This week, we’re pleased to welcome fiction writer Trisha Wooldridge as she shares some insights about her success with publishing in anthologies and discusses why you should consider following in her footsteps. Don’t forget to check out her debut novel, The Kelpie!
It’s all the faeries fault, really.
At a Dragon*Con some time ago, I picked up an anthology called Bad-Ass Faeries because I was all for darker stories of faerie, similar to the Grimm’s tales and older folklore. And it had a sweet cover.
Later, after I’d joined Broad Universe (a non-profit dedicated to supporting women who write science fiction, fantasy, and horror), I saw an open call for Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad on the mailing list. Because both the editor and I were members of the organization, we had a chance to chat. She rejected my first pitch, but gave me a green light to submit my second pitch, written with my co-author and friend, Christy Tohara. “Party Crashers” became my first fiction sale.
Themed anthologies are the ones most likely to have open calls for new fiction—where the pieces are original work and you don’t need to be invited to submit. But for most publishers, themed anthologies are not huge moneymakers; they’re often used as a promotional tool for the press and for the authors in the anthology, so they typically don’t pay much unless you’ve already got a big following.
If it’s not a big moneymaker, why submit to one?
Opportunities for Networking
I still chat with many of the authors and editors I’ve worked with through anthologies: We ask each other for references; we support each other on Facebook, Twitter, and in many other endeavors. Two authors from the anthologies I’ve edited for Spencer Hill Press ended up with book deals because we loved their writing. For me, working on UnCONventional (which had the theme of the “secret stories” behind conventions and conferences) with Kate Kaynak was a life-changing event; afterwards, I became one of her senior editors for the press. And then I had the chance to pitch my own novel to another editor, and now that first novel, The Kelpie, under T. J. Wooldridge, is coming out this December!
Boost Your Street Cred
Mind you, I’m one who has always refused to work for free or pittance. There better damn well be something worthwhile in it for me to spend time writing something new and going through the editing process. The anthologies I’ve chosen to submit to always met certain criteria:
- they were small presses I’d heard about and heard good stuff about
- they were editors who had recognized names
- other authors in the anthology had recognized names
For example, I’ve been in books with NYT Bestsellers like Christopher Golden and Rick Hautala (Epitaphs) and authors who write for Doctor Who and Buffy like Keith DeCandido (Bad-Ass Faeries 2). In the most recent anthology I edited, Doorways to Extra Time, we set aside funds to invite bestsellers Jody Lynn Nye and Walter Hunt to contribute. Accepted authors could brag (and toss on cover letters or queries) that they were in an anthology with Nye and Hunt!
Furthermore, many small presses submit anthologies for awards, the glow of which gets passed on to everyone involved. I’m an award-winning author as part of the EPIC award-winning Bad-Ass Faerie anthologies, and I include that in my promotional materials and queries.
Physical Books to Sell
If the anthology will be printed most publishers will give contributors a big discount on the title. I always take advantage of this and bring these books to various conventions so I can sell them.
- I can make money by selling the product.
- I get a good amount of cred just having something physical to sell.
- I can bring books to various bookstores and gift shops for resale.
Physical books to donate also go far in helping you get speaking engagements at libraries or schools.
It’s increasingly common for small presses to do only electronic books because the outlay can be less expensive, but the format is a deal-breaker for me. Unless there’s a HUGE name attached to the project or I’m getting paid pro rates, it’s not worth the time and effort to write a short story just for an ebook anthology I can’t make money on through hand-selling; I’d rather be writing something I’m getting paid for or promoting books that bring in more money.
Publicity for Them = Exposure for You
Besides publicizing yourself, perhaps your story could be tied to other work you own (always check your contracts). For example, one of the authors we featured in Doorways to Extra Time has a novel coming out next year and her contribution took place in the same world. The story I wrote for UnCONventional takes place in the same world as my debut novel The Kelpie. And Christy’s and my story in Bad-Ass Faeries 2 takes place in the shared world we’re working on. However, make sure your piece can stand on its own and that it is a complete story of its own right. Editors want complete stories that a reader can enjoy without having to read anything else. (Wisdom from the Slush Pile: I’ve received a number of submissions otherwise.)
Test and Improve your Craft
Most of the benefits I’ve mentioned go towards your marketing, publicity, and platform as an author. However, as an author, you should constantly strive to challenge yourself and better your craft. Submitting to anthologies opens the opportunity to work with several editors–which, as painful as it can be to have your baby edited, is necessary for ALL authors and should be treated as a learning experience. Not all editors are created equal, but each offers you a chance to improve.
Furthermore, anthologies challenge you to write to a prompt…and hopefully one that you can still market in case you get rejected. For example, I’m in an anthology called Corrupts Absolutely? , which is a look at what would happen if normal people really had superpowers. I liked the idea and kept going back to the call because I wanted to write something, but it wasn’t until the editor said he was lacking stories with strong women characters, mechanical superhero powers/stories, and sidekicks that I got hit with the idea for “Fixed.”
And in an anthology that’s coming out beginning of 2015, Once Upon An Apocalypse, the theme was Zombie Apocalypse + Faery Tale. I was invited by the two editors to contribute, but I was lost for ideas. One of them finally said, “‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’ by Hans Christian Anderson. Go!” And, within 48 hours, upon rereading the tale, I did. This piece, “Steadfast in the Face of Zombies,” is one of my favorite short works that I’ve done…and I would have never thought to write it without the prompt. With both of those pieces, though, I could still market them to a variety of science fiction, fantasy, or horror publications had they not been accepted.
Which Anthologies Are Right For Me?
While there are a lot of benefits to writing stories for anthology open calls, approach this step of your writing career with the same business mind as you should any other step. Use these guidelines to evaluate your opportunities:
- Is there pay and is it good pay? Professional rates for fiction are 5 cents per word and up. Semi-pro rates are 3 cents per word. Being paid pro- and semi-pro rates not only gives you money, but give you more credibility as a professional author.
- If the pay is not great, are there clear benefits to being part of this anthology: a good press, big names, ability to sell books, good networking opportunity, chance to publicize other work?
- If you get rejected, can you market this story elsewhere? (I have a rejected Doctor Who story languishing in my files, for example, that I spent hours writing and days revising…and I can do absolutely nothing with it now!)
- And last—but certainly not least—how can you make this an exercise to better your craft of writing? What lessons can you take away from the experience?
You can find calls for themed anthologies in a variety of places. I usually hear about them from friends or as a member of Broad Universe, but my other favorite places are www.ralan.com and www.fundsforwriters.com. I believe Duotrope (www.duotrope.com) also lists anthologies, but that’s a paid service, so I can’t confirm. Take a look through, and if a theme tickles your fancy, maybe you should consider cracking your writing knuckles and going for it!
Trisha J. Wooldridge edits all sorts of things and writes a lot of short stories. But she also writes creepy children’s books under T. J. Wooldridge, and her debut novel, The Kelpie, will be released December 3, 2013. You can preorder it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite local bookstore now! Find out even more at www.anovelfriend.com.