Originally posted March 23, 2009 at andimarquette.com. It was updated to reflect accurate chronology.
As you know, I post tips here on a variety of things related to writing, whether craft or the business of publishing. Today I’ll be talking about the business end of things; specifically, submitting a short story to an anthology.
Wanna know more? Keep on readin’!
So what’s an anthology? That’s a collection of short stories (or poems, if that’s your primary mode of expression) by several different authors or, in rarer cases, by one author. Most anthologies feature stories by several different authors organized around a particular theme and/or topic. The person’s name on the cover of that anthology is the EDITOR of the work, and an editor of an anthology has different responsibilities than what you normally think an editor does.
Specifically, the anthology editor’s primary job in editing an anthology is vetting (going through) the submissions and selecting the stories that will be published in the volume. She is generally an editor in the classic sense–that is, she’s trained in the craft of writing and editing and she has a personal interest and background in the anthology’s subject. She has a specific topic she’s filling, but often the anthology won’t take shape until a number of submissions have come in and the editor can then assess how the topic will unfold through the anthology. What she’ll probably do is organize the stories as they come in before making her final selections. Anthology editors do not have time to edit for content. That is, they’re not going to be substantively editing your story and sending it back requesting that you make tons of changes in scenes and dialogue. At first read, that story has to
1) match what they outlined in the submission guidelines
2) grab them right off the bat and keep them reading
3) be as grammatically clean as possible so all they need to do is a light copyedit
TIP: Do not submit half-finished or draft work to an anthology. That’s wasted effort on your part because it will not be accepted. An anthology editor is looking to bring together a collection of well-written, hopefully provocative/exciting/different work by both established writers and up-and-coming writers. Or even brand new writers. It is not an anthology editor’s job to teach you how to write a short story, to help you clean up your plot arc, cut unnecessary scenes, add scenes, and/or re-do dialogue. Anthology editors are working on tight deadlines once they’ve made their final selections. They don’t have time to work with each individual contributor to get the stories they WISHED had been submitted. They’re working with what WAS submitted and in that context, they’re doing light copyediting and proofreading.
Anthology editors also need to ensure that they’ve tapped the right markets with their call for submissions. As you may know, I and my colleague R. G. Emanuelle are co-editors of a volume on women pirates that was published in early 2010. We put out our call for submissions in 2009 on sites that were appropriate to the topic of the volume. Specifically, lots of speculative fiction (fantasy, paranormal, sci-fi) as well as more traditional general calls for stories because we weren’t relegating our volume to the usual variety of sea pirates. We set the parameters of what we were looking for in that call for submissions: we provided a timeline for potential contributors and we provided a contact email address as well as our names. We also provided the name of the publishing house, the amount of money each author would get (and notice, most anthologies at small independent houses don’t offer much by way of money) and what rights we wanted. In this case, we paid each contributor $35 upon contracting and each received a copy of the print and ebook version. We also asked for 18 months of print and ebook rights, which means that 18 months from the date of publication, the rights to the stories revert back to the authors. Have a look around at the sheer number of anthologies and what they’re offering you-the-author and you’ll see that for the size of the publishing house, this is actually within appropriate bounds.
Professional anthology editors working in legitimate venues will provide all of that information in their call for submissions or, if they weren’t as specific as we were in their call, they’ll provide it when you email them for clarification. You as an author should contact anthology editors to find out what rights they want, how long they want them, and how much they’re paying, if anything, if the call for submissions doesn’t specify. You’ll find lots of venues that only offer publication and there’s nothing wrong with that–it’s still a good way for an author to get exposure.
Now for the caveat: DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
That means you’re going to have to find anthology calls that match what you’ve written or that are doing a topic that you enjoy and that you decide to write a story for. Don’t be sending your story about space bandits to an anthology that’s looking for mermaids. Okay, that’s an extreme example, but when I was an acquiring editor, the number one reason I rejected manuscripts was because the topic was one that the press I worked for didn’t publish in. This seems self-evident, yes? Approach anthologies that publish in the genre in which you’re writing. You’d be surprised how often writers approach venues that do not publish in the topics in which they’re writing.
Okay, you found a call for submissions that interests you. Make sure that the publishing house is legitimate and that the project is legitimate. You can do that with a simple web-check. Google (or Yahoo or whatever search engine you use) the publishing house, especially if it’s one you’ve never heard of. Then check to make sure the titles they claim they’re publishing are legitimate. A site like Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com are good ways to do that. They’ll list the book’s title and publisher on the site. Then check out the volume’s editor(s). If there’s just one listed, you should be able to get some info about that person. You want to see if they’ve done other projects and what expertise they might have. If there’s more than one listed, you should still be able to get some info on at least one of them. The other(s) may be working under pen names and might not have a track record with those names yet. That’s not a reason to freak out, especially if you’re able to find info on at least one other editor listed. If there’s only one editor listed and you can’t find any info, contact the publishing house or contact the editor directly to see what shakes out. And contact other writers you know to see if they’ve heard about this publishing venue and/or the editor(s).
