Tag Archives: anthology

So You Want to Publish An Anthology? Read On…

By Nikki Baird, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Anthology Chair

nikkibairdAnthologies have experienced something of a renaissance, thanks to the indie publishing market. Lots of writers have short stories that they’ve written over the years, and in a lot of cases, the publishing rights to those stories revert back to authors fairly quickly, so there aren’t a lot of legal reasons that get in the way of republishing.

Plus anthologies can be great marketing tools. They can help promote a collection of authors by making the workload something you can share, and they can provide a way for readers to try a lot of new authors for a low entry price. For single-author anthologies, they can also serve as a “try before you buy”. Anthologies are also great books to give away for free when promoting a new novel, especially when they are stories you’ve already written.

So what goes into making an anthology? Well, a lot, trust me. But I’ll give you three big ones, with a primary focus on multi-author anthologies, since that’s where my experience lies.

A Theme. An anthology needs something to hold it together. For single-author anthologies, the theme is simple – it’s the author! However, even then, you might want to think about selecting a collection of short stories that relate to each other.

When you come up with a theme, probably the biggest challenge is to make sure that it is rich in possibility. The core conflict or tension needs to be easy to grasp and yet also deep and/or broad. Also, the theme should relate to your group. Sometimes this means genre – for example, you wouldn’t really want to throw a blood-and-guts zombie story in with a bunch of regency romance. But if you’re looking at a collection that crosses genres, then a core subject or theme becomes particularly important in helping readers understand what to expect from the book.

For the RMFW anthology, particularly because we chose open submissions, we put theme front and center: Colfax Avenue. We could’ve chosen Sunset Boulevard, or Madison Avenue, or some other historic/infamous street in America, but as we are the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, keeping the location close to home seemed important. Plus I was dealing with a precedent set by previous RMFW anthologies. Dry Spell and Tales of Mistwillow were both based on themes important to the Rocky Mountain region – water, and life in a (made-up) mountain town. RMFW’s third anthology deviated from this theme (Broken Links, Mended Lives), and we may stray from a Rocky Mountain angle again in the future, but this year the Colfax idea quickly took hold and became a slam-dunk.

 A Submission Process. If you’re soliciting submissions, you need a well-defined submission process. We had to navigate several choices. Do you want to invite specific authors to contribute? Famous authors, when you can get them, can help sell the book. But their time is very precious, especially writing time. If you’re looking to hook a famous author, it helps to either have an existing relationship or to have a cause that they support as a beneficiary for anthology proceeds.

For Crossing Colfax, we opted to not pursue specific authors. One, people like Carol Berg, Mario Acevedo, and Jeanne Stein have already been very generous in the past. Two, we specifically opted to open submissions only to RMFW members in order to feature and promote the writing talent within RMFW. So it didn’t seem quite right to hold spaces in the anthology for select authors when what we really wanted were good stories no matter who they came from within our community. In the end, we had about the right mix: 3 stories from established authors (Linda Berry, Warren Hammond, and Thea Hutcheson) and 12 from newbies.

We held open submissions with only the membership requirement. We also had a blind reader panel, rather than a committee. There were a couple of reasons for that. One, not everyone was co-located, so trying to have meetings was going to be difficult. Two, and this one’s all on me, I liked the idea of getting basically as much reader input as I could. A small selection committee can fall into group-think mode, where everyone ends up reinforcing each others’ opinions, and radical new ideas get lost. With blind readers, this was in some ways like stopping people on the street who like to read and asking their opinions. Stories that I didn’t particularly like at first came back with thumbs up from readers, and stories that I loved didn’t do nearly as well as I thought they would. In the end, we ended up with a collection that I think is the better for it – with a wider appeal, and a more varied set of stories than we otherwise might have.

A Contract. This one’s always the fun part. The last RMFW anthology was published in 2009. That contract included no provisions for e-pub. In fact, that is why you don’t see any past RMFW anthologies in e-pub format in the market today, because we only have print rights to those books. Someday I’d love to go back and get the e-rights to bring the past anthologies online, but that is work for another day. Since we are writers helping writers, it seemed silly to have the kind of contract that makes agents wince, so we tried to be very open and fair. We asked for exclusive rights for one year, and perpetual rights to the story as long as it was published in the anthology. Outside of the anthology itself, RMFW has no rights. So after the year is up, the authors are welcome to publish their stories in other anthologies or stand-alone or however they choose. I will say, though, that we had our contract reviewed by Susan Spann, who volunteered her considerable legal services. And I would not recommend skipping that step!

Is it all worth it? From an editor perspective, you bet. It’s hard work, and multiplied because you’re working with multiple authors, but I get a smile on my face every time I see the Crossing Colfax cover. I’m so proud of the variety, the freshness, and the imagination that sits within those pages. Over the next year, I hope I’ll also be able to say that it was a valuable experience for our authors too – because, while a lot of the work is over, a lot more work has only begun!

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Originally published at Patricia Stoltey blog September 18, 2014

You can find out more about Nikki by reading the RMFW Spotlight post from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog.

