Thursday, March 18, 2010

Myths About Anthologies, and All Writing is Valuable

By Nichole Giles

My good friend Elana Johnson said something fabulous to me the other day. We were talking about querying agents, and ended up discussing the merits of different writing credits—even those with the word “Mormon” in the title. This is what she said: “You should absolutely be proud of that book.” Suzette Saxton was also in on that discussion, and she agreed.

Their words were significant to me for a lot of reasons, but especially because it felt good to have someone telling me to be proud of my book—which I am. But it’s still good to hear sometimes. I think people have a lot of misperceptions when it comes to anthologies, so for today’s blog, I’m going to go over a few of the more common ones. Please bear with me, this post might be a tad longer than most of my others.

Myth: Creating an anthology is a piece of cake. All you have to do is have a bunch of people send you stories and you put them together to create a book.

Fact: Creating an anthology is hard work. First, you start with an idea. Actually, to be realistic, more like ten ideas. And once you’ve brainstormed and envisioned said ideas until you know exactly what each one would entail, you start writing proposals.

Next, you write samples to go with each proposal, put together a proposal package and send it out to publishers you’ve researched and that you believe would be a good fit to publish your idea. And that’s only the beginning. The proposal stage.

Myth: “My idea is so unique and amazing that any publisher will pay big money to sign a contract with me.”

Fact: Most publishers aren’t interested in anthologies at all, regardless of how brilliant your idea. When and if you do find one that will look at your proposal, consider yourself lucky if they agree to look at one out of ten or twenty proposals. But be warned. As soon as they like a proposal, it will be up to you to create the finished project. Minus the cover, of course.

Myth: All I have to do is have people send me stories, and I can throw them together. Piece of cake.

Fact: First of all, collecting stories requires a wide network of skilled writers who are willing to write and then submit stories. If you have a resource like this, and if you’re able to bribe enough people to send you stories—free of charge—no matter how skilled your authors, eighty percent or more of the submissions will require either extensive editing, or complete rewriting. This is beyond the stories or submissions for which you yourself are responsible, which should be at least fifty percent.

Once you’ve proposed an idea, the stories you use have to fit the theme of your proposal. You’ll need to decide on length requirements, voice, tone, and other guidelines. This is a fairly difficult process.

After you’ve begged, pleaded, bribed, and conned enough people into basically giving you their stories, it’s time to cover your legal bases. Your writing priorities will shift while you put together a contract that you can send to all your accepted contributors. (Don’t forget to collect the signed contracts and put them in a file.)

There will also be a few stories that no amount of rewriting can fix. No matter how gently done, sending rejections to the same people from whom you solicited free work isn’t easy.

Myth: Creating an anthology doesn’t require a lot of writing.

Fact: I can see how this perception is common. The finished product often seems so simple. However, in a project like this, along with writing proposals, samples, contracts, guidelines, acceptances, rejections, introductions and acknowledgements, you will have to come up with a minimum of half the stories in the book. Which means you will need editing assistance from another source. Or two. Or three.

Myth: Once a publisher has the finished product, they’ll send the contract right over.

Fact: In the extensive amount of time it takes to put something like this together, publisher needs, budgets, or tastes may change. They might find something else they like better. They might have a change in editors. They might decide they don’t love your book after all. And after all your months of hard work, they may ultimately reject your book.

If you aren’t willing to throw in the towel after completing a full anthological manuscript, be prepared for a slew of new rejections, and cross your fingers, eyeballs, and toes, then pray you’ll find one publisher who sees something of promise in the manuscript. And while you’re praying, beg the Man upstairs to please inspire that publisher to NOT make you turn your book into something completely different and then start over.

Myth: Creating an anthology isn’t as much work as writing a novel, and therefore, isn’t as valuable.