Remember, this is about you and your story and you want to make sure that nothing shady happens to you or your work. Yes, it’s a pain in the nether regions to do this kind of homework. But that’s the nature of this business. If you’re not willing to do the work to protect yourself–because there are lots of not-so-nice people out there just waiting to steal stuff from you or take advantage of you for a variety of reasons–then you might want to re-think this whole thing. Would you go backcountry camping without a backpack, sleeping bag, jacket, tent, or food? Similar principle here. Don’t assume that the posting you’re interested in is legit until you check it out. It’s a sad thing that we as writers have to do this, but you use the “buyer beware” thing all the time in real life. You don’t buy a car sight unseen, right? So don’t send a story sight unseen in response to a call for submissions.
Okay, so you’ve found an anthology that you like and that checks out. You write a story and you’re ready to submit it. The most important thing you can do at this juncture is
RE-READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES AND FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS EXACTLY.
AND SUPER, SUPER, ULTRA-IMPORTANT: ALWAYS BE PROFESSIONAL.
After you verify the anthology, the first thing you should do is print a copy of the guidelines and refer to them constantly as you’re preparing to submit your work. Below are things that if you don’t do them right make you look like an amateur:
1) FOLLOW TOPICAL GUIDELINES. If the submission guidelines say “no erotica,” don’t submit a story that deals with a sexual hook-up and includes sex scenes. If the guidelines say “short stories,” don’t submit poetry. And don’t waste an editor’s time by contacting him or her and asking if they’ll consider something like poetry when the guidelines clearly say “short stories.” If an anthology editor wanted poetry, she’d say so in the guidelines. If you’re a poet, submit your work to poetry anthologies. Don’t waste your time or an editor’s time asking if she’ll consider a different type of literature than what she specified in the guidelines.
2) MAKE SURE YOU FORMAT YOUR MANUSCRIPT ACCORDING TO THE GUIDELINES. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to deal with authors who, even though they have instructions on-hand, send me a manuscript that isn’t formatted correctly. This irritates editors. Why? You didn’t follow instructions, which means you’re not paying attention and that you’re expecting others to do your work for you. Most editors will send that manuscript back and tell you to format it according to the instructions but you’ve already got points against you as a writer because an editor had to deal with that.
3) MAKE SURE YOU INCLUDE ALL THE INFORMATION THE EDITORS REQUEST IN THE GUIDELINES AND MAKE SURE YOU INCLUDE IT WHERE THEY STIPULATE. R. G. and I request that authors provide contact info on the first page of their manuscripts. We specify what that should include. So if the editors want name, mailing address, and email address on the first page of the manuscript, that means what it says. Don’t put that information in the body of your email, for example, and leave it off the first page of your manuscript. Don’t include your cell phone number, fax number, work number, Twitter account, Facebook page, MySpace page, and your résumé. If an editor wants that, she’ll specify it in the guidelines. If you don’t put that info where the editors request it and you include all kinds of other stuff they didn’t ask for, that demonstrates to editors that you don’t follow instructions and that you probably don’t pay attention. It’s also lazy, because by not following instructions, you’re expecting someone else to pick up the ball for you. That’s not professional.
4) USE EDITORS’ NAMES WHEN YOU SEND IN YOUR SUBMISSION. We’ve already received a submission from someone who addressed us as “Editors”. Like that. In quotation marks, as if this person wasn’t sure we were actual editors. And another that addressed us as SIR/MADAM. As if the person submitting the story is assuming that we are representatives of a strict binary gender expression or as if the person didn’t bother to read through the guidelines. Why is using names important? Because it demonstrates that you’re paying attention and that you did actually read the guidelines thoroughly. And it also frees you from making the dreaded “what gender are you” mistake. This author tried: SIR/MADAM. If this author had just used our names, then the author could have circumvented any awkward assumptions: “Dear Andi Marquette and R. G. Emanuelle.” Easy peasy, to do that. My name and R. G.’s name are clearly visible in our guidelines. This rule can apply to a lot of things. Try to address your professional correspondence to a specific person. It demonstrates that you’re paying attention and that you’ve done your homework. Otherwise, your correspondence comes across as a form letter; an afterthought. It’s not that hard to find someone’s name and when the names are clearly spelled out in a call for submissions, there’s no reason not to use them.
4) ADHERE TO THE WORD COUNT. That is, if the guidelines say each story must have a minimum of 4000 words and a maximum of 7000, don’t submit something that’s 3900 or 7100. Or 3999. Or 7001. The editors stipulate those counts for a reason. Don’t hedge your bets because again, if you do, it makes you look like you’re not a professional and that you don’t/can’t follow instructions. You may think that one word isn’t that big a deal, but if an editor is trying to choose one more story for the anthology and has narrowed the choice down to two very good candidates, she has to cut one. Chances are, she’ll cut the one that didn’t make the word count and choose the one with 4011 words because THAT person followed the guidelines. So give yourself a good chance of making that cut. Add a word to get to the minimum word count.
