Hi, all–Happy Friday! If you’re on the East Coast, be careful! Stay warm! Heard 18 inches of snow fell in Central Park. SNOWPOCALYPSE! So grab some coffee and kill a few minutes with me and my co-editor on Skulls and Crossbones: Tales of Women Pirates, R. G. Emanuelle. Jove asked us if we’d be willing to chit-chat about the process of putting this anthology together (and, in the larger picture, putting any anthology together), so we said, SURE. The conversation follows.
Hi, I’m Andi Marquette and I’m on the phone with R. G. Emanuelle, my awesome co-editor on the anthology Skulls and Crossbones: Tales of Women Pirates, which was just released by Bedazzled Ink Publishing. Jove asked us to talk about our experience doing an anthology, because the writers among us might be interested in that and the readers might wonder, too, why editors made some choices in some anthologies and why they didn’t. R. G.?
R. G.: Hi, Andi. And also, I think some readers are interested in how an idea for an anthology comes about and how the volume editors go about the entire process.
Andi: Totally. Before we start, I just want to let people know that both of us are published writers and we have both worked in publishing for a while. I’ve got about 15 years of experience as an editor in publishing and R. G. has about 20. We publish in different genres, which is kind of nice, because we brought different perspectives to the process, and I think it allowed us to make a wide selection with wide appeal.
R. G.: I agree. Andi’s genres of specialty aren’t necessarily mine, but that’s okay, because we combined our efforts and put together a group of stories that we hope has appeal across a wide spectrum. Oh, and I think it’s important to point out, too, that editors for an anthology are doing several different types of editing. One, they’re acting as acquiring editors—that is, they’re looking through submissions to acquire stories for their anthologies. Two, they’re developmental editors in the sense that they’re trying to create an overall theme with the anthology and find stories that fit it, as well as stories that are well-written and well-presented. And that hook us as readers. And three, they’re copyeditors. Andi and I did edit each of these stories personally.
A: So true. Let’s talk about that in a minute. Okay, so let’s start this party. Why pirates?
R: We were originally going to do an anthology of vampire stories, but we realized that vampires were being done a lot, and we wanted something a little different.
A: Okay, but how did we come to “pirates”? I’m trying to get you to stop being so modest! Pirates was R. G.’s idea, y’all.
R: Fine. I was in the bookstore and I was just browsing and I saw a history of pirates book and it just clicked. Pirates! And I called you and said: “Pirates!”
A: [laughs] It was totally funny. No “hi, Andi.” No “What are you doing?” Just one word: “Pirates!” That was the first thing you said. And I said: “Yeah, okay. What about them?” I did not even know what the hell you were talking about.
R: And I said, “The anthology! We should do one on women pirates.”
A: And then I said, “Hey! What a cool idea!” Because it was a cool idea. And it’s still a cool one, I think. But then, I’m biased. And thus was born the idea for Skulls and Crossbones. Now we had to find a publisher. So we hit up Bedazzled Ink, because we knew they liked anthologies and books with strong female protagonists and they had a spec fic bent.
R: That’s important. If you want to edit an anthology—which means you want to put one together—make sure the publishers you approach publish in the genres that match your anthology. Don’t hit up Harlequin with your “after the apocalypse” survival anthology. Know your market.
A: That’s a really good point. As an anthology editor, you need to really know what publishers to approach with your idea. Some publishers prefer that you already have the anthology put together. Others are okay sponsoring the project and providing the money to pay authors who are selected. Some publishers aren’t, and though they may publish the project, you the editor may need to come up with the money yourself to pay contributors, if you go that route. Bedazzled Ink agreed to put up the money for each contributor. But some publishers don’t. That’s something to think about if you want to put an anthology together.
Anyway, I happen to have a relationship already established with BI, so I dropped one of the editors an email about our idea and she told us to put together a formal proposal. So R. G. and I went back and forth writing a proposal that was a few paragraphs long and then we wrote submission guidelines. So if you’re going to do an anthology as an editor, you need to really think about what direction you want to take it and you have to be really specific in the guidelines. I didn’t want this to be an erotica anthology. There are plenty of those out there, after all, and I wanted something a little different. R. G. agreed.
