Guest Post: Anthologising by Jan Edwards

I have been editing magazines and anthologies for some years now, most recently for the award-winning Alchemy Press. I have also written stories for many other publications so, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, I’ve looked at slush from both sides now. Okay, not quite the same thing, but you’ll get my drift…

I was a panellist at Writing West Midlands event on ‘Getting Published’ recently, and the panel was asked why editors and anthologists seldom gave feedback on submissions. The cold hard truth is those editors simply do not have the time. If you do get feedback consider it a bonus because generally speaking is does not happen. Novelist Kate Long, whom I shared the panel with, came up with the best answer I have ever heard when she said 'It’s not their (the editor) job'.   

As a writer I’ve had my share of rejection slips, and always taken it as a sign that the editor received stories they preferred over mine. Whenever I receive that ‘red slip’ I suck it up and make sure I am better than that other guy next time around. Growing rhino-hide may be a cliché but rhino-hide is exactly what we writers need - or we’d never try a second time, or a third.  Rejection slips are a fact of writing. For feedback, I attend an excellent local writing group (Renegade Writers) that offers really solid constructive criticism.

Working as an anthologist has sharpened my mind on the whole story submission process. There are those sins writers commit, those that make editors sigh in exasperation, which, with my author hat on, I’ve no doubt been guilty of at some point. Those things that appear trivial to the writer but when on the receiving end, with submissions numbering in their hundreds to choose from, really start to matter.

For example, the last thing we writers want to do is hack off the editor before they’ve read a single word. So the chap who addressed me and Jenny Barber (my co-editor for both Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders and Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic) as ‘Dear Sirs’, did himself no favours at all.

Then we have the fifty plus files lacking proper ID, in a folder containing well over a hundred emails. We could want to find two specific stories for a second read; one is labelled and the other is not... tough choice.

There is also the case to be made for brevity. One email in just last week was five pages long. I was losing the will to breathe by the bottom of page three, though in his favour he was very polite.

Worst by far, however, was the submission addressed ‘to whom it may concern’,  who then went on to tell us that he realised his story was 2,000 words below our word count, but ‘absolutely knew we could not fail to accept it’ because it was ‘just the thing we were looking for...’ Mistakes over guidelines may occur because the writer did not understand them, or has not read them closely enough, but when a writer obviously has, and then proceeds to explain exactly why they don’t apply to his baby... That is just perverse.

Then we come to guidelines, and here I start to grow hair on my palms and foam at the mouth. As with the Ancient Wonders anthology, Urban Mythic is themed. Jenny and I went to great pains to explain what we are looking for. Yet, at a rough guess, approximately sixty percent of those received will be rejected not for being poorly written but because they are simply not a good fit. For example; they will feature a protagonist ‘in a far-off land and long ago’ when we have asked for ‘Urban’ and ‘Contemporary’, or  else include zombies, sexed-up vampires or some other of our unrequired subjects. I could go on but you probably have the idea by now.

Despite saying all of this, please don’t think I see editing as all pain and depression - far from it. I love the whole process of working with other writers. I love the joy that comes with reading an absolute gem that makes me laugh or cry or shiver, or occasionally all three; those moments more than makes up for the rest. I love searching out another nine or so scintillating tales to match the first and producing that positive treasure trove which is an anthology. Writing fiction will always be my first love, but anthologising is also something of a passion, one that I would hate not being able to indulge.

The deadline for The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic is midnight on 31 March, and I know I will have a lot a fun reading that stack of stories already piling up in the submission folder.


Jan Edwards currently edits anthologies for The Alchemy Press.

Guidelines for The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic, can be found at: here

Full details of Jan’s own fiction can be found: here

Jan has also written a novel Sex, Lies and Family Ties under the pen name of Sarah J Graham, available from Amazon.


madwippitt said…
Dear Concerned Madam,
Thanks for this post ... made me smile - hope the foamy mouth problem clears up before you have to appear in public.
But I ramble - I should be keeping this brief rather than stretching your already strained patience further...
But I really wanted to submit a comment telling you how much I love anthologies - it's such a great way of finding new authors you may not have read before.
Bill Kirton said…
Dear Sir, Excellent advice. Yours politely, Moi.
Jan Edwards said…
I'm in slush-pile hell right now - a foaming mouth will no doubt be involved at some point. :-)
Debbie Bennett said…
So have you had a last-minute flurry of subs? :-)
Jan Edwards said…
Some. We have around the same number of subs as last year, which is good.
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