15 June 2019

Anthology Psychology

by John M. Floyd

I've often told my writing students that there are three markets for short fiction: magazines, anthologies, and collections. (You can also self-publish stories one at a time, if you need a fourth option.) Most of my shorts are targeted to magazines, but lately I've seen more and more routed toward anthologies, either via invitation or via an open call. And most anthologies are themed in that they feature tales that have something in common.

This common ground can be almost anything, from location to genre to time period. Here are some of the anthologies I've had stories in, along with their themes:

- the seven deadly sins -- Seven by Seven (Wolfmont Publishing, 2006)

- the afterlife -- After Death (Dark Moon Press, 2013)

- Texas -- The Eyes of Texas (Down & Out Books, upcoming)

- New England -- Landfall (Level Best Books, 2018)

- natural disasters -- Quakes and Storms (Lake Fossil Press, 2005)

- travel -- Passport to Murder (Down & Out Books, 2017)

- the moon -- Under the Full Moon's Light (Owl Hollow Press, 2018)

- the South -- Fireflies in Fruit Jars (Queen's Hill Press, 2007), Mad Dogs and Moonshine (Queen's Hill, 2008), Sweet Tea and Afternoon Tales (AWOC Publishing, 2009), Magnolia Blossoms and Afternoon Tales (AWOC, 2010), Rocking Chairs and Afternoon Tales (Doctor's Dreams Publishing, 2012)

- time travel -- Crime Travel (Wildside Press, upcoming)

safe havens -- Sanctuary (Darkhouse Books, 2018)

- private investigators -- Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (Down & Out Books, 2017)

Joni Mitchell songs -- The Beat of Black Wings (upcoming)

- Florida -- Florida Happens (Three Rooms Press, 2018)

- the 1950s -- Pop the Clutch (Dark Moon Books, 2019), Mid-Cantury Murder (Darkhouse Books, upcoming)

flash fiction -- Short Tales (2006)

- politics -- We've Been Trumped (Darkhouse Books, 2016)

Mississippi -- Mississippi Noir (Akashic Books, 2016), What Would Elvis Think? (Clinton Ink-Slingers, 2019)

- horror -- Horror Library, Vol. 6 (Farolight Publishing, 2017)

- romance -- Meet Cute (Indiegogo, 2017)

- mystery -- Short Attention Span Mysteries (Kerlak Publishing, 2005), Crime and Suspense I (Wolfmont Publishing, 2007), Mouth Full of Bullets (Best of, 2007), Ten for Ten (Wolfmont Publishing, 2008), A Criminal Brief Christmas anthology (Criminal Enterprises Press, 2009), Trust and Treachery (Dark Quest Books, 2014), Flash and Bang (Untreed Reads Publishing, 2015), The Best American Mystery Stories (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015 and 2018)

- science fiction -- Visions VII: Universe (Lillicat Publishers, 2017)

- fantasy -- Children of the Sky (Schreyer Ink Publishing, 2018), Freakshow (Copper Pen Press, upcoming), Voices and Visions (Cyberwit Publishing, upcoming)

- food and drink -- Noir at the Salad Bar (Level Best Books, 2017)

- Louisiana -- Blood on the Bayou (Down & Out Books, 2016)

- the military -- The Odds Are Against Us (Liberty Island Media, 2019)

- the ten commandments -- Thou Shalt Not (Dark Cloud Press, 2006)

I suspect some of these titles were familiar to you, since I've been lucky enough to share space with many of you in these books. And I hope seeing them might remind you, as it reminds me, of just how you went about satisfying whatever theme each of them required.


Writing a story to match a theme can be fun, but it can also be hard, at least for me. I know a few writers who love themed anthologies because writing to a particular subject is challenging and inspiring to them. Others find it difficult, and prefer sticking to their own story ideas. Occasionally I've stumbled onto a submission call for an anthology whose theme perfectly matches a story I've already written, which makes the process easier. That doesn't happen a lot.

Marketingwise, one good thing about anthologies is that they're sometimes receptive to reprints (some actually prefer reprints). Another is that--if you do have a story that fits the theme--the usually-short submission window can mean less competition. But there are two downsides to anthologies. One is that the pay can be less than what you might get from a magazine, and the other is that anthologies--unless they're widely-published best-of-the-year anthos--often get limited exposure.

