Anthologies: how do they work?

To launch the brand new anthology THIRTEEN, from the Mesdames of Mayhem, a group of published Canadian authors with lethal pens, I am hosting a series of posts about this animal called an anthology. What are they? How do they work? How does one get the stories for one, edit one, publish one, and all that sort of thing.

photo-1Sept. 1 – GETTING IT ALL TOGETHER: My post on my experience

Sept. 8 – Madeleine Harris-Callway, moving force behind the Mesdames of Mayhem on how she did it

Sept. 15 – Nancy Kilpatrick, anthologist of note in the dark fantasy/horror field

Sept. 22 – Donna Carrick, from Carrick Publishing, publisher of THIRTEEN

Sept. 29 – Mystery Guest…How appropriate!



“Let’s go down to the barn and put on an antho!”

Well,no. It’s not that simple, Judy. Here’s the way it works for me.

As you will find out if you keep reading this series, anthologies are not all alike. And if you think you will make pots of money doing one or writing for one, think again. I have edited six and although I was always paid, the amount of work involved, if broken down to an hourly wage would make a Third World country look good. Like most things in the writing world, we do it for love or we get a MBA.

All the anthos I have done have been print only, until the last one, which is also in ebook format. And they have been put out by a publisher. And I have been paid (refer to ThirdWorld reference above). The big thing about having a publisher is that you don’t have to worry about cover art, or layout. And having struggled with both I can assure you that is a good thing! The tricky bit is persuading a publisher into taking one on, since traditionally they do not make money. But let’s say we have nabbed a publisher somehow, or you have decided to do it yourself as an ebook. What now?


A theme is a good idea. How else are you going to market your baby if all the stories are a hodgepodge of witty litterary, darkly terrifying, and quests for the one true Grail? But using a holiday, as I did for BLOOD ON THE HOLLY works well. Here all the stories revolve around Christmas, and all are crime stories. Or the theme could be a shared experience, like camp for a YA antho, for example. Or maybe, like THIRTEEN, the genre they are all written in holds the antho together. Whatever you decide should provide a thread that runs through the whole book to act like a sort of…Scotch tape, maybe?

Now that’s decided, you need to think about your submission guidelines. Are you going to pay these people? Are you going to try for some A list authors? If you are using an established publisher, they will insist on some A list writers. Trust me. And sometimes that’s not so hard. For example if the project sounds interesting enough, they might be intrigued. I got Timothy Findley by going to hear him read and just asking him during intermission if he would like to write a story for an anthology called BIZARRE SEX.  I mean, who could refuse?

Most of the anthologies I have done are by invitation to writers I can count on to actually come through with something good (turning them down when the story stinks has to be dealt with too sometimes…with tact), but I always leave room for open submissions and often have been rewarded with some really unusual and interesting stories! But be warned. This is where the time comes in, because first, there will be a deluge since markets for short stories are scarce as hen’s teeth. And second, new authors take a lot of editing work on your part, rewrites on their part, encouragement etc, so factor this into the mix.

And nearly every story needs some editing, a bit of cutting, suggestions for tightening up the prose, for adding a bit of something here or there, so don’t think it’s just the newbies that will take your time! And then there’s the copyedit. This is not my forte so I am thankful to know that the goddess (rarely a god) at the publisher’s will copyedit, question, and sprinkle comas as needed, all according to ‘house style’.

In the end, the stories you choose reflect your vision of what the book is about, so you can’t take every story that comes in even if you had enough room to encompass the Gilgamesh Epic. And the way you arrange these stories will help pull your reader along, riding the waves of tension, humour, lightness and dark until the end.

This is only one take on the process. In the following weeks you will read how some others view this process. Whether you go the DIY route, the traditional route, or decide on some other completely different way to get a bunch of stories together, in the end, just make sure it’s something good to read!

My latest anthology, featuring the importance of good cover design. 🙂


About Caro Soles

Writer in several genres, lover of dachshunds and opera, with some ballet thrown in for good measure. I founded the Bloody Words Mystery Conference, which ran for 14 years as well as the Bony Blithe Award for Canadian Light Mysteries, but that, too, has come to an end. My latest novel is The River District, a look at the seamy side of Merculian.
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1 Response to Anthologies: how do they work?

  1. Thanks for the terrific insights, Caro!


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