28 December 2017

A Better Way to Collect and Edit an Anthology

by Brian Thornton

Two weeks ago I talked about what NOT to do when collecting and editing an anthology. This week's entry deals with my next bite at the anthology apple, employing the lessons I learned while collecting/editing that first nonfiction anthology.

To recap:

1. Soliciting writing from amateurs opens you up to a whole lot of rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting.

2. Collecting and editing an anthology is a shit-ton of work, and if you're going to undertake it, you should make damned sure that it's on a subject near and dear to your heart, and that you've got something close to final approval on what the content looks like.

3. Creative control is worth taking less money for.

4. Don't work with a publisher who makes you do all of the contract wrangling in an age before DocuSign.

5. Part and parcel of being a good editor is being a good listener.
Cover art by Bill Cameron

The opportunity to put these lessons into practice came when my friend Mike Wolf approached me in late 2010 about collecting and editing a themed anthology of crime fiction. Mike, a successful business writer and consultant, was (and is) a huge mystery fan, intrigued by the then new(ish) notion of ebook publishing. He set up his own small press, (BSTSLLR) and asked me to collect and edit a crime fiction anthology which featured a West Coast setting.

A little under a year later, West Coast Crime Wave saw publication.

This experience was the polar opposite of my nonfiction anthology experience a few years previous. My publisher went out and commissioned a terrific cover from Bill Cameron (whose short story "The Last Ship" was truly one of the gems of the collection), and paid respectable fees to those authors whose stories made the cut.

West Coast Crime Wave was a lot of work. But it was also a lot of fun. The authors who showed up for this gig were a combination of members of the crime fiction community I'd gotten to know and admire over the years and authors who blind-submitted their work in response to calls for submissions I'd placed all over the internet.

One thing all of these writers had in common was that they were all willing to take chances.

They included David Corbett (whose first-person present-tense story "Returning to the Knife" is pure genius), Naomi Hirahara, who had several novels under her belt, but had never published a short story before (you'd never know that to read her submission, "Mrs. Lin's Art of Tea."), Scotti Andrews, whose "Blind Date" was later produced by Crime City Central as a popular audio piece, and Nick Mamatas, whose brilliant second-person, present-tense "The People's Republic of Everywhere and Everything" came to us via a cold submission. I accepted it gladly after requesting a single editorial change: the moving of a comma.

Other West Coast stalwarts include Sleuthsayer R.T. Lawton, Terrill Lee Lankford, a Hollywood refugee whose novel Earthquake Weather was a scathing indictment of the film industry and the studio system reminiscent of Robert Altman's darkly comic masterpiece, The Player, who is also a long-time collaborator with Michael Connelly, and has gone on to work on Connelly's Amazon series Bosch. And so many more, the very tall and very funny Steve Brewer; the very wry (and very funny) best-selling author Simon Wood; the very funny (and did I mention "very funny"?) Steve Hockensmith; Bainbridge Island's own Jim Thomsen, a refugee from the newspaper business for whom "The Ride Home" was the initial piece of paying fiction after the better part of two decades spent as a professional journalist: and Thomas P. Hopp, a biochemist whose story "The Ghost Trees" taught me as much about the impact of logging old growth forests as it did about human failings such as greed and envy.

As it turned out, the "collecting" of these stories was the easy part. The "editing" posed its own particular brand of challenges. Editing an anthology for an "emerging" press meant that this time around I did not have a publisher's in-house editorial staff serving as a backstop for me, especially when it came to the formatting of the book. Reading through the ebook we produced all these years later, the formatting shows its age, and I still wince at some of the editing errors I made and then missed (Like leaving the "s" out of "Hockensmith" in Steve Hockensmith's "About the Author" entry– sorry Steve!).

All that said, a great experience!

Check back in two weeks when I will have an update and an announcement on the always exciting crime fiction anthology front!


  1. Two interesting and useful pieces for any aspiring editor.

  2. An excellent and helpful overview, Brian. It always amazes me how many good anthologies come out. I often think the issue is less the editing and more the choice of a theme, if there is one. Some generate more good ideas than others, and you can't always predict that in advance.
    But, the choice of a theme is up to the editor and publisher, too, isn't it?

  3. Brian, as an editor, you were good to work with, so you must be doing it the right way.

  4. Love these companion pieces on what to do (and what not to do) in editing an anthology. Great perspectives in each!

  5. "Me too," I agree with the others, Brian. Good tips.

  6. Great post, Brian--and great advice.


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