A team effort

Another thing about anthologies. Depending on the project, one can often feel a definite bond with the other contributors. An example of that, for me, was the 49-story anthology Seven by Seven, edited by Tony Burton of Wolfmont Publishing in Georgia. Tony chose seven authors from seven different states to write seven stories each about the Seven Deadly Sins. My participation in 7x7 led to treasured and longtime friendships with the editor and with several of the other writers (Deborah Elliott-Upton, BJ Bourg, Frank Scalise, and Gary Hoffman). Probably because the project happened fairly early in our writing careers and included so many stories by only seven authors, I think all of us had great fun and learned a lot as well.

The latest anthology featuring one of my stories is a book called What Would Elvis Think?: Mississippi Stories. The common thread is that each tale must be set in a town in Elvis's birth state. It was edited by a friend and former student of mine, Johnny Lowe, and is being released today, June 15. One reason I'm pleased to have been included in this project is that 16 of the 22 other contributors are also friends of mine. Most of us plan to be at Lemuria Books here in Jackson for the launch signing this afternoon at two o'clock. If you're reading this on your phone and you happen to be down this way today, stop in.


What percentage of the stories you write are submitted to anthologies, rather than to magazines? What kind of payment do you usually receive (flat rate, royalty, pat on the back)? Do you tend to try anthologies first, or try them only after a magazine has rejected a story? Do you enjoy writing to a particular theme? Do you find it difficult (as I do)? Are most of your antho stories reprints, or originals? Are you often invited to contribute a story, or do you usually submit as a response to an open call?

Meanwhile, whether you're targeting your stories to magazines OR anthologies, I wish you luck. May the submission gods (another name for editors) favor you with hundred-watt smiles, all the way to the bank.

See you in two weeks.


  1. I remain so impressed with your marketing and your ability to ferret out opportunities in a timely manner! Good luck with all the anthologies forthcoming.

  2. Thanks, Janice! As for marketing, I'm afraid I just sort of stumbled across some of these opportunities. Sadly, one of the best places to find anthology calls was the late Sandra Seamans's My Little Corner blog--I already miss her. I do try to Google "anthology submission calls" now and then, which helps.

  3. John, as always, you bring up important points and ask significant questions. Until you asked, I'd never looked at where my stories sold before. Now, I discover that a third of my published stories have or will appear in anthologies. My first five published stories were in Level Best Books, the publishers of Landfall.

    I used to write a story and THEN look for a market, but lately I find (as magazines disappear) that I'm writing for specific markets, and that is frequently an anthology.
    Learning of an anthology call often depends on being in the right loop, though.

    I have a handful of stories I'm beginning to consider publishing online because I have run out of markets who will reject them and I think they're worth sharing. I have many more that never sold because I was learning my craft and they aren't good enough.

  4. John, looking at the list of anthologies to which you've contributed makes my head spin! Your ongoing productivity constantly and continually amazes me.

    Until recently, my stories were aimed pretty exclusively at EQMM, and what they turned down I'd shop to other markets; my only appearances in anthologies were reprints in various MWA and year's-best collections, plus one original I co-wrote with John Lutz for a PWA anthology. A couple of years ago, though, I started responding to some calls — for the Malice anthology, for a couple of upcoming Michael Bracken books — and I'm finding it fun to write "to order" for a themed collection. The money isn't really a motivator, partly because there isn't much of it and partly because I'm lucky enough to have a day job. For me, I suppose it's the notorious dopamine rush, first of the acceptance and then when I can slid another book or magazine onto my shelf....

    Another fascinating column, John! As always, thanks!

  5. Steve, Level Best is an excellent publisher, and has produced some great anthologies. I find that I do the same thing you mentioned: I seem to be writing more stories with a market already in mind. In the older days, I would always write the story first and only then think about finding a home for it. And--as I said in my response to Janice's post--finding an anthology can be an iffy thing sometimes, and depends on looking at the right place at the right time.

    I too have plenty of those old stories that I've never sold. I need to dust those off and see if I can improve them.

    Josh, your success rate at EQMM is such that I doubt you often need to look elsewhere. And I envy your collaboration with John Lutz--he's one of my favorite writers. I still find it harder to write to a theme than to just come up with an idea and write from that--but I agree that now and then it makes the process more fun.

    As for having a day job (or in my case, an IBM pension), that does indeed make it all a lot easier. Or at least lessens the stress. I continue to admire those who write for a living--that'd be hard work.

    Thanks, guys, for the comments.

  6. So far, most of my stories have been published with AHMM (and yes, I consider myself to be very lucky), so I start with them, and if Linda doesn't like it, I try it elsewhere, and I've managed to crack a lot of other mystery and sci-fi publications. (So far, nothing in EQMM or The Strand, darn it.)

    I've only just started aiming towards anthologies. I find it hard to write to theme - especially some themes - but occasionally it works. So far, I've made it into one sci-fi anthology and one upcoming mystery anthology - MeToo Short Stories, edited by our own Elizabeth Zelvin.

