Who on Earth would want to Edit an Anthology?
People often say that writers are crazy. Perhaps they are, but it takes a special kind of insanity to want to edit a short story anthology. There’s no doubt you have to be of a certain mindset to do it. I wouldn’t say it’s harder than writing a novel – I’m doing that at the moment and it’s bloody tough! It’s a different kind of challenge, but it does take hard work and you have to be the kind of person who finishes what they start. Spreadsheets also help.
I should say at this point that I am a terrible procrastinator. Just ask my wife. I bought new doorknobs for all the doors in our house about two years ago, and they’re still sitting in the cupboard in their original packaging. But if I had got around to replacing one, I’d have carried on and replaced all of them. I am the world’s worst starter, but I hate leaving things unfinished. Maybe that’s why I put off starting them in the first place…
I’ve lost count of the number of anthology projects that kick off with tremendous noise, fury and enthusiasm, and then either get cancelled or, worse, trail off into awkward silence. And believe me, it is much worse to abandon an anthology than it is to give up on a solo novel. The only person who is let down when you stop writing your book is yourself and perhaps a handful of people you told about it. (This is assuming you don’t already have a contract to publish your book, along with millions of adoring fans who will murder you if you even think about leaving your latest blockbuster unfinished.)
If a short story anthology peters out part way through, the sense of letdown and lost opportunity is felt keenly by all the writers who submitted a story, and even more so by those who had their work accepted. For some, it might be their very first published fiction and they are back to square one. For others, they may have taken time from their income-earning writing to pen a story for your project because they wanted to be a part of it, only to have the editor disappear, stop answering their e-mails and quietly remove their profile from Facebook. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen potential editors go nuts and launch a dozen anthologies simultaneously because they just can’t contain their enthusiasm for all the great thematic ideas they’ve had, and two years later not a single volume is available for sale.
It is amazing how many people think putting together an anthology of other people’s stories is easy. Of course, there are plenty of wannabe authors who think writing a novel is easy too. It might be even worse for anthologies, because people will look at what an editor does and wonder why one is even necessary. The editor doesn’t actually have to do any writing, right? How hard can it be?
It’s a huge undertaking. It really is. And often it can be a frustrating one too. If your novel isn’t getting written, it’s usually because you aren’t writing it. But an anthology can go off the rails for countless reasons. Perhaps one of the writers pulls out, or delivers a sub-par story or something entirely different from what they promised. Writers, being busy souls who care more about word choice than timetables, will miss deadlines, or misinterpret the guidelines, or will make your life a bit of a nightmare as you try to keep the project on the rails.
There are hidden complications too, things that readers don’t notice. If they notice, you’re doing it wrong. One of these is story order. A lot more thought goes into this than you might imagine. Getting the right balance between stories, ensuring that thematically similar tales aren’t back to back, placing heavier stories next to lighter fare to give the reader a break, deciding which story should come first and which should come last. Much more thought goes into this sort of thing than people realize.
And keep in mind that anthologies tend to sell in far fewer numbers than novels. That means financially you’d be much better off writing a whole book yourself. Plus there are more expenses. You should pay the writers for their stories (really, you should). You need to send out comp copies to all the contributors on top of those copies that go to reviewers and blurb writers, and you still have to pay for a cover and marketing and all that potentially expensive stuff that you have to do with a novel. Good luck finding a publisher for your anthology too, unless you’re established at that sort of thing.
On top of all that, if you want to make life really hard for yourself, why not edit an anthology of stories that are all linked together? Such a collection is often referred to as a mosaic novel, where stories by different writers combine to form a continuous narrative, a complete, novel-length story. Yeah, now we’re pushing the borders of crazy and flirting with sheer lunacy! Now you’ve got all those headaches that come with assembling a regular short story collection and on top of that you have to make sure a whole bunch of different writers are handling shared characters consistently, that their stories fit into and advance the plot at the right pace so that it makes sense, and that story number two doesn’t spoil the ending to story number fifteen. It’s a whole new definition of nightmare.
So why do it? Why have I now done it twice (the second one being a mosaic novel) professionally with the full intention of doing it again? Why on Earth would I subject myself to all this a third time?
Well there are three reasons. Firstly, you get to work closely with talented people who will likely become friends and whom you will hanker to work with again. Secondly, it’s a chance to discover new talent and showcase it to the world (there’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing a writer who got his or her first break in your anthology then go on to have more success). And thirdly because the resulting anthology can be something truly special: a medley of ideas, an explosion of variety and a harmony of brilliance.
UItimately, if the editor has done his job right, then the stories will shine and readers will be entertained, surprised and delighted. Perhaps they’ll also have discovered a few writers that are new to them, and they’ll be keen to look up their other works.
Despite the fact that their names are on the cover, the best editors won’t be noticed at all.
Richard Salter is a British writer and editor now living near Toronto, Canada. He has edited two anthologies professionally, Short Trips: Transmissions for Big Finish Productions and the recently released World’s Collider – a Shared-World Anthology for Nightscape Press. He is the writer of twenty published short stories in collections such as Solaris Rising, Gotrek and Felix The Anthology, Horror For Good and Machine of Death 2. He is currently writing his first novel because he doesn’t want to share the accolades with other people any more (ha ha).
For more about his work please visit
World’s Collider – A Shared-World Anthology
The Collision is the worst disaster in human history. So far…
In the near future, an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider causes an enormous explosion, known as the Collision. The blast flattens a huge chunk of central Europe and punches a massive hole in the Earth’s surface. Over the next decade, unspeakable horrors pour from the rift: vicious creatures with a taste for human flesh, a terrible scream that drives all who hear it insane, a phantom entity that feeds on fear and paranoia, and a nightmare train from the pits of hell, to name but a few. This onslaught of terror causes the collapse of civilization and threatens to wipe humanity from the planet.
World’s Collider is a unique concept in short fiction, where all eighteen original stories are part of a common narrative, recounting the disaster and its aftermath. A true novel by many voices, including Steven Savile, James Moran, Aaron Rosenberg, Trent Zelazny, Jonathan Green, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Kelly Hale, Richard Wright and a host of new talent.
Fifty million people died in the Collision. They were the lucky ones…
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008J9X2P4/
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B008J9X2P4