R: And we needed to make that really clear in the guidelines and we had to specify what we found acceptable and what we didn’t while remaining open enough to many different incarnations of the idea behind the anthology, which is women pirates.
A: Basically, no pirate porn. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s plenty of that out there, though. Seriously. Google it.
R: [laughs] We figured there’s a lot of erotica out there and we wanted something with adventure and intrigue, in which the emphasis was on the strength of the woman pirate protagonist, however it manifested. And because of that, I think it gave a lot of writers who normally write a lot of romance or erotica to really stretch their wings and see what they could do when that wasn’t the focus of the story and I think some of them surprised themselves with what they ended up with. Think about how many told us that they don’t normally write outside erotica and yet they came up with some good stories.
A: True. We did get comments in that vein. So we wrote up the proposal and the submission guidelines and we sent them to BI to see if that was okay. And we went back and forth with BI, which was good, because they helped us really focus the guidelines and the proposal. And after about a week of exchanging emails among the three of us, we had what everybody wanted, what we could offer authors, and we released the guidelines. I want to add here, really quickly, that when you are contracting an anthology with a particular house, make sure you are very clear with the publisher about what the publisher’s role in story selection and editing is going to be. That is, most publishers want to at least have a say in editing, which is fine because the more eyes that see the stories, the more mistakes that get caught. Some publishers want to have final say in story selection, which is fine, too, but just make sure that everybody is very, very clear on that at the outset and how the final say is going to work and when it’s going to take place. So, like an author reading a contract, an anthology editor needs to really be clear with the publisher and vice versa about what is expected on every side and it needs to be in the contract.
R: Yep. And prepare a schedule. We posted the guidelines to Skulls 6 months before deadline, which was September 1, for submissions receipt. We gave ourselves a month to go through and make selections, which meant that by October 1, we’d have our finalists. BI was shooting for a January-February 2010 publication date. So once we made selections, we had about 2-3 weeks to get the stories edited and back to the authors for them to check. We gave them about 5 days to look them over, since they’re short stories. Then they sent the stories back and we took about a week to get things consolidated and then another couple of weeks to put the submission packet together, which we got to BI the beginning of December.
A: So we were trying to get everything in about 6 weeks before slated publication. And that’s important, when you’re pitching an anthology. Come up with a viable, workable schedule with the publisher that takes into account all the stuff R. G. mentioned. And make sure you schedule in what I call “wiggle room”—that’s about 2 weeks of extra time “just in case,” because you never know. There could be some kind of emergency that crops up with the publisher or the editors or the contributors.
R: Getting back on topic before Andi goes wandering off again. . .we then posted the guidelines on every writers’ forum that we belonged to plus sci fi and fantasy forums, and some places actually approached us to ask permission to post.
A: I think that’s because BI does a lot of sci fi and fantasy, and they’re active in those writing communities and that’s how the word got out there. I know I posted to a few mainstream sites, as well—meaning outside the normal lesbian fiction haunts—because I wanted to bring in a wide variety of authors from a variety of backgrounds writing a variety of characters who identified a variety of ways. We wanted as wide a cross-section as possible in our stories. Remember, this is an anthology, and we could only publish a certain number of stories, so we were trying to get representation from as many different themes and settings as we could.
B: And we did. We got quite a variety. Men, women, gay, straight, Americans, Canadians, Brits, Australians, and a Swedish author contributed.
A: So cool. About half of our contributors are not American. Which was interesting, actually. But cool. So R. G., talk about storylines.
R: We tried to balance out the heavy, grim dark stories with a few lighter stories—that is, thematically, those tended to be humorous or didn’t end as darkly as other stories. Initially, the most stories we got were traditional seafaring. But we expected and we got a few other themes like space pirates. We were also pleasantly surprised to receive other themes—ice pirates, river pirates, road pirates, post-apocalyptic pirates…a lot of really interesting approaches to piracy and settings, which was really nice.