  7. Hey Eve -- yes, you've been in AHMM many times, and it's easy to see why you usually send to them first. I too have trouble writing tailored stories, but it's hard to ignore the anthology market because there are so many of them out there, if you look around for them.

    Congratulations on being in Liz's upcoming anthology--that should be a good one!

  8. John, as sual the midn boggles at all yur accomplishments. Amazing.

    One point I don't think you made. Some people don't understand this distinction: a COLLECTION is by one author. An ANTHOLOGY is by multiple authors.

    Most of the stories I have had published in anthologies were ones that had been rejected by other makets (and boy, do I love getting another swing like that). What I HATE is when I write a story specifically for an anthology and it gets rejected. For example, I wrote two stories for the second MACHINE OF DEATH anthology and both got rejected. I really liked those tales and there is zero possibility of them appearing elsewhere.

    At the moment I have one story accepted by an anthology (hi, J.P.!) and two more waiting for verdicts...

  9. For a great many years the vast majority of my stories were written for specific markets, whether anthologies or periodicals. Only in the past few years—thanks, in part, to the demise of several of my regular markets—have I been writing story first/market second rather than the other way 'round.

    So, a great many of my stories have been written for and published in anthologies, across a variety of genres and under a variety of conditions (open call, invitation, semi-invitation, etc.).

    I don't usually find writing to a specific theme difficult. What I find difficult is coming up with a concept or an approach that will be unique. For example, I suspected the NOIR AT THE SALAD BAR call would prompt a great many food-as-murder-weapon stories—and many of the stories selected for inclusion were just that. I wanted to do something that fit the theme but didn't use food as a murder weapon. Luckily, I came up with something. (As did you and a couple of other contributors.)

    And pay for stories in anthologies comes in many forms. When I was a young whippersnapper, it was common to receive an advance against royalties and then to receive royalty payments after the anthology earned out its advance. These days it's often either a one-time payment or royalties only. Occasionally, there's no payment at all (sometimes on purpose, but more often because royalties never met some arbitrary minimum for payment).

  10. Michael, I still receive some royalties from some past anthologies--and if I'm lucky they might be enough to buy a burger at a drive-thru (if I leave off the fries). As you said, some of them gave me a one-time payment (occasionally big, usually small), and some didn't pay at all. The good paychecks seem to come only with some of the best-of-the-year anthologies, which are always after the fact and always (for me, at least) unpredictable.

    You're right that the best antho stories are usually those that offer a unique take on what the theme is. Sometimes that's possible, sometimes not. I have found, though, that if the story's good and if it satisfies the theme in at least some way, the editors usually try to find room for it. And the weirder the theme, the better the chances, it seems, because I suppose that means fewer writers can come up with a story that qualifies.

    I will probably continue to target my stories to magazines first, unless a themed antho pops up that really interests me or that one of my stories already satisfies. And although we've not said much about this in the comments, anthologies are sometimes great places to market your reprints.

    Thanks for the insights.

  11. A very insightful look into the short story market, John! I’m currently making my way through Pop the Clutch. Totally fun and entertaining!
    Hey, how about a Sleuthsayers anthology?!?

  12. Thanks, Lawrence. I figured (and hoped) you'd like PTC. Some of my heroes are in that one!

    Hey, an SS anthology sounds good to me. What do the rest of you think?

  13. All well put, John! Reading about your accomplishments always gets me motivated!

    For the most part, I've been writing my stories to specific markets, almost all anthologies. I like the challenge of writing to a specific theme, I like the time-limit deadlines, and I like the competition (ie, can I write a story with a specific them good enough to get into the anthology?). It's also great fun to market/promote the anthology with the other contributors. I believe that's how we met--sharing space in an anthology!

  14. Yep, it was, Alan. And I bet a lot of our other friendships were started via being anthology-mates.

    It's interesting to hear that most of your stories these days are directed toward anthos (if I understood you correctly). I do admire the confidence you and others have in being able to write to a specific theme. I do it myself, quite a lot, but I can't really say I enjoy it more than coming up with my own ideas and then trying to fit those into a market. Your mention of deadlines is something we have't talked about, but yes, that could also be a reason many folks (like you) enjoy writing for anthologies. That submission window means you can't take your time writing a piece, or delay finishing or submitting it. Good points!

    Thank you for these observations.

  15. Interesting seeing the ways others write and market their stories. I've written for markets in the past, written for anthologies, but most of the short stories I've written have been stories which moved me. As Michael put it - write first/market second.A LOT more rejections than acceptances but that's a writer's life.

