Learning as an author from editing anthologies

It’s been interesting for me to see how much I have learned as an author from being an editor. I’ve been the former for longer than the latter, but I can definitely credit experiences as the latter helping me with the former. For one thing, being in control of an anthology and defining what I want to see, submissions-wise, has given me a bit of insight into how to shape a story to a call and still put your own spin on the theme.

It’s also – weirdly enough – made me a better listener. It has taught me a lot about a healthy collaboration between the editor and the authors chosen for the anthology. And the actual editing process, the shaping and shaving of other people’s words, has given me a better eye for my own.

What I originally wanted to do with this post was to give some tips to newbie authors who are thinking about submitting to calls – tips on how to get that relationship with your potential editor started on the right foot. I don’t think I’m making too much of a blanket statement when I say that pretty much every anthology editor has had moments where a submission has caused face to meet palm. But I want to save this for next month’s column, actually.

This time around, I wanted to go in a bit deeper on what I have learned as an author from being an anthology editor. Now, I’m not suggesting at all that you dive into the anthology editing waters yourself – that’s entirely up to you and whether you think this is something you would like to try. And anthology editing, even though it’s proved educational for me personally, is definitely not the only way to learn more about your own writing.

But I wanted to share what I learned from doing this, in the hope that you can maybe, hopefully, take something (however small) away from it to apply to your own work. So, here goes.

Start strong

You will have probably heard, time and time (and time, and time) again that you only have three paragraphs to capture the editor’s interest. You may have also heard of editors who like to see stories get steamy right off the bat. But I have come to believe that the best way to pull someone into a story is through your opening sentence.

Let’s think of it in terms of music – imagine your opening sentence as being the guitar riff at the top of When Doves Cry by Prince. The riff – like your sentence – is the moment where your curiosity is piqued. You think: “Hey, that sounds kinda freaky. I want to hear the next bit.”

Your opening sentence is to your first three paragraphs as that guitar riff is to the start of that song. Start strong. Entice. But don’t feel like sex should be there right off the bat (unless asked for in the call, of course).

Don’t let the theme vex you

The theming of an anthology can trip anyone up in trying to draft a submission. Too broad of a theme, too narrowly defined, a subgenre that – even though you want to submit to this call – makes you a bit nervous because you’re new to it.

If you really want to submit something to a particular anthology, but get the nerves from the theming, take a bit of brainstorming time. To be sure, anthologies are time-sensitive, but it’s worth taking an extra moment to scribble down ideas and read other stories within that theme to get a feel for it – of course, the theme is yours to shape to your style.

It pays to have someone beta-read

By the time you’ve finished your first draft, you will have gone a bit wobbly. Fresh eyes on your story will help you fine-tune a little bit more before you send it off for consideration.

True story: I once completely missed the fact that I’d written “willies” instead of “wellies” – I will be eternally grateful to the person (fellow author CJ Lemire) who beta-read that story and pointed it out to me before I sent it off because OH MY GOD.

The submission/formatting/word count guidelines are there for a reason

I will probably pick up on this again next month, but it’s also something that I had reinforced to me through being an editor myself. If you are not entirely sure about the suitability of your submission (be it theme-wise or in the way of word count) or the required story formatting, email the editor. They won’t bite.

Treat rejection as a learning curve

Didn’t get accepted for an anthology? Don’t fret – go away to work and learn from your experience. Story rejection is never personal. Believe me; I had to learn that, too.

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