If you haven’t worked with an editor (or don’t live with one to hear the end-of-the-day, get-me-the-wine stories), you might not know the work that goes into editing.
Let me introduce the talented Rhonda Parrish, who’s doing some great work to make the books we all love and she graciously accepted an offer to give us a little bit about the day-to-day of how an anthology gets put together and edited.
And writers, please note she’s looking for great writing right now for a new collection of short stories titled Sirens. Check out the details in the call for submissions here and give her your best work!
What Do You Do, Again?
“So like, you just fix all the typos and then you get to have your name on the cover?”
A few months ago I was talking with someone close to me, let’s call them Jack, about the anthology I was working on at the time (I don’t remember which one it was) and they asked me that question. In complete sincerity. “So like, you just fix all the typos and then you get to have your name on the cover?”
At first I was angry–No. No I don’t just fix all the typos and then I get my name on the cover. That’s not how this works–but that initial offense disappeared quickly. Because Jack wasn’t trying to minimize the amount of work I put into an anthology, he just honestly didn’t know. Thinking about it afterward it became pretty clear to me that actually, a lot of people don’t know. When they see a book that says ‘Edited by NAME’ on the cover, they don’t understand what that means. And why should they? I’ve been a writer for quite a long time and even I didn’t know what that meant until a couple years ago.
Nate offered me a spot on his blog to talk about pretty much whatever I wanted (because he’s awesome!). Originally I was going to talk about my latest anthologies, Corvidae and Scarecrow, but I changed my mind. I want to talk, just briefly, about my process when I’m editing an anthology. What do I do? Why is my name on the cover?
Things change from anthology to anthology, but the basic process can be broken down into twelve steps.
- I come up with an idea for an anthology. This has to be something that I think readers will be interested in but also something I like well enough (or in the case of Metastasis am motivated to work on) to not grow tired of it over the many months it is going to consume my life. Because they do. Anthologies definitely consume your life LOL
- If I’m not self-publishing, like I did with the Alphabet Anthologies, I write a pitch for the anthology, submit it to an appropriate publisher following their guidelines and then cross my fingers and wait.
- Once a publisher has accepted the anthology we sort out all the less-than-exciting (but very important) bits such as how I’m getting paid, how my authors are getting paid, how much we’re getting paid, when submissions will open and close, how many stories I can include, what the final word count is going to be, and other things along those lines.
- Details sorted, the publisher and I announce the anthology and try to put it on as many writer’s radars as possible even before submissions open. I increase my efforts to spread the word once submissions are open. It’s incredibly frustrating (for me and the disappointed author) to announce your completed table of contents or the anthology’s release and be told, “Oh, I wish I’d known!”
- During the submission period I continue to try and spread the word about the anthology and make reasonable efforts to let people know if my story needs have changed or refined. For example, with the Sirens anthology I’m aiming to have an equal number of sea-based sirens as sky-based sirens. If 80% of my submissions are for one kind of siren I will try to let potential submitters know (via blog posts and social media) that I’m seeing a lot of that type of siren and thus am hungry for the other variety.
- That brings us to reading submissions. I read subs throughout the open submission period and separate the stories into those I won’t be using and those I might be. The former receive rejection letters (Even though most will say similar things I type each individually, no copy/paste form letters) and the latter are shortlisted for further consideration.
- Once submissions close and every story has received an initial response I re-read the shortlisted pieces and cut them back further until I have my table of contents. I could write a whole series of blog posts about this step alone but for now let’s just say it’s a long, complicated and anxiety-producing decision-making process but I work very hard to ensure I have a strong, diverse collection of stories.
- After all the rejection and acceptance letters have gone out, it’s time for the editing to begin.Most stories go through at least three separate editing stages. First is the substantive editing stage. It’s at this point I send the author an email pointing out any trouble spots I’ve noticed–plot holes, endings which don’t work for me, stories beginning in the wrong place–that sort of thing. Sometimes I offer concrete suggestions on how to correct the problem, sometimes I just ask questions to help the author sort that out themselves. Occasionally we repeat this step several times before the author and I believe the story is the strongest version of itself that it can be.
- Next we begin line editing. This is where I use track changes to mark up the story. Moving things around, tweaking word choices, cutting all those extra thats which seem to sneak into so many people’s work… After I’ve marked up the manuscript with my suggestions it goes back to the author for them to approve or reject every single change.But wait! There’s more!
- After all the stories are fully edited I figure out what order they should appear in (this is another process I could write a whole series of blog posts about and it’s definitely a learning process for me. I’ve gotten better and better at it with each anthology), write an introduction, bundle it all together and pass it up to my publisher.
- The publisher does all sorts of things including formatting it and providing a cover and then proofs are sent out to every contributor, myself and (usually) an independent copyeditor. This is the point where the typos are caught, corrected and then the whole book goes back into the publisher’s hands to work the rest of their magic with.
- And then, at some point later, the book is published and we begin the process of promoting it.
That’s incomplete, of course, but it does give you an idea about what I do to earn my name on the cover of each anthology I edit. Though I don’t write a single word of the awesome fiction you’ll find inside them, I work very hard to make each anthology the best it possibly can be. And then I work just as hard to get it into the hands of as many readers as possible. But that is most definitely the subject for another post on another day.
Do you have any questions? I’m happy to answer as best I can.
Otherwise, I’d like to thank Nate once again for inviting me to his blog and giving me the space to share a little bit about the job I love so much 🙂 Thank you!
Rhonda Parrish is driven by a desire to do All The Things. She has been the publisher and editor-in-chief of Niteblade Magazine since 2007 (which is like 30 years in internet time) and is the editor of several anthologies including (most recently) Scarecrow and B is for Broken.
In addition, Rhonda is a writer whose work has been in publications such as Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast, Imaginarium: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing (2012 & 2015) and Mythic Delirium.
Her website, updated weekly, is at http://www.rhondaparrish.com
Thank you, Rhonda, and keep up the great work!