Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Guest Blog by Rayne Hall

Anthologies are themed collections of pieces by several authors. Getting stories published in anthologies is a good way to build your reputation.

Readers love anthologies, because they get stories by different authors in one package, all in their favourite genre. It's like a buffet of their favourite foodstuffs in different flavours.

Every anthology has a theme. This may be broad (such as cat stories, romance stories, vampire stories) or narrow (such as Eastern European vampire romance stories for young adults, humorous vampire cat stories, Christian romance stories celebrating the sanctity of marriage) and the editor selects the stories which best fit the theme.

Your story must be about the theme. It's not enough if your story merely mentions a cat: the cat needs to be at the core of your story. If it isn't, then you're wasting the editor's time and your own.
Don't think you can change the editor's mind. Even if your tale about a gay Hindu couple divorcing their spouses is a brilliant piece of literature, the editor won't consider it for an anthology sanctity of Christian marriage.

At the same time, your story needs to interpret the theme in an unusual way. Anthology editors want to give their readers a varied experience, so each story needs to be as different from the others as possible. The editor of the cat anthology will not want more than one story about kittens rescued from drowning, or a cat and a dog being best mates, or a cat living in a retirement home. What's the quirkiest way you can interpret the theme? That's the idea to go for.

If the guidelines for submission specify a genre, your story needs to belong to this genre, but there is considerable flexibility. These days, genre boundaries have become fluid, and your story may belong to more than one genre. Indeed, genre crossover stories enrich the books' content. For example, a science fiction anthology editor will welcome SF romance and SF horror as well as pure SF.

You can also increase your chances by choosing a main character outside the mould. For some reason, almost all short stories submitted to anthologies are about characters who are twenty- or thirty-something, Caucasian white, able-bodied, heterosexual, handsome and healthy (and usually they work in advertising and live in New York). This is fine for one story – but if every story in the book features the same type, it gets boring. Anthology editors seek diversity. If your story's main character is of a different ethnic group or has a physical disability, the story will get the editor's attention.

Anthologies are either “open” or “closed” to public submissions. If it's open, anyone may submit, and your story has to compete with hundreds of others. You can find open-submission anthologies in market listings. Most of the prestigious anthologies are closed to public submissions. Instead of reading piles of slush, the editors invite submissions from authors whose writing and professionalism they value. You won't find out about them unless the editor invites you to submit.

The earlier you submit your story, the greater are the chances of acceptance. When the editor has found a story she likes, she won't accept another one based on a similar idea. If she has already chosen a story in which a cat becomes UK Prime Minister, she'll reject your story in which a cat becomes US President.

The wordcount is more flexible for anthologies than for magazines. Many anthologies, especially those in e-book format, accept stories in a wide range of lengths, e.g. “between 500 and 5,000 words.”

The payment tends to be low, if the authors get paid at all. You should receive at least one free contributor copy of the book. 

The true value of anthology publication lies in the exposure, especially if the other contributors are well-known authors in the genre, or if the series is established and the editor respected.

However, not all anthologies are worth contributing to. If they're a mishmash of stories without a theme, if the stories are of low quality, or if the editor decides to edit because she's frustrated with other editors rejecting her work, then your reputation may get tarnished by association.

Print anthologies and e-books are equally useful for exposure, although they reach different market segments.

Pay attention to what rights the publisher requires. Some demand “All Rights” (aka “Exclusive Rights”) which means you no longer own the story and will never be able to publish it elsewhere. If the guidelines for submission contain an “Exclusive Rights” clause, don't submit, unless the pay is awesome.

Many anthologies ask for “First Rights” (aka “previously unpublished”) which means they want your story's virginity and don't care what happens to it afterwards. This is acceptable if it's a prestigious anthology. Once your story is published, you can submit it elsewhere.

Best of all are the anthologies which use only “One Time Rights” and accept reprints (i.e. previously published stories). You continue to own the story and can do with it what you want, whenever you want. This allows you to get your story published over and over again, which is perfect for exposure and reputation-building. However, these anthologies usually don't pay.

Have you read a good anthology recently? How was your experience as a reader?

Have you had a story published in an anthology? Tell us about it.

I look forward to your comments and will be around for a week to answer your questions.

About Rayne Hall
Rayne Hall has worked as an editor in the publishing industry for over three decades. Currently, she edits the Ten Tales series of themed short story anthologies. Recent releases in include Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, and Cutlass: Ten Tales of Pirates. More titles are in preparation.  She has published more than 30 books in several genres (mostly non-fiction, fantasy and horror) under several pen names. http://www.amazon.com/Rayne-Hall/e/B006BSJ5BK
She teaches specialist online classes for advanced and professional authors. https://sites.google.com/site/writingworkshopswithraynehall/


Celia Breslin said...

Hi Rayne,
Great article. I've read a few of your anthologies and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Rayne Hall said...

Hi Celia,
As a reader, what do you like best about reading anthologies?

Marian Allen said...

I'm pleased and proud to be part of the anthology DARK THINGS II: CAT CRIMES, which benefits cat rescue. All stories had to include a cat playing a prominent role.

I was also lucky enough to be included in two of Norilana Press' SWORD AND SORCERESS anthologies -- Well, heck, I've been in a lot of anthologies! lol!

You are SO RIGHT, that you can't just grab a story about a rabbit and change all the "rabbit"s to "unicorn"s and send it to a fantasy anthology. I've tried that sort of trick, and it doesn't work. Didn't work for me, anyway. ;)


Rhonda Hopkins said...

Great info. Thanks for all the tips. I've thought about writing some short stories and submitting for anthologies so this article is very timely.

Writing short is difficult for me. The few I've written took a lot of work to get that beginning, middle and end done in much less space. But I think practicing that makes me a better writer. I learn what's important and what can be left out. Really tightens my other work.

Rayne Hall said...

Hi Rhonda,

Plotting and structuring a short story is indeed very different from plotting and structuring a novel, and many novelists struggle with this.

Here's a suggestion which may help: think of the time frame. A novel typically spans several months or years. A short story typically spans only a few hours. Although this is not a rule (some short stories span a longer period), it helps to think of the plot in terms of "What can happen in a single day?" If you aim to fit the whole plot into one day (or half a day), it will probably be suitable for a short story.

I hope this helps a bit.