I’ve just edited my 13th anthology (EXPIRATION DATE, out in 2014) and for me, editing anthos is purely a labor of love. I’ve worked for major houses and small houses, been the lone editor and co-edited, edited under my name and used a pen name. I’ve always had fun, or I wouldn’t do it. But, something else drives me: I’m mad about short fiction.
As a writer, I’ve published over 200 short stories, most in the dark fantasy, horror, mystery and erotica genres, with some fantasy and science fiction tossed into the mix. I write short fiction because I adore the glimpse into a large world that can be encapsulated in a brief story. There’s a sense of the big picture in a well-written piece. It’s magical, quickly sinking into a tale of 2,500 to 5,000 (average) words and being wholly immersed in that story.
When I’ve taught short fiction writing, I’ve used a geode to describe short fiction. You see the outer shell of the slice, and the various inner ‘rings’ of color. This is not the entire rock,only a slice, but within that segment you can envision what the entire rock looks like. Short fiction, when written well, is a world that speaks of a larger world, and yet within that brief space and time is a complete story, and the best stories linger.
Of my thirteen anthologies, only one has been completely ‘open’, meaning, anyone could submit a story–TESSERACTS THIRTEEN, co-edited with David Morrell. For it, we both read all 200 or so submissions, shortlisting our favorites. Some stories we both liked, others required bargaining: I’ll agree to this one if you take that one. It was a pleasant experience, as all my editorial collabs have been. But, I can tell you that reading so many stories over just a few months was a challenge. And exhausting. But we both survived.
Normally, an editor of an anthology is more selective–if only because ‘names’ must be included to sell the idea to a publisher of any size. Publishers and distributors only get excited about anthologies when they recognize names in that particular genre. ‘Names’ have fans and those fans will buy the book for the name(s) they know and like. It goes without saying that the bigger the names, the harder they are to entice into an anthology. Writing a story will pay XX # of $$. But if the busy writer spends that time on a novel, or movie script, there are many more $$$$$$ available. Fortunately, there are writers with followings that love crafting short fiction and, if the theme appe
als to them, they give the nod. Which doesn’t always mean they will come through. Nancy Holder and I co-edited OUTSIDERS for Ace Books, and our contract–the toughest I’ve ever encountered–included 3 lists. For example, the A-list was composed of 4 names and we were required to include 1 in the anthology. The B-list had 6 names and we needed 2, or it was a deal-breaker. This quest was not easy. We found 1 A-lister of the 4 who agreed to write a story, but at the last second he told us the story he’d been working on for us he had to send to a previous commitment he’d forgotten about. After a period of panic, we ended up taking a poem from him and fortunately the publisher accepted this. For the B-list, we found 2 writers, one demanding either a high cents-per-word (which we agreed to), the other a high flat fee for ‘whatever I want to write, whatever length’ (which we also agreed to).
Naturally, such conditions make editing nerve-wracking and sometimes the original idea must morph. Publishers don’t want to lose money, and every one I’ve ever edited for has said the same thing: ‘Anthologies don’t sell.’ They do, of course,–with those sacred names on the cover.
I’ve been lucky. My last 5 anthologies have been for Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. They have given me carte blanche and it’s been a joy to edit projects near and dear to my heart while enjoying the freedom to compile them as I like. My most recent anthology DANSE MACABRE is based on my great love of specific artwork from the 15th through 18th centuries. I’ve traveled all over to see the approximately 50 pieces still extant, and I asked writers if they thought they could take the concepts on which this unusual artwork is based and translate them into literature. And they did! This book won the Paris Book Festival award for best Anthology of 2012, and several stories have been picked up by Ellen Datlow for her year’s-best anthology. Needless to say, I’m pleased enough to cry: Next anthology!