learner materials and teacher guides. It’s not overly fun writing, but it pays the bills and I have teenagers to feed, so I accept the contracts.

How does this help my fiction writing, I hear you ask? the answer is, writing non-fiction both helps and hinders my fiction writing.

It helps by:
• Instilling a writing habit and discipline.
• Developing the ability to work to deadlines.
• Improving my first draft writing in all fields. After all, the more drafts, the less money I receive.
• Teaching me, good enough sometimes is enough.

Of all of these, the writing habit and discipline is the biggest assistance. When you have a client waiting on copy, you can’t spend all day procrastinating looking for funny cat pictures on the internet. You have to get in and write.

Taking this discipline and applying it to my fiction writing was one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn. While in my head, I knew discipline and writing habits was the best way forwards, making myself apply the lesson was difficult, because of my own lack of trust and belief in me.

For many, many years, I resented working on non-fiction because I believed that work was getting in my way of being a great writer. If I wasn’t wasting my time writing learner resources to tell someone else how to get the skills to live their dream job, I would be able to live my dream job. And it was this resentment that was holding me back from living the life I always wanted.

Until I made the connection (yep, smart person, slow learner) that everything I write, regardless of what the subject is, moves me closer to my dreams. Every time I re-write a passage, it helps me not make the same mistake. Each time I stop myself overusing a word, it helps my fiction writing. Every step in the writing process is getting stronger and ultimately those basic skills of sentence and paragraph structure, grammar and punctuation, spelling and word choice are helping me write tighter.

While the non-fiction writing takes time away from the creative writing and makes me too tired to look at a computer screen some evenings, the best thing I’ve done for my writing career is prove to myself that I’m able to have a writing career.

Eventually the book contracts will come. I know that, but they will come, in part because of the work I’m currently doing as a non-fiction writer.