Reaching Out from a Mind as Dirty as All Outdoors

If you get lucky enough, I might post adult-only material from time to time, so be 18 or over, or please be elsewhere.

I'll be discussing erotica here, the writing of it and the people who write it, as well as what we've written. I find all these aspects stimulating, but if any of them bore you, feel free to skim. You never know what you might miss, though.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Lowdown on Editing Anthologies, Part 2

Now we move on to the what-do-editors-do-besides-reject stories part. Actually, rejecting stories is a major part of it, and possibly the most painful, so we’ll be including that too.

So you’ve managed to get a contract for an anthology from a publisher, or maybe you’ve decided to put an anthology together first and then work on getting it published. The latter used to be a really bad idea, but everything’s changing, so who knows? What I do know is that experienced writers are very unlikely to submit their work to an anthology with no publisher already lined up.

In any case, now you need to get submissions, and for that you need to circulate a call for submissions. If you wrote a knock-out proposal for the publisher, you can usually build on that for your CFS. The challenge is to make it very clear just what kind of story you want to see, and the overall effect you want your book to have, without being so didactically specific that you seem to want them to write to some exact formula. Getting stories that surprise you by being just what you didn’t know you wanted is one of the best rewards of the job. Keep it fairly short, and don’t lecture about “only your best work” or some variation thereof. You won’t discourage the writers you’re aiming at, and you’ll just annoy the good ones. No matter what you say you’ll have to wade through some less-than-stellar material. That’s part of the job. Do include your minimum and maximum desired word count, deadline for submissions, pay rate, contact information, publisher, and projected publication date if possible. If you omit any of these things you’ll get questions about them. Even if you don’t omit them you’ll get questions about them, but not as many.

Once you’ve composed your brilliant CFS (or guidelines, which is pretty much the same thing but implies more emphasis on the exact formatting you want, if you’re picky about that sort of thing) you need to get them out where writers can see them. You may want to send them only to a select group of writers you know, which would mean “invitation only,” but if you want to reach likely writers in general, send your CFS to the market listing web sites that specialize in the appropriate genre. For sf/f those would include, duotrope, Cindy Ward’s and the Gila Queen’s lists, and others, which will probably pick them up from the first ones anyway. For erotica, is the main place to be seen, and others will spread the word.

Then you wait for the submissions to come in. And you wait. And worry. Bear in mind, though, that any stories that come in right away were probably already written beforehand, and quite possibly already sent out to other places quite a few times. Some of these might turn out to be the perfect fit for your anthology, but the chances of that are considerably better with work written especially for your theme, which takes time. In my experience much of the best work comes in very close to the deadline. So you still worry.

Some editors don’t read any of the submissions until they’re all in. Even so, they should acknowledge their receipt so the writers know they haven’t gone astray. I like to keep up with things more or less as they come in, give or take a week or so, but I still let people know that I’m not making decisions until later. Some editors say they do “rolling” acceptances as things come in, but I’m sure they leave some room for those of us whose creative juices flow best under the pressure of a deadline.

I tend to group things into “Yes,” “Maybe,” and “No” files, but once I know what I have to work with, I may well go into the “No” file to choose work that fills a gap in the range I want, even if it will require some rewriting. Sometimes I’ll choose one story over a similar piece that might by some standards be better written, because it covers more bases than the other one; sometimes the writing will just blow me away and I’ll use it even if it scarcely comes close to what I thought I wanted. It’s all subjective—and then again, it isn’t, because I need to provide the publisher with a book that lives up to my proposal, and I need to give readers who pick up a book with this theme at least some of what they think they want.

I like best to give them more than they thought they wanted, but that can be risky. I go for variety, in tone, setting, characters, ideas, style, whatever, but some editors stick closer to what they know their readers prefer, and that’s not a bad plan, either. Whatever your editorial style is, you’ll get the credit (or blame) for the way the book as a whole turns out, even though we all know that the most important part is getting good stories to work with. Without the writers, we’re nowhere.

Once you’ve decided which stories you’ll use, you really get down to work. Sending out acceptances is fun; sending out rejections is awful. With acceptances, I always say that they’re conditional, pending approval by the publisher. With rejections, when I can, I include a few specific points as to what was good or not so good, but really, it generally boils down to just not fitting into the anthology as a whole, for whatever reason, and if there are hundreds of submissions, it’s better to hurry up and let folks know that they can send their work elsewhere than to take a lot of time on each one.

At this point you need to send out contracts for the chosen writers to sign, with the understanding that the publisher may yet decide against them. You need the contracts now, so that you can guarantee to the publisher that all the stories are available. Usually you e-mail your version and ask the writers to print out two copies, sign them, and send both back to you. The usual practice is to send back one countersigned copy to them with their payment when the book comes out. Some publishers have a form contract they want you to use, and sometimes they leave it to you. Some want you to send them copies of the contracts, and some would rather have you keep them. The exact wording of contracts is a topic I’m not going to deal with here, except to say that you should always read a contract through and be sure you understand it before signing.