  16. O'Neil, I share your pain, with regard to rejections--boy have I received a lot of those. But it seems every time I wind up in an anthology or pick up an AHMM or EQMM, there's a story by O'Neil De Noux. And novels galore--you have excelled in a lot of different markets and different kind of writing.

    As for writing for a market vs. writing and then finding a market, I bet almost everyone starts out one way (writing without a market in mind and then looking for one) and eventually graduates to the other way (writing first for a specific market). For one thing, some markets pay better than others, and also we gradually wind up becoming friendly with certain editors, and once that happens more stories get sent to those editors first.

    Keep up the good work!

  17. I mainly send off to anthologies; I recommend them highly! And I met a good writer friend via our both being in the same anthology! (He was the only one who friended me back on Facebook! :) )

  18. Nice, John! The Giant Book of Anthologies List!

    We need to start rolling the SleuthSayers anthology again, don't we.

  19. Hey Jeff! I think the first thing I do when I see the anthology that my story's been accepted in is look at the table of contents and see who else is there. And you're right, it's a good way to find new writer friends.

    Now go do that voodoo that you do so well!

  20. Leigh, I didn't see your note a minute ago when I responded to Jeff--sorry.

    YES, we do need to get back to pushing a SleuthSayer antho. I think we'd have plenty of takers!

  21. I'm still relatively new to the mystery short story game. I've been lucky enough to publish several stories in AHMM, but several of my publications, and some of my favorites among my stories, have been for anthologies. Overall my publications are about half magazines, half anthologies.

    As some others have said, I really enjoy the challenge of writing to a particular theme. Another thing I really like about them is that they come with something I consider a great boon: a deadline. I might mess around with a story I intend for a magazine for months, but a nice concrete deadline is great motivation to actually get the thing polished and done. I just wish it was easier to find listings of upcoming opportunities; I too already miss the My Little Corner blog.

    I have not yet been invited to contribute to an anthology. I'm hoping that will happen someday; along with finally breaking into EQMM, it's one of my remaining career goals.

  22. Hi Joseph--thanks for chiming in, here.

    First, congrats on the AHMM stories. If you've been published there, you've proven yourself. And yes, I too so miss the My Little Corner blog. One resource, by the way, that I still check regularly is ralan.com (I think it used to be called Ralan's Webstravaganza). It's billed as an SF/fantasy site but they have listings for pro markets, semipro, etc., that even include AHMM, EQMM, and the Strand, and their anthology section lists calls for several anthos in not only the SF genre but some that are cross-genre. I've places stories in a number of anthologies that I found out about at that site.

    As I mentioned earlier, I admire those of you who like deadlines. I don't. When I'm given a deadline, I try hard to meet it, and so far I always have, but I prefer working at my own pace (which is, thankfully, pretty fast anyway). Whatever the process, I wish you the very best in all your writings! May the rest of 2019 be good for you!

  23. From the other side of the fence, I put out an anthology last year and now I'm getting submissions for this year's edition. The only "theme" is weird, off the wall, outrageous, daring stories, the weirder, the better. It's called the BOULD Awards Anthology (BouldAwards.com), and for these first two editions, no payment other than small cash prizes for the top four in each ($50, 30, 20, 10). As we move on to the third and fourth years/editions, we may be able to modify that, but for now I and the judges are just stumbling along, trying to do the best we can.

  24. Oops; when I hit "publish" after editing, I didn't notice that the ID went back to "Anonymous." The post about the BOULD Awards was by me, Jake Devlin, at JakeDevlin.com

  25. Jake, it sounds as if you're doing well, if you've published one edition and you're on the way to doing your second. Also sounds as if you DO have a theme: weird, daring stories. i congratulate you for taking this on, and I wish you the best on your future editions! Thanks for stopping in and giving us an editor's view of all this.

  26. John, I've written several stories for the themed anthologies on your list, been rejected for those anthologies, and published them in magazines for better pay and sometimes much quicker publication. Or in some cases, I'm still shopping them. I write to a theme when the theme pokes my muse just right and a story pops up. Even then, I find I often want to write about my various series characters, who have become old friends. As for enduring friendships, I first met one of my very favorite people, John Floyd, when he accepted a story of mine for Tony Burton's Christmas anthology, THE GIFT OF MURDER. I first met Eve Fisher on SleuthSayers when I too was writing here regularly, but I hope she feels, as I do, that we know each other much better since we've been working on ME TOO SHORT STORIES, and the book isn't even out until September. To me, what's the point of a women's anthology if networking, schmoozing, and forming a community aren't part of it? And the contributors have been great in that regard as well as in writing terrific stories. Liz

  27. Hey Liz! Yep, I remember your story well, in The Gift of Murder. There were several later SleuthSayers in that book, plus Bill Crider, the late Sandra Seamans, and others. It was a lot of tun. Sincere congratulations on the Me Too Short Stores project--I'm looking forward to seeing that one! And thanks for the tips and insights--it's interesting that you've reshopped several of those first-intended-for-anthologies stories and later got them into magazines, and for more payment than you'd have received otherwise.

