SF & Fantasy

How Editors Juggle Anthologies

adams-armoredAs you may have heard here on Suvudu and around the internet(s), I am in the midst of putting together a fantasy anthology titled Unfettered with some of the best writers in the business contributing short stories.

Why am I doing it? I had uninsured cancer last year and after $200,000 + worth of medical expenses—and no desire to claim medical bankruptcy—I decided to put together something BIG.

Thankfully, a lot of my writing friends donated their time and creativity. Without them, I’d be financially hurting for decades to come. Grim Oak Press is publishing the anthology in a small print run, with a number of other publishers interested in mass trade publication. You can read more about it and the authors who are involved HERE!

What you haven’t heard yet is how much patience an anthology editor needs.

The work is not hard. In fact, it takes very little time although one must be an able communicator. I see fantasy fans griping about George R. R. Martin editing anthologies with Gardner Dozois, spending his time working on other projects besides The Winds of Winter. I can tell you that the time it takes to work on an anthology is negligible when compared to the time it takes for writers to contribute their stories. It mostly consists of waiting for the short stories to be delivered by their due date—then reading them at night when the work for the day is done and editing where appropriate.

But it is interesting. Writers and webmasters alike become used to working alone. They are solitary endeavors. Sometimes you work with a client or editor, but most of the time is being glued to the keyboard. Anthology work is not like that. I am solely and wholly dependent on other people delivering their part—hopefully on time. It is a change to go from being my own boss with no employees to managing 20 of them. A different skill set.

Then the actual editing, which I’m thankful so far that the stories I’ve received need barely any of it.

But I have more on my plate than the average anthologist. I am publishing Unfettered myself, which means far more work than normal editors deal with:

  • Commissioning artwork from Todd Lockwood
  • Developing the concept we’ll use for the art
  • Laying out the book and designing it in Adobe In Design
  • Getting the autograph pages prepared and mailed out to authors
  • Ramping-up the publicity that is necessary for an anthology of his caliber
  • Accepting orders for Unfettered
  • Answering a ton of questions and interviews
  • Shipping out thousands of books later this year

All of it is a part of my job now. And all of it is with the intention to kill my medical debt.

And I’m excited to tackle it.

John Joseph Adams, who recently was nominated for a Hugo Award for his anthology work, knows exactly what I am talking about—and he knows the hardships of being an editor all too well. Here he answers some questions that I was curious to know more about:


Shawn Speakman: What is the role of a short story anthology editor?

John Joseph Adams: For a reprint anthology, an anthology editor’s job is to survey the field and select the best of the best available stories for inclusion in the anthology that fit the theme. This can often mean one has to read hundreds and hundreds of stories and engage in an extensive amount of research if one can hope to do any given theme justice. Once you determine which stories you want to include, then you have to go about securing permissions from the authors and/or agents; sometimes it’s quite easy, but sometimes it can be quite complicated or even impossible. (The ones that turn out to be impossible are always super frustrating!) And finally, an anthology editor also usually writes an introduction to the anthology, orders the stories in the table of contents, and sometimes provides header notes leading into each story. But basically, a reprint anthology editor curates the selection of stories, and that’s his or her primary job.

For an original anthology, an anthologist’s role is quite different, naturally. In that case, you typically begin with a concept and develop that into a proposal (basically a sales pitch for the anthology), which you or your agent will then circulate to publishers. In developing the proposal, you’ll approach anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen authors to recruit them to participate in the anthology; once you have a number of established writers on board, that’s when you can start showing your proposal to book publishers, because whether or not a publisher decides to publish an original anthology will be largely dependent on the writers involved.

Once you actually sell the anthology, then the editor’s role shifts to that of shepherd; it’s now your job to corral all of the authors who promised to write stories for you and ensure they actually do deliver as promised–and, if anyone fails to come through, to bring someone else on board who can step in and replace them. After the stories are in hand, assuming the stories are up to snuff, the editor then must work with the author to revise their stories so that they’re the best they can be, and ensure that they sufficiently fit within the theme of the anthology. In the case where the stories are not up to snuff, the editor must decide whether or not the stories are salvageable, and if not, then he or she must make the decision to reject a story for inclusion.

SS: How did you get involved in editing?

John Joseph Adams: It all sort of started with D&D. I got my first creative urges in my late teens, when I was playing a lot of D&D, and my first attempt at anything creative was to run a D&D campaign. I found that I didn’t like the interactive part of it as a DM, so I turned my hand toward writing fiction. My interest in writing fiction eventually lead me to go to college and major in English/creative writing, and in college I took a number of writing workshop classes that lead me to become interested in editing as a career path. After college, I moved to New Jersey, where I had some family, so I could pursue an editing gig. At the time, I was still thinking that I’d be writing on the side and doing editing as my day job, but once I landed my first editorial job — at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction — I fell in love with it, and sort of let writing fall by the wayside in order to focus on editing. I pretty much knew right away once I started working there that editing was something I’d love to do as a career, and I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to make that happen.