A: So how many stories would you say we looked through?
R: About 75. And of those, we chose 18. It was hard, making those choices, because we got some very good stuff. But essentially, the story had to be solid craft-wise. It had to be well-written but we were not adverse to working with authors a bit on craft if the story really hooked us.
A: I’m busting in here for a minute.
R: Really? How strange of you. [laughs]
A: [laughing] Scary. You know me so well after this process! Anyway, this is one of the questions anthology editors get asked a lot: Why did a particular story hook you when I thought it sucked? Well, that’s the cool thing about an anthology. It’s like a buffet. You can sample from the stories and there’s bound to be at least one story that you enjoy and you might even go back for seconds. The thing is, tastes differ and no, stories that R. G. really liked I might not have liked as much as she did, but I could appreciate where she was coming from on why it hooked her. And vice versa. And there’s a genre thing here. I’m partial to certain genres, and R. G. is partial to certain genres but the important thing is, we wanted to include a variety of stories from a variety of genres and approaches and we worked long and hard to come up with a good mix.
R: And it wasn’t easy, because there were a lot of good stories that we had to reject because we didn’t have the space.
A: Or because we had a lot of stories in that setting and we wanted to include other settings, as well.
R: Let’s address the nature of guidelines, which is a big one for me. The majority of authors adhered to the guidelines. But there were a few who just flung whatever at us and didn’t seem to pay attention to what exactly we were looking for. I’ve been writing and editing for years, now, and one of the most important things you as a writer can do is make sure you understand the guidelines and make sure you adhere to them.
A: That’s a good point. If you’re a writer and you want to try to get into an anthology, here’s the number one thing you can do: READ THE GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. If the editors say they don’t want erotica to be the sole point of the story in their pirate anthology, don’t send your pirate porn in.
R: True. There are plenty of outlets for that. This isn’t one of them. Not a big deal, there are always anthologies open with calls for submission out there. And if the guidelines say “maximum 5000 words,” don’t send in your 12000-word opus thinking it’s the best thing since sliced bread and we’ll accept it, that we’ll make an exception for you because of course, your story is a masterpiece of pirate fiction.
A: True. One of the things that will totally irritate a volume editor is writers who send stuff in and don’t follow the guidelines. That tells us that you don’t take instructions and you might be difficult to work with. We got some submissions that were so completely off the wall that we had to have a drink over it in an attempt to understand why a call for submissions on pirates would make someone think that he or she could submit an excerpt from their book on Israeli spies in Germany which didn’t really have women pirates, but hey, could we stretch our boundaries a bit? Sure, for a different anthology on Israeli spies in Germany, maybe.
R: And also, stick to the deadlines. We’re sorry that you didn’t see the call for submissions until yesterday and the deadline for stories is in three days. Don’t write to us and ask if we’ll give you an extra 3 months to research and write your story because you didn’t see the call for submissions until just now.
A: Seriously. We got a few requests to extend the deadline because the writers only just found out about the anthology. If that happens to you, well, sorry. There will be other anthologies looking for the type of work you’re doing. Just make sure you check postings more often.
R: Yes. And when you are submitting work to an anthology for consideration, make it the most error-free you can and as polished as you can. Anthology editors are not going to do developmental editing with you because there’s no time to help you write your story. Otherwise, they’re going to have to do that with every story and if there are 20 stories in an anthology, how can they have enough time to a) teach you about POV and b) work with you for hours in developing your story? In other words, anthologies are specifically designed for fully polished submissions. And for the most part, that’s what we got, with a couple of exceptions.
A: And let me address those exceptions. If you are submitting a story for consideration to an anthology, it’s really not a good idea to piss off the editors and demand that they help you with developing your story. Don’t send your stuff in and expect that we’re going to work with you on that. We don’t really have the time. And word counts—stick to them. R. G. has already said this, but in a lot of cases, your work will be rejected because it was either too long or too short. Try to keep within the word count. Even if you’re a couple words over or under, think about it. Maybe another author is right at the word count and the final selection is between you and that author. The editor may go with the right-on word count. So again, pay attention to the guidelines.