    Take care, and thanks again!

  28. Liz, we definitely have gotten to know each other along the way, both through SleuthSayers and the ME TOO SHORT STORIES. It's a wonderful way to build community.

  29. John, I'm always blown away by the number of stories you manage to write and publish, and in a diverse market. I write only a few a year, and always try AHMM first. If I have something that I think isn't up to AHMM I try it elsewhere, but I'm lazy (or fatalistic?) when it comes to rejection and have to force myself to send a rejected story out again. Your posts always inspire me to write more and send out more. Good luck with your new book.

  30. Thanks, Eve, and Susan.

    Susan, I think rejection's tough for all of us (I should know)--but the main thing to remember is, good stories get rejected every day. I try never to give up on them.

    Take care, both of you, and keep in touch!

  31. Have there been any efforts you know of to establish how many copies these anthologies generally sell? The point is to get a story out in front of readers. Or is the anthology market just to diverse to come to any conclusions? At least with magazines, you know what the paid circulation is.

  32. To Robert Lopresti -- For some reason I completely missed your comment the other day, and I apologize.

    I'm glad you pointed out the difference between collections and anthologies--and yes, most folks don't seem to know the difference.

    I too have written stories specifically targeted to anthologies and their themes, and when those are rejected it's tough. Do you try to market that tailored story someplace else? Do you change it up a bit and try it that way? Do you put it away and hope you'll remember it if an opportunity ever arises? Such is the problem with writing to a theme. I think the upside is that because you HAVE written a story that fits, it probably has a better chance of acceptance than of rejection.

    I think I know who J.P. is, and I believe you and I will be in that one together. Looking forward to it.

    Thanks for the comment, Rob, and sorry again I didn't see it on Saturday. Take care!

  33. Vicki -- I just saw your comment as well. Thanks for stopping by.

    No, I've made no studies of how many copies of anthologies sell, and I don't know of any such study--but I think I can say that most local anthologies do not reach a wide readership, and I suspect the editors already know that. Sometimes, though, they do take off, especially if the theme is such that it would appeal to a wide range of readers or if it's somehow able to get regional or national exposure.

    As for anthologies by well-known publishers, I suspect those always do well--among them are the annual Bouchercon anthologies, the MWA anthos, the annual Best American Short Stories and Best American Mystery Stories anthologies, etc.

    One indication of whether the publisher expects an antho to do well is how, and how much, the writers are being paid. If you're getting a one-time payment of a decent amount, that book is probably expected to do well. If you're getting a royalty or not getting paid at all, well, you never know. I DO know that some anthologies get read by those who nominate stories for national awards, who select stories for annual best-of anthos, and who pick stories to option for films, so--again--anthologies can sometimes be a good choice when you're looking for a market.

    Personally, I will probably continue to look first at magazines and then at anthologies, unless I see an antho call for one that's especially interesting or for one that already fits one of my stories.

    Hope this helps!

  34. John, sometimes I can send a story out after it was rejected for the anthology it was intended for. The MACHINE OF DEATH concept is too unique, I suspect. (FYI each story is based on the idea of a machine that can use a drop of your blood and tell you how you will die. But like any oracle, it could be ambiguous. "Old age" could mean you get hit by a 90 year old driver.)

    On the other hand, I wrote a story for an MWA anthology but never sent it in because I didn't get it finished in time. (That's another problem I have with writing to order - such a SLOW writer!) But surprise, surprise, it also fits the theme of the current MWA anthology, so I will try it there.

  35. Rob -- The MACHINE OF DEATH concept might be the most unique (and restrictive) theme I've heard of. I'm sort of surprised they received enough stories to fill the book. I think the most unique themes I've written to were the Seven Deadly Sins theme and the one for the Ten Commandments. Luckily those worked for the two anthologies they were targeted to.

    Hey, that was lucky, saving one story that had been written to a theme and then having that story fit another theme as well. I've had that happen also, but the themes in mine weren't all that specific.

    I've recently seen calls for anthologies that had themes so far from my comfort zone I didn't even try for them. Oh well. Different strokes.


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