Example of what not to do: Someone submitted a story to us that came in about 200 words less than the minimum. This author put the word count in the submission as “approximately 4000 words.” We run word counts at each submission and this submission came in nearly 200 words fewer than 4000. We informed the author of this and asked the author to correct the issue and re-submit. Said author then allowed an inner temperamental artiste to override publishing professionalism and stated, “well, I figured at editing you’d tell me what direction you wanted the story to go.” I had to explain to this author that anthology editors did not do substantive editing; they don’t have the time. Which leads me to
5) DON’T ARGUE WITH THE EDITORS OF AN ANTHOLOGY. They know what they’re looking for. They wrote the submission guidelines, after all. They know what topic they’re looking for and they know what word counts they want and they know why they want those counts. They’re looking to fill an anthology with a certain number of words and a certain number of authors. Not only did the author in question not follow instructions, but then the author tried to put responsibility for the bet-hedging on the volume editors. The author most likely did a word count prior to submission, discovered that the story wasn’t the minimum count, and rather than try to get it to that count, the author hedged: “approximately 4000 words.” The author also assumed that the story submitted was going to be accepted: “I’ll fix the problems in editing”–that assumes that the story is going to go into editing after acceptance. To compound this rather unprofessional approach, the author not only assumed that the story was going to be accepted, but the author also assumed that the editors would do the author’s work and “fix the problems.” What the author should have done after we sent the story back is thank us for providing enough notice for said author to address the issues and re-submit. That’s it. Instead, the author racked up a lot of points in the “uh-oh–unprofessional” category and no matter how talented this author might be or how good the story is, editors are going to worry about working with someone like this–someone who hedges, doesn’t take responsibility, and assumes the work is going to be accepted. Editors remember authors, too. So if you want a temperamental artiste/difficult to work with rep, do what the author above did. If you don’t, follow the guidelines and use common sense. Good manners, friends, may sound quaint. But I’ll tell you what, they make a huge difference in every industry.
TIP: So don’t risk irritating an editor by behaving unprofessionally. If an editor is gracious enough to alert you to the fact that your story isn’t long enough or isn’t formatted correctly or whatever and offers you a chance to correct it and re-submit, consider yourself lucky. After all, she could have just set your story in the “not for us” pile then sent it back after final selections and informed you that your story was too short and didn’t adhere to the guidelines.
Remember: Publishing is a business. Behave accordingly. If someone points out that you didn’t adhere to instructions, own it. Then correct it. Would you apply for a job at a Chicago law firm dressed like you’d just spent a wild weekend in Margaritaville? And would you tell the potential employer: “oh, well, I figured that once I was hired, I’d dress the part”? Just sayin’. Who do you think an editor is going to want to work with? Someone who submitted a story that met all the guidelines and the deadline, was also grammatically clean and relatively typo-free, and who was reasonably pleasant to deal with or someone like Mr./Ms. Margaritaville up there? Again, just sayin’.
6) MAKE THE DEADLINE. If the guidelines say September 1, 2009, get your story in before that or on that date. Don’t send it at 12.01 AM September 2nd and expect you’re going to get equal consideration. You’re not. If you didn’t find the call for the anthology until August 31st, well, tough luck and keep trolling for anthologies. Maybe that editor will put together another one in a similar vein in the future. Put it on your “dang, missed it” list and keep on keepin’ on. There’s a deadline for a reason. In order to get this anthology published by the date the publisher wants, we as editors have to develop a reasonable schedule that we can meet, too, and that gives authors time to create a short story or clean up one they’ve had sitting around on their hard drives and for accepted authors, that gives them time to go through the copyedits. If 150 other authors can make an anthology deadline, adhere to instructions, and behave professionally, there’s no reason you can’t. And if you can’t, well, bless your heart. Maybe you should re-think this whole reason-for-writing thing.
All right. You’ve got your story, you’ve got the guidelines right there, now make a checklist and make sure your submission meets all the criteria. Then write an email (addressing it to the people who are editing the anthology). If the editors didn’t stipulate what they wanted you to put in the body of that email, all you need to do is: “dear [fill in editors’ names]: Attached please find my short story, titled ‘[whatever it is]’ for consideration for the anthology ‘[whatever it is],’ coming in at 4,312 words. Many thanks for your time and attention in this matter and I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, [your name].”
That’s it. Your subject line should be: “submission for ‘[whatever anthology]’
Click “send”. VOILA! You’ve just submitted a short story for an anthology! Congratulations! Now comes the waiting game. And yes, you do need to consider the rejection thing. That, too, is part of publishing. You’re going to get a lot of rejections. Just keep writing, have others assess your work in your writing groups, and keep submitting. And always, always be professional. There’s a time and a place for your temperamental artiste-type. Submissions for consideration for publication–leave the temperamental artiste locked up in the basement for that.
Good luck with your submissions and happy writing!