R: And having said what we have about developmental editing and time constraints, we did offer a few authors who submitted their work early a chance to re-work their stories and re-submit because we saw potential.
A: And that is an exception, folks. Most anthology editors will just reject it outright, but they’ll do it after the deadline so you don’t get a chance to re-write. We’re kinda weird, I guess, R. G., in that we did go through an initial round of early submissions and offer chances for re-writes.
R: And in one case, we were so pleased with the re-write that we accepted the story, but in the other cases, we did not. But those early authors were still grateful for the opportunity we gave them, because 99.9 percent of the time, if you submit your work early, you don’t hear anything until after the final deadline. So, yes, we are kind of different, I guess. Maybe because we’re writers, too, and we know how it is from the other side and we wanted to treat writers with the kind of courtesy that we would like to get.
A: Also, the two of us are trained in editing. That is, we have extensive backgrounds in mainstream publishing, and that’s where we learned to edit, so we approached this as acquiring editors in the sense that we wanted to offer encouragement where we could and give people a chance if there was time to re-write.
R: It also helped that there were two of us doing this. Most anthologies out there have one editor, but because there were two of us, we were able to divide up the responsibilities and it allowed us to interact with the authors more.
A: Totally. If either of us did this project alone, we would not have been able to offer opportunities to re-write. And along those lines, when we sent out rejections—and I hate sending out rejections because I’m a writer, too, and I know how that feels—we sent out personalized emails to each author specifically addressing points in their specific stories that we liked and why we didn’t use it. And most of the time, writers don’t get personalized rejection letters. They get form letters, which doesn’t tell you much. I felt like we owed everyone at least a paragraph on what we liked about their story.
R: And what we didn’t like. Because, you know, that’s what a writer really needs to know. They need to know what’s working as well as what’s NOT working.
A: True. Which brings us to the selection process. Talk about how we approached it.
R: We divided up the stories and each of us did a read-through and then we switched without saying what we thought so we didn’t bias the process. Then, after we each finished reading a particular story, we’d discuss it.
A: What I found interesting about this process is that R. G. and I actually agreed on most of the stories, and about specific points therein, whether we accepted them for publication or rejected them. Who knew we shared a brainwave a few times?
R: That’s kinda scary, Andi.
A: I know.
R: But that’s not to say we didn’t have our preferences. The ones Andi preferred were not necessarily the ones that I preferred, but we both had to come to an agreement about whether a story should be included in the anthology.
A: And that involved lots of coffee and sometimes alcohol. Kidding! Lots of coffee, mostly. The two of us did make some compromises with each other in order to include the widest array of stories we could, given what was submitted. Because as R. G. says, stuff that she really liked might not have been stuff that I was all gung-ho over, but we recognized interesting stories in genres that we don’t necessarily have personal preferences for, and we both recognize strong writing and strong stories.
R: The actual editing involved this process: we divided up the stories we’d selected. Fortunately, we had an even number selected, so we each got 9 stories to look at. Each of us did a first round of edits and then I switched with Andi and we each saw things that the other did not. Which is another benefit to having two editors.
A: We did the first round of edits on hardcopy, which is easy to do with a short story. And then we traded hardcopies and edited. Then we consolidated the edits onto the electronic files.
R: I’m ol’ skool! I like to read on paper.
A: Bless yer heart, R. G. [laughs] Anyway, after we did the edits in tracking mode on the electronic files, we emailed them to the authors for consideration. Most of the authors were fine with our suggestions and happy about them.
