Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Highlights and Pitfalls of Anthology Editing

(Posted on Lynne Jamneck's behalf)

Where to begin? I know—thank you Marianne de Pierres for asking me to blog about something that, at least from my experience, no-one seems to know if there is a right or wrong way of going about doing. I've heard horror stories from other editors about their experiences compiling anthologies and I must admit, I'm not nearly an expert on the subject. So all I can talk about is my own experience as it played out when I put together Periphery—Erotic Lesbian Futures for Lethe Press.

Selecting A Theme

First of all, I think your experience is going to be much more satisfying from the start if what you are aiming to compile speaks to you personally. One of the reasons I enjoyed putting Periphery together was because I was aiming to create the kind of anthology I had been looking for in bookstores for years, without ever finding it. What was that you ask? It's hard to explain in a few sentences but the gist of it was that I wanted to read SF stories, written from a queer perspective where the eroticism functionally contributed to the overall story; was, in fact, essential to it. So I had two perspectives that I wanted to blend effectively, and I count myself extremely fortunate to have received the wonderful stories I did from the range of contributors included in the final collection.

Because I had such a specific idea of what I wanted, I also had specific authors in mind that I wanted to approach. Some of them I had spoken to before, or worked with before whilst others were authors whose work I admired. The great thing about most SF authors is that if you send them a nice email and ask whether they'd be potentially interested in contributing to your project, the likelihood of you getting a nice, timely email back in return is almost guaranteed. Whether they will be able to contribute depends on various factors, but I'd say the most important is payment, and whether they have time available.

Most publishers will advance (once your proposal has been accepted) an amount either before or after publication to pay contributors, depending on contractual agreements. Needless to say, the bigger the payment, the better the chances of having high-profile authors involved, though this isn't always the case. It's not because writers are greedy, it's simply because writing is what they do for a living. They need compensation for the time they commit to projects.

What unforgettable short stories or anthologies have you read? Why were they unforgettable?


Anonymous said...

Hi Lynne,

do you prefer to have a mixture of solicited and unsolicited stories, or doesn't it matter?


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Lynne, I'll never forget discover SAKI when I was in my early twenties. I loves his Shredni Vastar (spelling?) story.

Lynne Jamneck said...

Marianne - I prefer a mix of mostly solicited and a few unsolicited...Though, you know what usually happens when you start stating preferences--something happens to turn it all on its head.

Rowena - Oh, I will have to look that up. Always exciting to discover new things :)

TansyRR said...

So many unforgettable anthologies for me! Probably the ones which had the deepest effect on my psyche were the Women of Wonder reprints edited by Pamela Sargent that I discovered in the tiny English language section of a bookshop in Rome. I inhaled the history of feminist SF in one go!

Justine Larbalestier's Women of Other Worlds was similarly affecting to me, and I loved the format of pairing each reprint with an essay that gave it historical place and significance.

Dreaming Down Under was a hugely powerful anthology which came at a time when I was first discovering the Aussie spec fic scene, and really cemented it in my head.

More recently, and along the same lines as your antho, Lynne, I really loved So Fey, edited by Steve Berman. Tales of faeries have been used, reused and turned inside out by modern writers, but I thought there wasn't much more original and interesting that could be done with them - but reinterpreting so many classic stories as gay or lesbian love stories had a really interesting effect of taking away a lot of the gender baggage (wicked faery queen steals innocent boy - wicked goblin king seduces young girl) and reinventing them all over again.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Tansy, I enjoyed 'Women of Wonder, too.

I must find the Steve Berman antho. It sounds interesting.

Lynne Jamneck said...

Hi Tansy - I'm glad you enjoyed So Fey. Contributing to that was a highlight for me and I had so much fun writing the story for that anthology.

I have Justine Larbalestier's "Daughters of Earth" on my bookshelf just waiting to be read!

Anonymous said...

When I was younger I found a collection of horror stories in my local library. It got my attention by having a giant spider on the cover, and then went on to impress by having some of the best horror stories ever. Just to name a few: The Dunwich Horror, The Graveyard Rats, The Squaw, Thus I Refute Bealzy, The Yellow Room, The Oblong Box and Royal Jelly. All the classic authors including Saki(mentioned in a previous post) with some not so well know like Winston Chuchill(Great story about a man and his attempt to win an Atlantic Crossing sweep). Genuinely creepy interspersed with some almost comic pieces made it not to scary, not too light. I wish I was the sort of person who could walk off with library books. I have never been able to find a copy for sale:-(

Lynne Jamneck said...

tintinaus - H.P. Lovecraft is my favourite horror writer. The Dunwich Horror is one of my favourites of his, but At The Mountains of Madness, in my opinion, is his masterpiece.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I found the collected works of Poe and Saki in the Masterworks editions. Very reasonable and interesting to read because you see the breadth of the writer from early works through to their last stories.

Flinthart said...

Saki -- absolutely. Great stuff.

Hemingway sometimes. Maugham sometimes. Bradbury sometimes... it varies depending on what I feel like reading.

Editing an anthology is a truckload of fun, though.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dirk said editing an anthology is always fun.

And hard work?????

Lynne Jamneck said...

Rowena - definitely hard work! But very rewarding.