Crossing Colfax is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

A Few Reasons to Write Short Stories

By Lori DeBoer

It’s official: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers now welcomes writers of short fiction into its fold.  Since I am noodling away on a collection of short stories, a few of which have been finalists for awards or been published, I felt relieved to be able to come out of the 10,000-words-and-fewer closet, so to speak.

This change of policy makes a lot of sense, especially since the RMFW is putting out its fourth short story member anthology. (The most recent one, Broken Links, Mended Lives, was a finalist for the 2009 Colorado Book Award.) This year’s anthology is themed “Crossing Colfax” in honor of the avenue in Denver that Playboy Magazine dubbed “the longest, wickedest street in America.” The deadline for submission is March 14, 2014; for more info, click here.

While securing a spot in the RMFW anthology is a great goal — I hope you’ll submit something — I believe writers of all stripes can benefit from writing short stories. Think of it as a cross-training exercise. Here are a few reasons why:

You Gotta Start Somewhere
You wouldn’t run a marathon without taking a few short runs and working your way up. You wouldn’t get married without going on some dates.  (Well, some folks would, but that’s a topic for another type of blog.)  The point is that writing short stories has been a time-honored way for fiction writers to learn their craft. Garth Risk Hallberg has been building buzz for scoring a $2 million book deal for his 900-page novel, but he published a novella and a fistful of short fiction first. Many successful authors of all genres cut their teeth on short stories, including Mary Oliver, Ron Carlson, Joyce Carol Oates, Kelly Link and Ray Bradbury.

You Should Expect to Experiment
Most beginning writers are still finding their voice, let alone their genre, and writing short fiction gives them ample room to experiment. Even experienced writers sometimes long to break out of their niche and play the field. Short stories offer plenty of room to experiment with voice, style, genres, characters and other narrative nuances without breaking the bank or frittering away too much time. If something does feel right, you can always scale things up.

Practice Perfects Process
Completing and polishing a short story so it’s publication-ready gives you an understanding of your writing process, from drafts through revisions. If you take the step of submitting to the types of magazines that accept short stories in your genre, querying becomes more mundane and less intimidating. While it’s always painful, getting rejected on a short story you spent months on, then dusting yourself off and submitting again, helps inoculate you against falling completely apart when your novel gets rejected.  Plus, any feedback you receive on your short stories might just be applicable to your novel-in-progress.

To Shorten the Time to Publication
Writing and submitting a short story provides a short-term goal to punctuate the months (or years) it takes to write a book.  Professional writers can generally draft, revise and polish a short story in two to three months, though some work more quickly and some are more patient, taking  much as a year or more to perfect a piece. With the trend toward micro-fiction—stories of a thousand words or fewer—the investment of time in writing becomes even more dialed down. The writing pace is up to you, but short stories in general have a quicker turnaround time for getting published than do novels. With a few thousand literary magazines of every genre in the United States alone, new writers may find a foothold in publishing more easily by writing short.

You Can Fashion a Reputation
Getting published in literary or genre magazines helps you pitch your novels, because those credits indicate that you are a working writer, not just a one-hit wonder. Many agents and publishers troll these magazines, looking for the next writing wunderkind. Marketers know you need to get a brand in front of consumers seven times before they remember it. The same holds true for building a base of fans. Short story writers have plenty of opportunities to reach the kind of readers that can eventually build a book’s buzz, be it a novel or a collection of short stories.

For the Love of the Form
Writing short stories need not be a station on the way to learning to write novels; the form can be savored for its own sake. The art of the short story differs from long-form fiction in a myriad of ways; it focuses on the present, what is, rather than running pell-mell toward what-may-come. Its compact form means that every phrase, nuance, gesture and narrative element needs to be worth the space it occupies. Because it requires a deft and practiced touch, many consider writing short stories more of a challenge than writing novels. The relationship between the form and the writer can be more complex than it first appears. Canadian Alice Munro, master of short stories, started out writing short when she had children to raise and a household to run. After her fourth book of short stories was published, she told The Guardian that she realized her attempts at writing a novel “never worked.” This week, her daughter accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature in Sweden on her behalf in recognition of her short stories, which includes 14 collections. In her interview, she noted that short stories are “often brushed off as something people do before they write a novel .  .  . I would like them to come to the fore without any strings attached.”

Do you love to write short stories?  Please tell us why.
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Lori DeBoerLori DeBoer, a Boulder-based author, journalist and writing coach, is finishing up a collection of short stories that started as her MFA thesis at Arizona State University. Her stories have been a Top-25 Finalist for the Glimmer Train Fiction Open as well as being shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize. She’s been published in Arizona Highways, The Bellevue Literary Review, Gloom Cupboard, The New York Times, Iowa Woman and America West Airlines Magazine. One of her clients was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and four of her clients have been finalists for the Colorado Gold Award.  She has volunteered to help edit the RMFW anthology and will be sharing information about writing short stories at the educational workshop in January 2014. For more information, visit her website and blog at www.lorideboer.net.