Then comes the real editing part. Some stories need next to nothing beyond copyediting for typos; some prompt you to do considerable fact-checking just in case; and some can be improved by several sessions of back-and-forth revisions until writer and editor are both satisfied. Good publishers have good copyeditors, and no matter how careful you are they’ll probably find something you missed, but it’s nice to be told that the manuscripts you turn in are remarkably “clean.” (And sometimes you find things in the galley proofs that all of you missed before. That can be fun.)

When the stories are as good as they can be, it’s time to decide on their order in the book. Strong first and last stories—and middle ones; good variation, unless grouping similar ones fits your purpose better—or whatever feels right to you. Sometimes even a chronological order can apply. If the publisher doesn’t agree with the way you’ve done it, it can be changed. The thing now, as you’re facing your own deadline, is to write an introduction (if that’s customary with your publisher,) get the whole thing formatted as the publisher prefers (if you’ve been told,) and send it off on time.

Then you wait. Maybe not for long, but you never know. If you’re getting an advance, usually half of it will be paid when the manuscript is accepted, and half when the book comes out. When you do know which stories have been approved (and possibly gone to bat for a few, or chosen some yourself to cut because they say the book is too long,) it’s time to let the lucky writers know, and encourage them to publicize the fact on all their social networks. It’s never too early to start promoting.

Promotion these days is at least as important as any other part of the process. More important, in fact, since however good a book is, if it doesn’t sell and isn’t read, it’s wasted. I’m not going to get into that here, first because I’m still struggling with the concept myself, and second because it seems that everyone is struggling with it, and the whole idea of how books are published and distributed and read is in such flux that things could change at any time. Some people have a better grasp on promotion than others, though, so whenever I see an expert blog on that very subject, I certainly pay attention.

If any of you post your own Calls for Submission for anthologies, I’ll pay attention to those, too. Good luck!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Lowdown on Editing Anthologies, Part 1

The link I posted last time looks right, but seems to be leading to the wrong website, and even the right website appears to be having problems just now, so I'm posting the whole thing here. I'll be following it up in a few days with Part 2, dealing with what editors actually do once they've got an anthology contracted, while this first part is all about getting to edit an anthology in the first place--and the ups and downs of doing it at all.

Let’s think of this as a memoir, because we all know just how—shall we say, imprecise?—memoirs can be these days. I should also say upfront that my editing has been largely in the erotica genre, with just a bit of speculative fiction, although I have written enough of the latter to be an active member of SFWA.

Some of the best editors in any genres don’t get there by writing fiction themselves, but in my experience having a substantial body of published work is a good way to get a publisher’s attention. Being a competent writer is no guarantee at all of being a good anthology editor, but it has one great benefit; when you’ve had work in enough books or magazines with writers you admire, those writers will have enough confidence in you to send you their work, and without good stories to publish, you’re nowhere. You’re more likely to attract submissions from new writers, too, if they’ve seen your work or at least can google your name and come up with some credentials.

Another plus would be having a really good idea and the specialized expertise to back it up, possibly including non-fiction articles published in that field. An example would be an expert in fire-fighting technology proposing an anthology of future fire-fighting stories. There was a time when the go-to man for sf/f anthologies was Marty Greenberg, legendary for the editors and publishers he put together (Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail series is one example out of many hundreds.) But Marty died just a week or so ago; I’ve been reading many fond anecdotes about him in the obituaries discussion group on The days when a chat with Marty Greenberg in the bar at an sf convention would lead to a publishing contract within hours are gone forever, and in any case, the publishing world, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, has changed greatly and is still floundering.

Some things haven’t changed so much. The very first consideration in pitching an anthology is to make sure the publisher you’re aiming at actually publishes anthologies, preferably those similar to what you have in mind, although offering something new and different just might work. You also need to decide whether you want to hold out for print, or will consider e-books. Look at the calls for submissions at or duotrope (for specfic) or (for erotica) or some similar market listings site, and see which publishers might fit with your ideas. Send a brief query letter (it’s best if you know the name of the publisher or an editor there) with a description of your idea and the reasons you’d be a good editor for it. They may tell you that their anthologies are all done in-house, but you just might hit them at the right time.

Which brings me to the memoir part, and the way I did it, with all the ups and considerable downs.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Blogging on Editing

I have a guest blog up on the Dead Robots Society website, Part 1 of The Lowdown on Editing Anthologies. In this part I meander through getting to be an editor of anthologies, with ups and downs of various sorts. Next time I'll talk about the nitty gritty of the job itself.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Writing Short-short Stories

I've just posted some thoughts over on Women and Words about writing first sentences, especially for short-short stories: "In the Beginning". Two weeks ago I made a similar post about writing concisely for short-short stories: "When Less Is More". Yes, I'm thinking about my anthology Girl Fever. The deadline for submissions is July 15. My upper limit is 1200 words, but at this point I really need more shorter work, 500-900 words. How low can you go?