Lessons Learned Editing an Anthology

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We’re pleased to welcome a guest and friend of Magical Words, A C Thompson, who’s here today to talk about her recently released anthology of paranormal Sherlock Holmes stories, An Improbable Truth!  14 authors of horror and mystery have come together to create a unique anthology that sets Holmes on some of his most terrifying adventures.  A pair of sisters willing to sacrifice young girls to an ancient demon for a taste of success, a sinister device that can manipulate time itself, and a madman that can raise corpses from the dead are just a few among the grisly tales that can be found within these pages.  Take it away, AC!

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Do not adjust your monitors, its true— the Southern Belle from Hell herself is guesting today at Magical Words. (Really, I just think your regular poster, Misty Massey, was desperate to not write this week.) But its okay, I’m glad to be her huckleberry.

At first I wasn’t too sure what to write about. I mean, sure I wanted to give a nice plug for SHA_finaljpeg_medthe anthology I’ve edited that’s just come out, An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but I also wanted to be sure I was living up to the great writing advice that’s always present here at Magical Words. So I thought I’d tell you all a little bit about what I’ve learned editing an anthology. The truth is, editing this anthology has probably taught me more about writing than I could ever have imagined.

Anthologies and short stories are kind of the meat and drink of a fiction writer. Stephen King (all hail Uncle Stevie) says that, “A short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.” Those of you that have read my work as Alexandra Christian know how I love a kiss in the dark from a stranger. But seriously, constructing a good short story is not easy, but it’s a cross that every good fiction writer must bear. Participating in an anthology or having your story published in a magazine is probably not going to break your bank account, but it is essential to expose your work to new audiences and make connections with other authors.
I’ve been a part of several anthologies as an author but An Improbable Truth is the first time that I’ve been on the other side of the editorial desk. Yes, my evil alter-ego, A.C. Thompson is the editor of this collection. And lemme tell you, kittens– it’s been a learning experience. It’s had its ups and downs but I like to think the process has been pretty smooth for all those involved. But now that I have something to compare it to, here are some things that I’ve learned.

1. Have a schedule in place. This is actually good advice for most endeavors, but it’s really essential if you’re going to take responsibility of other people’s work. Before the call ever goes out, you should have a clear timeline in your head of not just when the release date is but other important things like: when will the submission window close, when will everyone’s stories be accepted or rejected, how are you going to let them know, when do contracts go out, when do you project having your first round of edits done, by what date should your authors turn those edits in, when is the deadline for cover art, etc. Now these dates don’t need to be set in stone, but you should have some idea. No one should be floundering at the last minute.

2. Be a professional. Let me say that again. *In her best Christian Bale voice* BE A PROFESSIONAL! Ahem, that felt good. Anyway, remember kittens– this is not the church bake sale. This is someone’s hard work that you’re screwing around with here. These people are not donating their work to your cause. They’re giving you something for publication that they will hopefully make a little money from. That means that you cannot keep their work indefinitely in limbo, never telling them whether their story was accepted or never sending them a contract. Authors should NOT find out that their story wasn’t accepted by reading the release announcement. It’s rude, it’s confusing, and it keeps an author’s story on the hook for ages when they could be submitting it to someone that might accept it. Rejections are the most un-fun part of the process, but they’re just as necessary as the acceptances.

3. If you don’t have a grasp of language in your own writing, you probably shouldn’t be an editor. Sadly, this is an epidemic in the self-pubbing/ indie world. We scream that we want to be taken seriously, but kids– big time publishing is never going to take us seriously until we hold our authors to the same standard as they do. And that means good writing and professional editing. Yes, knowing grammar and spelling is important to being a writer. Basic writing skills are NOT what your editor is for.

4. I am your editor, not your mama!! Therefore, it is not my job to teach you to write or completely re-write your first draft. I actually overheard an author tell someone, “It doesn’t matter if I can write. That’s what the editor is for.” WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!! It is your job as the writer to write a great story, polish it up (DO NOT SEND YOUR FIRST DRAFT), and edit– not write a ten page dissertation on why the editor is wrong and you’re right. The editor is an unbiased third party whose only interest is in making your story the best it can be. Don’t fight them every step of the way. If you disagree with something, discuss it. Don’t stomp your feet like a toddler and refuse to change it. Or make up some silly excuse as to WHY you can’t edit. It is worth noting that I did NOT have this problem on the Sherlock anthology. Every single author I have is the picture of professionalism and talent. I may be slightly biased, but seriously… those guys and gals rock!

5. Have a plan for promotion. This is particularly for the editors of anthologies. Now you might say, “That’s not my division.” Well Lestrade, yes it is. If you’re editing an anthology for a small press it IS your division. Finding as many places to get the word out about your authors and your book is part of your job description. You don’t just send these things out into the world and expect them to swim on their own! You have to be creative. Think outside the box. While you’re sitting here reading this ridiculously long diatribe, five anthologies just hit the shelves. You have to make your book stand out. Why should people buy YOUR anthology and not the other one. And don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Your publisher and all those lovely people who contributed to the anthology are there to help you. They should have a plan for what they’re going to do as well. And you’ll, hopefully, all succeed together.

So that’s it. That’s what I’ve learned so far and trust me– it’s a process. I don’t know it all and probably never will. And of course, these are all just my opinions. Only time will tell if it actually worked.

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A.C. Thompson is the alter-ego of novelist Alexandra Christian. Lexxx is a native South Carolinian who lives with an epileptic wiener dog and a pet ghost hunter. She has published several novels, novellas and short stories with Ellora’s Cave, Purple Sword Publications, and Mocha Memoirs Press. Her long-term aspirations are to one day be a best-selling authoress and part-time pinup girl. Questions, comments and complaints are most welcome at her website: http://lexxxchristian.wordpress.com/

Mocha Memoirs: http://mochamemoirspress.com/store/
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B016XGVTS6?keywords=An%20Improbable%20Truth&qid=1445444517&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1
Shortlink: http://goo.gl/7FMUJO
B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/an-improbable-truth-ac-thompson/1122855374?ean=2940150930056
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/587283

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2 comments to Lessons Learned Editing an Anthology

  • Razziecat

    Ha, numbers 3 & 4 remind me of a story my sister told me. Someone on her online writing group used to respond to a lot of critique points with, “If the editor doesn’t like it, they’ll tell me to change it.” And if I recall the story, he wasn’t talking about needing more character development, or better world-building, or clearing up confusing plot points (for example). He was talking about BASICS, like grammar, punctuation, etc. Very bad attitude for anyone who wants to make it out of the slush pile.

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