Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Building an Anthology from Scratch

by Kristina Wright

I have only been editing erotica and erotic romance anthologies since 2009, but I just signed the contract with Cleis Press to edit my eighth (eighth!) collection. With each new anthology, I try to streamline my guidelines and process to make it easier for the authors and, yes, for myself. This time around, I have an "auto reply" for submissions. Much as I want to respond to each submission, I will save those personal notes for the acceptances (and rejections). (Honestly, I think every editor should use an auto reply for acknowledging the receipt of submissions if the alternative is no acknowledgement at all.)

My story selection process may seem a bit convoluted. Or maybe it’s not. I really don’t know what the selection process is like for other editors, I just know what works for me. I read everything once and push it into one of three categories: Yes, Maybe, or No. The Yes and No piles are the smallest, at least initially. If I absolutely love, love, love something on the first read, of course I’m going to want to buy it immediately.

The No pile contains only the stories that have completely missed the mark. For a story to get a resounding No on a first reading means the author ignored the guidelines entirely or neglected to include all the necessary components. A paranormal erotic romance anthology must have stories that are 1) paranormal, 2) erotic and 3) romantic. Having two of the three will not cut it, unless it’s clear the author can flesh out the third element. No stories are often recycled stories that were intended for other anthologies and were never “freshened” up to fit a new set of guidelines. No stories are also the ones that are incorrectly formatted, lacking in correct grammar and punctuation or are generally the kind of mess that you’ve heard editors joke about. I’m happy to say that I haven't come across too many of those stories-- but yes, they do exist.

Finally, the Maybe pile is every other story-- the good, well-written stories that I like and might very well buy, but I have to read everything first to see which ones I will choose. The Maybe pile also includes stories that might need a little tweaking-- an additional scene for character development; a few hundred words cut from a story that has gone over the maximum word count; a plot twist added to give the story that extra umph to take it from good to great. Most stories are Maybe stories.

Once I’ve made the initial read of all the stories, I tackle the Maybe pile again, keeping in mind the stories I’ve already selected and the balance of the anthology. The second read is ruthless. I’m looking for stories that require a minimum of editing and complement the stories I’ve already chosen. I will shed a few tears when I cut some of the Maybe stories from the second reading. Okay, not really. But I will feel some regret to have to reject some very good stories. When I’m done with the second read, the Yes pile will be a little bigger, the No pile will be a lot bigger and there will still be stories in the Maybe pile. These will be the stories that, for whatever reason, make me hesitate before I reject them. They might have flaws, they might not be my cup of tea, they might be a little too “out there” or they might even be too similar to something else I’ve already filed in the Yes pile. But yet I won’t be able to say no to them. Not yet.

The third read is to answer one question: what’s missing? Here is where I’m willing to forgive the flaws, overlook the typos, see past the awkward dialogue to the diamond in the rough that is a good fit for the anthology. These are the stories I will buy because the authors have written something so unique I can’t forget about them.

You’d think I would be done after three readings, right? But no, then there’s a fourth, fifth and even a sixth reading. I read all of the Yes stories in the fourth reading, making sure I have enough stories to fill the book and that I’m in love with each and every story-- and making sure I haven’t gone over my allotted page count, because that would mean having to cut a Yes story, which I don’t want to do. The fifth reading is to edit and put the stories in their proper order (which I will be attempting to do as I move through the third and fourth readings) and the sixth reading is the one where I put the book away for a few days, then read it with fresh eyes from beginning to end in one sitting to see if I’ve missed anything. That could be anything from having too many characters named Sarah or too many stories set in Maine or three stories in a row that are about shapeshifters or… whatever. It’s the tweaking reading, making sure everything is perfect before I send it off to my publisher.

Then, of course, there are the copyediting and proofreading reads after the book is returned to me. But those are easy by comparison because the book is finished and now it’s just a matter of fine tuning perfection. (I’m biased, what can I say?)

And that’s how I go about putting together an erotica anthology. And other than having to reject some great stories, I love every minute of it because I have met and gotten to work with the best authors in the genre.

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for the insight. It makes the process not seem so magically arbitrary.

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  2. As a writer, it is so nice to know what happens to stories when they're submitted. Thank you so much for this insight into your process. I feel less scared now.

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  3. Even though I've been sending out stories for fifteen years now, I've never gotten such a clear insight into how the process works at the other end. I've appreciated that sometimes a story is rejected not for the quality, but because it didn't quite fit with the other stories or other reasons that don't reflect on its inherent merit, but your post really points out how that works. Interesting how knowing the steps is indeed reassuring!

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  4. Hi, Kristina,

    Your process is actually a lot like mine - especially the Yes,No and Maybe grouping.

    I tend to be very aware of the need for diversity and contrast, even at the earliest stages. I'll put aside a tale that I like a lot if I already have a story that covers similar ground or which has a similar tone.

    How do you decide on the ordering of stories? I begin by picking the first, last and middle stories. The first story has to really pack a punch, to pull the reader into the anthology. The middle story should represent a peak in emotional intensity. And the final story - it has to be something that's going to linger, maybe a bit wistful or maybe just strange and different.

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  5. Thank you for your comments! I personally like to know the "behind the scenes" details and find it reassuring once I understand why a story may be rejected. I'm glad others feel the same way.

    Lisabet, I usually have a first story in mind as I'm reading and the last story feels like a "goodbye" story to me. A farewell, of sorts. I find my own stories often end up being the last story because I usually write them after I've selected the others and can kind of round out the anthology that way. I've found the process of arranging the stories to be somewhat organic-- my instincts take over and I start putting stories in an order that creates a wave of emotion (I think of it like a song-- starting low, rising to a crescendo and then tapering off to silence). Often stories get ordered because they share similar imagery with stories that come before or after-- these threads help give an anthology a cohesiveness despite the different stories and authors' voices.

    And that's a very awkward explanation, but hopefully it makes some sense. :-)

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  6. I found it lovely indeed to read about your process from start to finish, Kris. Thanks for sharing!

    And Lisabet, how interesting about the "middle story" in an anthology. I'd heard similar things about the first and last story, but that was the first time I'd seen an editor mention a middle story specifically like that. Fascinating.

    Thanks for sharing, Kristina!

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  7. Interesting! Thank you for the insight. I always wondered about the selection process.

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