Fact: Though the type of work is very different, in my experience (since I’ve written both an anthology and several novels) I’m going to tell you, the anthology was actually the more work of the two. It took more time, more dedication, and more research. Writing of any kind is definitely a labor of love. But here’s something to consider: any project for which you work with thirty contributors and a coauthor, while attempting to gather 200 stories of 200 words or less is not-so-much-cake.

ALL WRITING IS VALUABLE. Every piece of work has a place, and all of it matters. And if a book—of ANY kind—is lucky enough to snag a publisher, it has done so because there is a market need for that particular book. If a publisher thinks something is good enough to invest in, it probably is. Publishers are in this business to make money and they don’t generally send contracts to authors just because they like that person, or because they feel sorry for them. It just. Doesn’t. Happen. But even if you don’t get a publisher, you’re still working toward furthering your writing skills, your process. The lessons you learn with each word you write always carry immense value. Never discount that.

Myth: All authors are treated equally by publishers, associations, and fans.

Fact: Unfortunately, this isn’t true either. Even when it comes to Christian based associations, all authors are not considered equals. No matter how much they claim to like you, someone will always find a way to belittle your efforts. The only thing you can do is be yourself, create in the best way you know, write what feels good, and hope that someday, in some way, you will have the opportunity to make someone smile.

So as Elana said, I’m proud of my anthology. I loved helping some of my author friends gain another published credit or two. I loved laughing at the submissions, even the ones that were ultimately not right for the book. I loved writing the introduction and acknowledgements and stories. I loved carrying my notebook with me everywhere I went to try and catch the small daily funnies. I loved it all, and it was worth every stressful minute.

A few interesting facts about Mormon Mishaps and Mischief:

200 stories in the book
78 are written by Cindy
48 are written by Nichole (plus the introduction and acknowledgements)
126 TOTAL written by us
63% of the stories were written by us
37% were written by others.

At least 80% of the stories required substantial editing and rewriting. Although, none of the anecdotes we accepted and edited were cut.

If we had chosen NOT to help others get a publishing credit, and had done the entire book ourselves, we would only needed to have come up with 74 more stories of our own. That's 37 stories apiece, which we could have easily done in the amount of time it took us to accept submissions, go through them one by one, edit, accept and contract. We chose to do things this way because we WANTED submissions from other people. We wanted to see other names in the book with ours. It was, in fact, a large part of the original idea.

Regardless of the amount of work this took, I would do it again. Not only that, I’m willing to guide and direct other people who decide they’d like to try something similar should they need help. Because it was worth it to me, and I’m proud to be able to say I did it.

Be proud of your work, wherever it takes you. Think of it as a stepping stone to something bigger and better.

Until next week, write on.


David J. West said...

I agree Nichole, I have only been a contributor to other anthologies, but they are exciting projects that can showcase a wide range of authors in one book and introduce more people to styles and formats.

I also really like antho's because they make for good late night episodic reading.

Here's to lots more antho's.

Nichole Giles said...

Thank you, David. You also bring up another excellent point. Anthologies are a great way to get those smaller published credits that can help launch an author into other, bigger publications.

And by the way, congratulations again on your latest antho acceptance. I'm excited for you!

Carolyn V. said...

Nichole, I felt it was a great blessing to be in the book you two put together. It does mean a lot for both me and my writing credits. =) What a great experience. Thanks!

CL Beck, author: MormonMishaps said...

Nichole: You did a marvelous job of explaining the work that goes into an anthology, and giving an accurate picture of what it's like to do one. Thanks for posting this!

Carolyn: Bless your heart for your kind words about being a contributor, and what it meant to you. It touched my heart, because that was one of our goals when we sent out the call for stories, was to help our friends ... authors that we knew were good writers and struggling to get published ... to get a publishing credit.

And it's nice to know that effort on our part was appreciated.:)

Nichole Giles said...


You're a great writer, and you deserved to be a part of the book. I'm glad you submitted some stories.

And I'll ditto what Cindy said. (Thanks Cindy.) I'm glad it's been a good experience for you.

Keith Fisher said...

good post