The dog days of summer are here, but autumn is just around the corner, and with the falling leaves and cooling temperatures comes the best day of the year for this horror editor: Halloween. For the anthologist, there’s only one costume worthy of the season, and that’s the mad scientist. Just like Victor Frankenstein assembling his infamous monster in the attic of his Ingolstadt boarding house, bringing an anthology to life requires stitching together just the right stories, in just the right order, and then wrapping it all up into one complete package before throwing the switch and rubbing our hands together in manic joy to declare, “It’s alive, it’s alliiiive.”
While developing, building, and promoting an anthology involves a good bit of elbow grease (and perhaps just a pinch of madness), there are best practices publishers interested in adding an anthology to their catalog can follow to curate their beautiful monsters from bones to bolts.
1. Know the theme.
Anthologies are, by definition, a collection of pieces that come together to form a whole. Thus, having a vision for that whole is paramount before getting into the nitty gritty of the individual pieces. Start by organizing the anthology around a central idea, even if it’s a broad one—for example, romantic summer trysts or heartwarming stories about childhood pets. Once you’re able to articulate a simple, compelling elevator pitch for the anthology—a “showcase of body horror poems by women in horror” (Under Her Skin, Black Spot Books) or a “collection of horror short stories that reimagine, subvert, and pay homage to our favorite monsters and creatures” (Classic Monsters Unleashed, Black Spot Books)—you’ve got your theme nailed and are ready to move on to finer details. These elevator pitches often become important components of your marketing copy, so being able to articulate the idea in a few words becomes even more important. In addition to the theme, you will need to decide on the structure: a total word count for the collection, word count limitations for individual pieces, what kinds of pieces will be included (stories, poems, etc.), how many, distribution of invited versus open submissions, and so on. Consider adding elements like interior illustrations to accessorize the stories and reinforce the theme.
Tip: Include this information, along with proposed publication date and other relevant details— including compensation—in your call for submissions so potential contributors are aware of the full scope and timeline of the project.
2. Select your editor.
Anthologies aren’t structured like novel, with clear beginning, middle, and ending acts, but are more like mixtapes—an intentional curation of just right songs in the just right order to keep the listener singing along. The anthology editor, or anthologist’s, job is to review submissions to select which pieces will become part of the anthology, then compile these into the correct sequence to guide readers through the experience of reading an anthology. They’ll not only decide what pieces go into the anthology, but which will become the bookends, which are the highlights, and which can settle comfortably between—and there is a certain science to getting this order right. Often the editor will be the one to suggest featured writers or foreword authors, and, likewise, they will be the ones tasked most heavily with reviewing submissions. Thus, they should be not only capable of identifying stand-out voices, engaging storytelling, and unique ideas that blend well into a whole, but also someone who has innate subject matter expertise in the anthology’s genre and theme. Likewise, they should understand the need for diversity when rounding out the table of contents. An assemblage of many stories has the innate opportunity to be representative, and it’s the anthologist’s onus to strive for unity, rather than redundancy, in all aspects.
Tip: In comparative research, pay attention to editors on similar anthologies as well as names of contributors. Often, well-versed anthology contributors make excellent candidates for anthologists.
3. Be specific, and generous, in your anthology contract terms.
Anthology contracts differ from other publishing contracts, but they should be specific in what rights are retained in the anthology, and when these rights revert. The author should always retain the copyright and subsidiary rights to the work, as well as the right to re-publish in other contexts, and considerations for reprints. Anthology contributors should be paid upfront fairly—according to industry standards, at minimum—and promptly, typically before the book is released or upon publication. Likewise, they should be entitled to complimentary contributor copies and discounted author copies.
Tip: Many professional writer’s organizations outline industry standard per word payment rates for anthology submissions. These are often used to support an author’s candidacy to join such writing groups and, as such, are a great metric when deciding what payment rate to offer contributors.
4. Develop a marketing plan that involves contributors.
There are numerous ways to promote an anthology, and smart book publicists take advantage of every opportunity they can. Like poor Frankenstein’s monster, anthologies are more than just the sum of their parts. The biggest strength of anthologies is that they bring together writers, editors, designers, publicists, publishers, and so on, and each provides an area to promote for the benefit of the collection. Likewise, anthologies are ripe for their built-in community. Contributors are usually eager to promote their acceptance and inclusion in anthologies, especially when they find themselves sharing space with other writers they admire, or a show-stopper introduction writer. Be sure to include and engage your contributor community as much, and as frequently, as possible. Highlight each contributor on social media and/or in publisher newsletters, feature alternating contributors in press and media pieces, invite contributors to share guest articles or interview other contributors, and ask them to post photos of themselves with contributor copies. Since anthologies tend to become larger and more expensive projects, consider offering additional swag or creative ways for contributors to promote their stories to their readers as well. There is strength in numbers—use it, and celebrate the anthology as a group.
Tip: Send regular email updates, or organize social sharing hubs like Facebook groups, to engage and interact with your contributors. Share updates, creative content, graphics, and other information during the production and pre-publication of the anthology to keep contributors engaged and excited.
While producing an anthology can be daunting and costly on the front end due to the need to pay contributors upfront for their work, they are a true labor of love worthy of the undertaking. Anthologies can be a great tool to promote current authors, discover new voices, and build collections to engage and excite readers who might otherwise not gravitate to a certain genre or topic in a full-length book format. In addition to interacting with new authors and readers, anthologies can also be opportunities to network with other industry professionals as well, including artists and designers, but also other publishers. You may find the opportunity to sell translation rights for the anthology, for example, or partner with an audiobook publisher to producer an audio edition of the title. If your publishing house is aligned with special interests or social causes, anthologies can also be excellent vehicles for charity or donation projects, fostering new relationships and generating reader goodwill.
A final word of wisdom: Because of their myriad moving parts, anthologies often require a longer production pipeline to go to market than a typical novel. Consider that a call for submissions should be open for at least a month or longer, and reviewing submissions can take double that, plus time to move through contracts and put stories in sequence. Each story will then require editing, proofing, and layout, and the entire collection will subsequently enjoy its turn in the editorial lab. Remember, it took Victor Frankenstein two years to assemble his monster. Good things do take time, and, done right, can live on.