Building an Anthology, Part 1


Sorry this is going up a little late. I was on set yesterday as an extra in a commercial and was completely exhausted when I got home. That was my first ever “extra” gig, and I had a good time. Several friends were on the set as well, so we hung out in the holding area most of the time BS’ing. But even with that, my call time was 7:30 AM, and I didn’t leave until 7PM, and when we weren’t in holding, we were outdoors in the bajillion degrees heat. So I were a tired boy when I got home. 

But that’s not what you’re here to read about, is it? No, you want to hear some of the nuts and bolts and dirty secrets that went into creating The Big Bad: An Anthology of Evil, recently released by Dark Oak Press. This anthology of 30 of the most awesomest horror-type stories you can imagine, was created and edited by yours truly and our own Emily Leverett. if you don’t have it already, you should get one, it’s awesome. And I promise there is some stuff in there that will make you laugh, and plenty that will make you shudder. 

But here’s the evolution of the anthology, in a nutshell. And I’ll be as open and honest about this as I am about most things, so if there’s a question on anything, feel free to ask in the comments. 

I created the anthology in the beginning of 2012 as a self-published antho. I decided that I could afford to pay $50 for about 20 stories, pay for a cover, pay for an editor, and still probably make a few dollars. I sent out the open call, put the listing up on, and sat back hoping to get some submissions. Fortunately I know a lot of writers, so once I put some things out there on Facebook and Twitter, submissions started coming in. And they were pretty good, too! By the time the six-month submission window closed, I had nearly 200 submissions for 20 slots in the anthology. 

This was going to take a lot of reading. 

Then last summer happened, and I went to Fandom Fest in Louisville, Kentucky. Emily approached me and said “Hey, If you need help with this anthology, I’d be willing to help edit.” 

I thought to myself hmmm . . . an experienced editor who’s a grammar nut who’ll work for a piece of the take? Sounds like a win! 

What I said was “Sure! That sounds great!” 

Then she volunteered to put up some cash to get the thing moving, and we became kinda-partners in the process. 

Later that weekend after an epic Literate Liquors panel, then an amazing Pied-Piperesque stroll through downtown Louisville looking for a restaurant with open seating for 30, and finally a legen – wait for it – dary Mexican meal, complete with unconsciousness, I looked over at Allan Gilbreath, publisher of Dark Oak Press and said “Hey buddy, you want to handle the print rights for this anthology I’m doing?” 

I knew that Dark Oak did hardback and trade paperback, and I really wanted a hardback with my name on the spine. 

Allan looks right back at me and says “Sure, but why don’t I just publish the whole thing?” 



“Well, okay.” 

And that’s how the anthology went from self-published to small press. One dinner conversation. Preceded by two years of conversations, panels, con attendance, long discussions on the industry and friendship, just so you don’t think all it takes is one conversation. It was one conversation between people who knew for a while they wanted to work together and had just been looking for the project. 

So as we’re walking back from dinner I walk alongside Emily and say “So you remember that anthology?” 

“The one we were talking about less than two hours ago?”

“Yeah, that one.” 

“I think I recall.” 

“Well, I kinda just sold it to Allan. You wanna be my co-editor? I’ll give you half the money he’s paying me.” 

“…Well, okay.” *

And that’s how that all happened. 

Then Emily and I started going through stories. 



Yes, I’ve heard the term “burying the lede.” But since I don’t work in journalism anymore, bite me. 

Emily is a much better editor than me. She is the Randy to my Simon. She read the vast majority of the stories. By that I mean that for most stories, she read all of most of the story. I at least started to read all of them. I gave up a lot sooner. My cutoff most of the time was the first paragraph. If nothing was happening by then, I rejected the story. 

Go back and read that again. 

I rejected most stories in paragraph #1. Because they were boring. There isn’t time to set up a wonderful world in a short story, especially not in a horror story. You better creep me out or draw me in fast, because I have 200 submissions and 20 slots to fill, so you only have a 1 in 10 shot to begin with. Come out of the gates roaring and you’ve got a way better chance of getting your story into an anthology. 

The biggest note I give to beginning and unpublished writers is that they aren’t starting their stories in the right place. It was almost a universal critique we gave at JordanCon when several of the writer guests dropped in on a critique session and people read their work aloud to us. Sometimes there were as many as three pages before the story started. 

