I've had the pleasure of having several essays included in anthologies. As we writers know, such story collections don't put themselves together. Instead, one or more editors take on the role of product managers and are often responsible for every aspect of the launch, from pitching the idea to publishers, and when one is found, soliciting work that's then edited and arranged. The editors then help publicize the book.
We writers tend to assume such editors are higher up the food chain in the publishing world, both in experience and clout. While that might be the case, it's often true that editors are simply writers like us who have an idea for a collection and then set about making the book happen.
Could this be you?
Find out by reading what R.A. Rycraft has to say in the following essay she sent me when I asked what it took for her to co-edit, with Leslie What, an anthology titled Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging ($12), published by Serving House Books in May, 2012.
From Conception to Publication: Co-editing an Anthology
The idea for the Serving House Books (SHB)anthology Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging evolved out of the creation of an earlier, companion book, Winter Tales: Men Write About Aging, co-edited by Duff Brenna and Thomas E. Kennedy and also published by SHB, a small, not-for-profit, independent press. My thinking was, if the guys can have an anthology then we gals can have one, too. I pitched the idea to Walter Cummins, managing editor and publisher of SHB, who immediately agreed to publish the project. So, before I’d even approached my co-editor or any contributors, I had a publisher lined up, something I knew would serve well as incentive since the press does not pay contributors royalties.
My friend, author Leslie What, was enthusiastic about the idea, too, and agreed to work with me as co-editor to develop the project. I know many editors solicit submissions to anthologies by placing ads in such journals as The Writer’s Chronicle or Poets & Writers. We chose not to go that route because our writing social networks — Facebook and personal word-of-mouth — were large enough. Between the two of us, and our collective network of writing friends, we solicited more than 75 women writers and artists over the age of 50 to contribute to the anthology. Of those 75, 27 top-notch artists agreed.
Editing an anthology is a huge undertaking. It is as edifying as it is time-consuming. It involves no small amount of hard work, but hard work often translates into a rewarding experience. And that is what I enjoyed by working on the anthology. As the entries trickled in, Leslie and I were delighted by the quality of the work submitted—from the subjects tackled to the artistry with which they were rendered. Fortunately for us, not much discussion was needed about which pieces to keep and which to reject. We kept most everything.
Our greatest challenges involved asking for revisions, organizing the order in which the pieces appear, and correcting proofs. For the most part, when we asked for revisions, we received them, but it was still one of the more uncomfortable parts of the process for me, personally. Organizing the order in which pieces appear involved countless hours of reading followed by even more hours of discussion and reworking the order, a process repeated over and over again and made more challenging by the distance between us: Leslie in northern Oregon and I in southern California.
Once the order was settled, what followed was one of the most tedious but vital aspects of editing any book—correcting PROOFS. We’d read the manuscript so many times that neither of us could “see” it anymore. I swear there were manuscript gremlins at work because every time we received a proof copy — and there were several different copies to review — we discovered errors that had already been corrected or, worse yet, new errors we swore weren’t present in earlier proofs. I don’t know enough about the translation process, from document to PDF to book, to understand why such errors occur; I only know that they do occur and that they are crazy-making. So, made crazy by proof correcting, Leslie and I enlisted the help of copyeditors, including the keen editing eye of anthology contributor, Clare MacQueen. We needed fresh eyes to read final proofs and suggest corrections. Then, voilà, the anthology was finally done—clean, error-free, and ready to go to press.
From conception to publication, Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging took about seventeen months to complete. Leslie and I did not rush, choosing, instead, to take the time needed to get the project right. Our greatest concern and pleasure was to ensure we presented the superb work of our contributors and the eclectic mix of their talents, perspectives, media, and genres in the best possible form and light. We wanted to do our contributors proud and to offer you an entertaining read. You be the judge.
Ms. Rycraft has published stories, poems, essays, reviews, and interviews in a number of journals and anthologies, including PIF Magazine, VerbSap, Perigee, MacGuffin, Calyx, Contemporary World Literature, and The Absinthe Literary Review. Winner of the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Editor’s Choice Award for 2008 and a Special Mention for the 2010 Pushcart Prize, Rycraft is chair of the English department at Mt. San Jacinto College in Menifee, California and non-fiction editor at Serving House: a Journal of Literary Arts.
A special thanks to Ms. Rycraft for taking the time to pass along her how-to knowledge, which will hopefully encourage some of us to act on our idea of editing and publishing an anthology.Happy writing!