R: Where authors felt strongly about, say, the spelling of a particular word, we were cool with that, for the most part. We were open to the authors’ preferences. Having said that, if you’re an author in an anthology and your editor wants to make changes that really don’t affect the story in any serious way, then it’s not going to kill you or ruin your reputation to go along with that, and there’s usually a reason for an editor suggesting it, most likely because it smooths out the prose. Editors don’t just randomly make changes. They’re reading as readers, too, and if something jumps out at them, then chances are, it’s noticeable and a little tweak will smooth it over. If you feel very strongly about something, by all means, defend it. But as long as it doesn’t change the story in any substantial way, it’s not worth getting a rep as a difficult author about.
A: And editors and others in the industry do talk to each other. Yeah, there are ways to approach your editor about something. Don’t assume they’re hacks and don’t know what they’re doing. If that were the case, they most likely would not be doing what they’re doing. Just drop them a line and say that you’d like to discuss something and here’s why you feel strongly about it and is there a way to keep it worded the way you had it. Nine times out of ten, an editor will be fine with that and will indeed let you keep it. This is about manners, ultimately. You wouldn’t want someone to contact you and basically tell you that you’re an idiot for proposing a particular edit. So think about the impression you’re making as an author. You may be a wonderful writer with great stories, but if you’re rude and you behave unprofessionally, that’s the rep you’ll start getting and most likely, any work you submit in the future to those editors for consideration in an anthology won’t make the cut, no matter how good it is, because they just don’t want to deal with you again.
R: And we were pretty amenable in every case when an author explained why they wanted it. We granted every request, for the most part.
A: It’s not a big deal to us, since the writing is yours, ultimately, and it stands or falls on you. If someone reviews you and says a particular sentence sucked, chances are, we asked you to change it, but you didn’t want to. [laughs]
R: [laughing] Okay, we finished the edits and sent them to the authors and most got their stuff back within the allotted time. A couple had some emergency situations they were dealing with, but it worked out—they let us know and we were flexible in accommodating them. You can’t schedule emergencies, after all. But don’t assume that people will work around you—make sure you communicate with the editors and let them know what’s going on so they can adjust the schedule a bit.
A: We got the stories back—and I want to say at this point, that R. G. and I both have stories in the anthology and the publisher vetted those. I edited R. G.’s and she edited mine—and neither of us was familiar with the story prior to editing—and then the publisher went through them, too. So if you’re an anthology editor and you’re going to include one of your stories, out of fairness, run it by the publisher to see if it’ll work. If it doesn’t, don’t get cranky. Just be the volume editor and not a contributor.
R: Anyway, after we got the stories back, we entered the changes the authors accepted, which was almost all of them, cleaned them up, and formatted them for the publisher, and then we wrote the editors’ intro. Andi and I went back and forth with wording, and we also decided the order of the stories at this point. Because Andi is a DJ, she suggested we put stories together like they’re a music mix. So we started out with kind of darker stories and moved into lighter fare then back into darker and then ended on lighter fare. It seems to have worked pretty well. We wanted to make the reading of the book sort of a journey for the reader. That is, we also organized them chronologically and thematically. We started with traditional seafaring pirates, but with Vikings and moved up to the 18th century and then into modern-day settings, then to a post-apocalypse setting, then into space piracy.
A: It was hard, coming up with a logical progression and organization. We really had to think about it, but what was cool was we had an array of selections and they all seemed to work in our organizational scheme. So we wrote the intro, got the authors’ bios together, wrote up the order of stories, and then we wrote a blurb and we sent all of that along with the stories to the publisher about 6 weeks before slated publication. And then the publisher went through the stories and caught some things that we fixed and then it was just a matter of back and forth between the three of us to finalize things. So there you go. The process of doing an anthology. R. G.?
R: This was a new experience for me. This is my first anthology and while it was most definitely a lot of work, it was fun and it was a different kind of challenge for me, so I enjoyed it.
A: Should we do another one?
R: Hell, yeah!
Stay tuned to find out what that anthology might be…
For more info about Andi Marquette, check her website: www.andimarquette.com
For more about R. G. Emanuelle, check HER website: www.rgemanuelle.com
And to check out what Skulls and Crossbones is all about, click here.