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15 Steps to Produce an Anthology

I thought that some of you might be interested in the process of putting an anthology together, either because you are thinking about doing one yourself, or perhaps just because you want more understanding of how it all works - so here goes.

It takes between 15 and 20 hours to produce an 80,000 word anthology once you have received the submissions, though that time does not occur in a solid block. Here are the bare bones of the process:

1. Firstly, you need to decide on what kind of anthology you want to publish and whether or not there will be sufficient interest in your chosen topic out there in your audience. You might really want to do a collection of stories about pink unicorns, for example, but it’s unlikely that there are that many writers out there equally as keen. If you choose a genre, it has to be broad enough to acquire submissions and to cover a range of tastes: ‘science fiction’ is usually big enough as a topic; ‘Western’ might be right on the edge, depending on who your audience is. One of the most successful anthology by Clarendon House Press so far, in terms of numbers of submissions, has been the ‘literary’ collection, Vortex. I received over a hundred submissions, and almost all were of a high quality. But your audience may have a hankering for fantasy, or even the sub-set of that called ‘swords and sorcery’, or something else. Choose wisely.

2. Once you’ve made a sensible choice, you need to promote the fact that submissions are open as widely as you can. This usually means letting people know in several related Facebook groups and on other social media. Make sure to include an email address for them to send submissions to - and preferably have some guidelines to point them towards for the inevitable questions. Also make sure that you set a reasonable deadline: most authors seem to need at least a month. Here's another tip: ask them to include a 100 word bio with their submission - it will save time later, if they get accepted.

3. Submissions should then start rolling in. They’ll begin slowly at first, and there will be brief period when you might think you are not going to get enough, but, as the deadline approaches, the number increases and you can usually make the target of about 80,000 words, which produces a sensibly sized book. Remember to keep nudging your public, though: you will need quite a bit more wordage than your predicted total as you will inevitably have to reject some submissions. As a rule of thumb, aim for about 100,000 words or more, knowing that you will cut down to 80,000 once you begin looking over them.

4. Put all the submissions into one document (sending an acknowledgement to each author as you do) with each one having a title AND the author’s name clearly visible. I used to simply put the submitted documents into a folder on my computer, but then found it was much quicker if, as they came in, I copied and pasted them into a single document. This has a number of advantages in that it streamlines formatting and saves time and effort later. The only drawback is that, if the author doesn’t label their story correctly, and you forget to do so as you save it into the document, you will probably forget whose work it is later and have to go searching back through email to properly assign a name to it. So make sure you label it as you save it.

5. After the deadline for the anthology, open up the document and begin editing. Don’t just read through the document - format, proofread and fix everything you go along, as though each story you’re reading is going to be accepted. It will soon become clear as you go along which ones are not appropriate for the collection - so cut and paste these into a separate document, along with their authors’ names, so that you don’t get mixed up later, then carry on with the next story in line.

Occasionally, there will be something in a story about which you have a question or which is more than a proofreading or formatting ‘fix’: you need the writer to look at making a change to the content of the story in order for it to be accepted. This is quite rare, but does sometimes arise. Contact the author straight away and get a response - most are happy to adjust a work if they think you think it’s needed.

Also, separate out in the document any stories with similar themes or approaches: two stories featuring the Moon, for example, would be better placed further apart.

6. Once you get to the end of the document, you need to ‘top and tail’ it with your titles pages and end papers, if you have any. End papers are those bits at the back of the book containing any ads for other books or services which you want to include. In my case, I often include ads for previous anthologies so that all authors get a chance at being seen whenever a new anthology comes out.

7. Then review the whole thing, and, once you are happy, set it aside for the moment.

8. If you want to, write your editor’s foreword at this point, including any notes about the text that you want to draw readers’ attention to. You should also develop your ‘blurb’ at this point, and a promotional sheet to go with the book, offering advice to writers about how to get the book out there and known.

9. Now it’s time to contact each author and tell them the happy news that they have been accepted. Ensure that you attach the promotional sheet you’ve developed and ask them to help you to market the book. Sometimes - very rarely, in practise - an author will write back and say that they can no longer proceed with their story in your collection because either it has been accepted elsewhere and they have neglected to tell you, or they have had second thoughts. Obviously, this means a bit of reformatting on your part.

You should also contact those authors whose works didn’t make it into the collection and explain briefly to them why that was, in such a way that they are encouraged to submit again in the future. In my experience, most unaccepted submissions are simply not a good 'fit' for the anthology in question.

10. Once you have heard back from the authors, you can design the front and back cover. You can have a template already in place, but if you are going to include authors’ names on the cover, it’s best to finalise it only at this stage when you know everyone is on board.

11. You can now upload the document to your online publisher, along with the cover. I used Lulu for many reasons for about ten years - they were fast, simple and usually reliable. But after a major crash on their website back in 2020, I switched to Amazon KDP, which, while less perfect, gets the job done. Part of the process gives you the opportunity to look over both the cover and the inside of the book before going to print, and it’s very important that you look through the entire book before going any further, as you are now getting closer to the reader, who will have paid money for the thing and needs a good product.

12. Before releasing the book to the public, order a proof copy. This is another vital step, and you should always do this even though it adds quite a bit of time into the equation. Ordering a proof means that you will get to review the actual physical product that will soon arrive in the hands of your paying customers. You can see whether the cover looks right, whether or not any important logos or names are chopped off, whether the inside contents are properly aligned and formatted, and of course whether or not there are any errors inside that you failed to spot. Just to be clear: there are ALWAYS errors that you failed to spot the first and second times you proofread the thing: the proof copy gives you a chance to pick them up.

It’s at this stage that you might want to invite other eyes to look over the work, as so far it might have all been down to you and you may have gone ‘error-blind’ to some degree. Get someone else to look it over, as a whole or in sections, if you can. Get the errors corralled together from everywhere.

13. Fix the document, and repeat Step 11.

14. While all this has been going on, you can ‘tease’ your potential readers with glimpses of the cover, info about the contents, and so on, to let them know that the thing is being made and to increase the sense of anticipation.

15. Once you have your website, or wherever you plan to sell the book, all set up and ready, you can launch the book. Get it welcomed and talked about on social media.

Don’t expect to then sit back and watch the money roll in. Independent publishing, or self-publishing if you are doing this with your own work, is a long game - having one or two books out there will not be enough for you to make retirement plans. You are creating a cathedral, brick by laborious brick. It’s fun to do (mostly) and can be very rewarding in a number of ways, but it isn’t a game for the idle or impatient. It may take a year or more and many books published before you begin to see any decent commercial returns for your efforts.

But you won’t go far wrong following the sequence above.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need help:


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