SS: You’ve been nominated for a Hugo Award. How does that feel and what does it mean to you?

John Joseph Adams: It’s such an honor. I mean, everyone always says that, but it really, really is. I mean, to grow up reading SF and fantasy, and to see some of the great classics that have won the award… it’s humbling to be in that company. It’s funny–one of the first major writers I latched onto in SF was Ben Bova, and his books often proclaimed him to be a six-time Hugo Award-winner (or however many it was). It was actually a little deceptive, because although it was true he was a six-time Hugo Award-winner, they were all for his work editing Analog, rather than for his own fiction (which, to be fair, has won plenty of awards otherwise). But it’s just kind of funny in retrospect, that the author I latched onto, and the reason I became aware of the Hugo Awards at all, had won a number of them for editing rather than his own fiction. So for me to now be nominated for that same award as Ben Bova, and in basically the same category, it’s…well, like I said: SUCH an honor.

SS: What is your favorite fantasy/science fiction anthology that you didn’t work on?

John Joseph Adams: It’s hard to choose a favorite anthology amongst so many great ones, but the one that probably had the most impact on me was James Gunn’s The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 3: From Heinlein to Here. It served as a primary text in a science fiction literature course I took in college, and it exposed me to a bunch of classic short science fiction that I hadn’t previously encountered. It has a bunch of my favorite science fiction stories in it–ones that hold up even after all these years, not only since they were first published, but since I first read them. I’ve gone on to reprint some of them in various projects; that’s always a joy, to be able to bring these stories that so influenced me to new readers, exposing them to them for the first time.

SS: What advice can you give me with UNFETTERED?

John Joseph Adams: I think it’s too late to give you any editorial advice since the book is done, isn’t it? If that’s the case, I’d say make sure you plan to do a big publicity push when the book comes out, which should include building a website devoted to the anthology (i.e., an “official website” for the book), and on that site include as much bonus content as you can in order to help generate buzz for the book. This can include making a few of the stories in the anthology available online for free, interviews with the authors, excerpts, and the like. And be prepared to get yourself out there as a spokesman for the book and plan to do a number of interviews to support the release.

If you are interested in Unfettered, click HERE! If you want to learn more about John Joseph Adams, click HERE!

Happy editing!

5 Responses to “How Editors Juggle Anthologies”

  1. Ellen Datlow says:

    If this is truly what you think an editor does, you’re not an editor. You’re a compiler.
    It’s not just “waiting for stories” –a good editor works very hard acquiring the right stories for the anthology–by staying in contact with the writers who promised stories throughout the waiting process.

    Every story needs editing whether it’s a very light go-through or more often at least one back and forth with the writer on revisions.

    I’ve conducted many interviews on what anthologists do. If you’re interested, check them out.

    “The work is not hard. In fact, it takes very little time. I see fantasy fans griping about George R. R. Martin editing anthologies with Gardner Dozois, spending his time working on other projects besides The Winds of Winter. I can tell you that the time it takes to work on an anthology is negligible. It mostly consists of waiting for the short stories to be delivered by their due date—then reading them at night when the work for the day is done.”

  2. Ellen, I never said the only thing an editor does is wait. I said it “mostly consists of waiting.” Mostly. And that’s largely true. Once the initial work is done and the authors who will be contributing are contractually obligated, there is a wait on those stories to be delivered. –shrugs– More time is spent waiting than on anything else. Sure, there is physical editing and copy editing to do as well, but that doesn’t come close to matching the wait for the stories to come in. Just my two cents, of course.

    I’d be interested to know, from your point of view, what percentage of writers send you their stories after the deadline? And how that affects you as an editor?

  3. I have to disagree with you Shawn. As a small press publisher there is an incredible amount of work in putting together an anthology. I spent a year reading and responding to over 300 submissions. Then another year doing the actual editing, including structural editing, numerous backwards and forwards emails with authors, then copyediting and layout, not to mention then formatting the book for print and ebook publication and developing the cover image and associated marketing material, getting it into shops and e-shops, and on and on. The result – Anywhere But Earth – was 700 plus pages of goodness but it was anything but easy. Mate, it’s a lot of work.

  4. Ellen Datlow says:

    Yes, some of my job is waiting for stories to come in. That much is true. But I object to this:
    “I can tell you that the time it takes to work on an anthology is negligible.”

    About one third of the writers who have said they will contribute to an anthology don’t do so, which is why I ask for a third more than I know I will need.

    here’s more info on editing: http://tinyurl.com/7qft5um

  5. Brian Hades says:

    We’ve done quite a few anthologies and every last one of them involved a lot of time, effort, love and kindness. Our longest running anthology series is TESSERACTS (since 1985), and we are the third publisher for the series. It is now on an annual production track and that’s even more work. Best of luck with the project.

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