Okay – this is obviously a multi-part post, so we’ll come back to this next week, and over the next couple of weeks we’ll talk about the “secret folder” that some stories made it into, the ratio of men to women in the anthology, the percentage of people I know in the anthology, and the remarkable success of the Wednesday Night Writer’s Clutch in the anthology. 

Hit me up in the comments with questions!





All conversations are not real quotes. I made the words up. I was drunk when I cut all these deals, and it was a year ago to boot. But they went basically like that. Everyone but me probably sounded smarter in real life.


9 comments to Building an Anthology, Part 1

  • Wow, first graph, eh? I’m not sure that most of my short stories would pass that test. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the editorial process you and Emily developed — good idea for a series of posts, John. Thanks. Then again, that first paragraph kind of gets bogged down in the whole “why-this-was-late” thing. So I think I have to reject it . . .

  • Nah, you see, I slide in enough cool “I was shooting a commercial” garbage in addition to the “why it was late” crap, so I think I get a further read, because I’m obviously interesting enough to be on TV, so I’m awesome.

    Continuing to use my charisma to cover up everything else. 🙂

  • Ken

    Thanks John. I’m looking forward to reading this series as it progresses. Good advice on the short story front. “Come out of the gates roaring!” I’m going to tape that to the wall of “Stuff to Ignore at Your Peril”.

  • Nearly every job I’ve had in my 30 year programming career has been a result of networking (often networking that included drinking, to keep with the theme). Networking is an important part of any industry – it’s how things get done.

    This is a timely post for me since I’m re-cutting my writing teeth with a short story. As it turns out I get right into the story in the first paragraph so I guess I’m ahead of the game there, but I don’t think that was anything conscious on my part. It will be on purpose next time. Thanks for the post.

  • Pumpkin, don’t ever call me Randy again. Even as a compliment. ‘k?

    And yeah. Networking. Lots of folks say “Publishing is all about cliques! And you have to be in the “in group!”” and it’s true and not true. I just met folks. Got to be friends with folks. Wanted to work with folks. And stuff came out of that. It’s not a grand conspiracy (but hey, if it is, and you all know somebody, I’d love to be a member of the Illuminati….). And the more I go to cons, (Like Heroes Con last weekend, for Comic Book Nerds) the more I realize that’s true. So many things come out of people just hanging out with folks.

    But the Big Bad was definitely a lot of fun to do.

  • I’ll second what Dave Carlile said about networking. I am not a natural schmoozer and I have a bred in the bone loathing of selling or being sold, so a few years ago when I started to realize that being a successful writer was going to require me to TALK to STRANGERS (argh, argh) I felt like I would never, ever make it.

    BUT I was there at the Legendary Mexican Meal (awesome guacamole) and believe it or not I had a blast. I met people, I chatted with people, and I “made contacts.” I’m still not an extrovert, but when I stop thinking about people at cons as strangers who I’m bothering and instead see them as fellow book lovers who want to talk about words and such, it gets a lot easier.

  • Sarah raises an excellent point – that people who can help your career are just people like you – story lovers, book lovers, and fans them(our)selves. I squeed plenty inside when I’ve met some of my now-peers, and found several of them (like Faith and Misty in particular) who were willing to take me under their wing and give me a hand when I needed it. But we got to know each other as people first, and that’s where awesome things like the Magical Words party at ConCarolinas or the Meet the Author sessions at various other cons are so great. It gives people a chance to chat without a book table between them, and that’s when you can really make connections.

    Emily’s point about hanging out is another good one. So many good things in my various careers have come about because I’ve been in the right place at the right time.

    And Emily, you’d prefer I called you Paula? You can be the Howie to my Piers, if you prefer. 🙂 But I think that’s a different network.

  • I just finished an antho, KICKING IT, which comes out in December. And it was an easy-peasy deal too. I asked an agent if her writers would like a piece of the pie. She helped me format and devise a letter asking writers to participate.

    The letter went out, and writers (Chloe Neill, anyone?) said yes. Well, all but one, who had deadlines and asked to included next time. I asked said agent (okay, yes it was Lucienne) to show the concept to an editor at ROC and she bought it.

    There were a lot more letters back and forth and forth and back lots of negotiating, but it was a lot easier (looking back) than I expected.

    Next time? I’m gonna go about it your way. Bars, anyone?

  • First paragraph. Noted. 🙂

    And I love being able to have fun at these social gatherings, and then the discussions just seem to happen. I had some great conversations at ConCarolinas. Mostly educational, and worth it. The important thing is that I didn’t go in expecting that.