Thursday, June 11, 2020

Selecting Stories for an Anthology: An Editor’s Point of View: Guest Post by Judy Penz Sheluk

Judy Penz Sheluk:
Selecting Stories for an Anthology: An Editor’s Point of View 

I’ve been on all sides of the anthology fence, as a story submitter, a publisher, editor and judge. I’ve felt the thrill of acceptance and the disappointment of rejection (as the intake coordinator for Passport to Murder, the Bouchercon Toronto anthology, I had the dubious distinction of sending a rejection letter to myself). I’m also an avid reader of short mystery fiction. Love it. And so, in October 2018, I sent out my very first callout under my recently formed Superior Shores Press imprint for The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, published June 18, 2019. Buoyed by the critical acclaim and commercial success of Plans, and convinced that this time around I’d be able to streamline the process somewhat, I sent another callout in October 2019, this time for Heartbreaks & Half-truths: 22 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, which releases on June 18, 2020. Now, with Plans, I’d received a total of 71 submissions, and I was expecting about the same number this go-round. Not so. In all, 105 submissions were received for Heartbreaks, representing authors from Argentina, Australia, France, Germany, Scotland, the UK, US, and Canada.

But, how does one make the cut from 105 to 22? The truth is, reading is subjective. I’ve yet to read an anthology where I’ve liked every story in the collection (my own anthologies excluded). The best you can do is even up your odds. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you submit:

Does it meet the theme? 
Most anthologies have an underlying theme. In this case, the theme was heartbreaks and half-truths. That’s pretty broad, and yet, some stories didn’t have so much of a hint of either. Bottom line: No matter how good a story is, if it doesn’t meet the theme, it won’t be accepted.

Does it meet the word count guidelines?
Some anthologies are very strict about word counts; one word over and you’re out. For Heartbreaks, I requested stories from 1,500 to 5,000 words, though this was “somewhat flexible,” meaning a few less or a few more words wouldn’t mean an automatic rejection. I did, however, draw the line at one submission of 7,800 words, which I didn’t take the time to read. Bottom line: There’s somewhat flexible and then there’s being an Olympic gymnast.

Does it meet the criteria? 
For Heartbreaks, the callout stated: Traditional, locked room, noir, historical and suspense will be considered; however, do not submit stories with overt sex, violence, or excessive bad language. And yup, you guessed it, I received some with all of that and more. Bottom line: Submit to a market that isn’t looking for a PG rating and give yourself a chance.

Did you format according to the publisher’s specifications? 
I requested: Times New Roman 12, double spaced, 1” margins, .5” indent (no tabs), no header or footer. Word .doc or .docx only. About 50% of authors paid attention to this (headers/footers being the one thing no one wanted to give up). Bottom line: Will you be rejected for submitting in Calibri 11, single-spaced, with headers and footers? Probably not, at least not if your story is good. But why not show the editor that you can read as well as write?

Don’t be last minute 
You don’t have to be first out of the gate. In fact, if you submit on day one, I’m pretty sure you’re sending me something out of your slush pile. That doesn’t mean sending it in on the last day, or in some cases, in the last hour. Because (and again, I can’t speak for other publishers/editors/judges), I’ve read each story as it came in, and I’ve already started my long list. Bottom line: No one wants a long list that’s, well, too long.

And now, a bit about Heartbreaks & Half-truths: 22 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, available in trade paperback and on Kindle (Kobo, Nook, Apple Books to follow at a later date).

Lovers and losers. 
Whether it’s 1950s Hollywood, a scientific experiment, or a yard sale in suburbia, the twenty-two authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of “heartbreaks and half-truths” in their own inimitable style, where only one thing is certain: Behind every broken heart lies a half-truth. And behind every half-truth lies a secret.

Featuring stories by Sharon Hart Addy, Paula Gail Benson, James Blakey, Gustavo Bondoni, Susan Daly, Buzz Dixon, Rhonda Eikamp, Christine Eskilson, Tracy Falenwolfe, Kate Flora, John M. Floyd, J.A. Henderson, Blair Keetch, Steve Liskow, Edward Lodi, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Peggy Rothschild, Joseph S. Walker, James Lincoln Warren, Chris Wheatley and Robb T. White.

Judy Penz Sheluk (editor/author) is the bestselling author of two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short stories appear in several collections, including Live Free or Tri and The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, which she also edited. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime National, Toronto, and Guppy Chapters, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, International Thriller Writers, South Simcoe Arts Council, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Chair on the Board of Directors. Release Date: June 18, Kindle and trade paperback. 


KM Rockwood said...

Great overview of how to respond to a submission call for a themed anthology. Short stories are fun--fun to read, fun to write and fun to share.

Thanks, Judy, for letting us in on the process, and for giving us both another chance to have a story selected, and a great read when all is said and done.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Excellent overview of the work of an editor putting together an anthology. Any kind of story collection, with or without a theme, takes work and it's helpful to writers to see the process in detail (beyond the rejection letters, of course.)