Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How To Create an AWESOME Anthology in Ten Not-so-easy Step

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Are we a full service blog or what?
 Yesterday we started the celebration for Susan Elia MacNeal’s 
THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT  (We’re celebrating all week, actually—we take these book birthdays very seriously (and very joyfully) around here.  If you haven’t checked it out, please do!)

And another book birthday to celebrate—and it’s all about sex.  (Got you, right? ) The brand new short story anthology is the creation of  our sisters in crime in North Carolina—and not only do we get to tell you all about it, the editor, the amazing Karen Pullen, agreed to reveal all her secrets.

Well, about creating an anthology, we mean. 

If you've ever considered doing it?  Read this first. You'll still be enthusiastic--but here's the inside scoop.

How To Create an AWESOME Anthology in Ten Not-so-easy Steps

             by Karen Pullen

In the spring of last year, I convinced my Sisters in Crime chapter, SinC of the Triangle,  to produce an anthology. An impetuous, naïve decision, like the kind teenagers make.  We were enthusiastic! Optimistic!

Fifteen months later, Carolina Crimes: 19 Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing became a reality.  One we are proud of, though we’re older, wiser, wrinklier and more gray-haired. Should your group ever wants to take on such a task, know these ten steps to success.

1. Recruit awesome help. See all the linked names below? It takes a village.

2. Compose an attention-grabbing theme.  Ours:  a crime story about sex. Examples:

. . .
reproduction, lust and desire; genetic engineering; online dating; animal breeding; infertility; STDs; prostitution; obsession; gender dysmorphia; erectile dysfunction; romance; endocrine disorders; virginity; marriage and weddings; pornography; jealousy; chromosomes; plastic surgery; secondary sex characteristics; gynecology.

The anthology committee—Sheila Webster Boneham, Judith Stanton, and Sarah Shaber tweaked and approved it.

3. Solicit stories.  SinC has guidelines: submissions must be open and blind from SinC members; monetary compensation to the authors; stories must be original, never before published.  We sent our solicitation to the 170 members of SinC who lived in North or South Carolina.

4. Judge the submissions. Thirty stories were submitted. Britni Patterson received the stories and distributed each one to three contributing authors for judging.  Tamara Ward compiled the judges’ scores and comments. Ruth Moose, Judith Stanton, and I also read all the stories, so each story was exposed to six pairs of eyes. Twenty-one stories were accepted, subject to a satisfactory revision.

5. Edit the accepted stories. I marked them up and asked the authors for revisions.  Two declined to work with me on their stories. The remaining nineteen went back and forth, many times – polishing, tightening, adding, subtracting, making them the best they could be. These authors were a pleasure to work with. If they gnashed their teeth and  turned purple after yet another email from me, I didn’t know it.  Judith Stanton’s eagle eyes scanned the manuscript for mistakes in spelling, punctuation, word usage.

6. Ask for an introduction. Kind, generous Margaret Maron agreed.

7.  Query publishers. Toni Goodyear did a remarkable job of collecting names of publishers of all sorts, selecting likely ones, and sending query letters and sample stories. We had multiple offers.  This astonished me, having been through a lengthy query process with my own novel. We decided to go with Wildside Press, which had published other SinC anthologies and is on the MWA list of approved publishers.

8. Negotiate a contract.  Most of the terms were acceptable,  standard for the industry. We asked for extra copies to send to reviewers, and a free copy for each author. Solicit blurbs from some good people: Hank Phillipi Ryan, Kaye George, Tamra Wilson, and Barb Goffman.

9. Read a proof. Wildside wanted to have the book available for Malice Domestic, so this step was a rush. I sent back three pages of corrections.

10. Hold your baby in your arms, briefly. Then show it to the world. I had a lot of fun creating a book trailer. I talked it up at Malice,  and eleven of the authors participated in a book launch party at McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro NC.  Some of them blogged about their experience. We’ve scheduled more readings, guest blog posts, a radio interview. Readers like it – and our first newpaper review called it “delicious.”

Back row, L to R: Ann Mitchell, Calvin Hall, Linda Johnson, Joanie Cowell, Britni Patterson, Polly Iyer. Front row, L to R: Tamara Ward, Karen Pullen, Antoinette Brown, Toni Goodyear, Judith Stanton.

Ten steps, none of them easy.  But look at these smiles – it was worth every minute.
Do you have an anthology experience to relate?

In one week, a lucky commenter’s name will be drawn at random, to win a copy of Carolina Crimes: 19 Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing.

HANK:  This is such amazingly valuable info--and such a treat to hear about the journey!  Have any of you been in anthologies?  Do you read them? What did you think about your experience?

                                                  * * *
Carolina Crimes is available in paper and e-book format from online retailers and your local bookstore.
                                                         * * *
Karen Pullen left a perfectly good job at an engineering consulting firm to make her fortune (um, maybe not) as an innkeeper and a fiction writer. Her B&B has been open for 12 years, and she’s published short stories in Every Day Fiction, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Spinetingler, Sixfold, bosque (the magazine), and anthologies. Her first novel, Cold Feet, was released by Five Star in January 2013. She lives in Pittsboro, N.C.


  1. Goodness, what a process! So glad you persevered, though!

    I enjoy reading anthologies and will happily add this one to my teetering to-be-read pile . . . .

  2. I knew it took work to put an anthology together, but I'd never really considered just how much. Thanks for listing it out like that for us.

  3. This is a wonderful feat Karen and gang, what a story! You all are talented in so many ways, as Sisters are. Can't wait to read this one

  4. Karen, awesome indeed! Will some of the authors have a panel at Malice? Seems like reason enough to go.

  5. Funny! I love your attention grabbing themes!

  6. Way to go, Karen and SinC NC! You obviously have great organizational skills! And who can resist stories about love, lust, and SEX? Can't wait to read it!

  7. Oops. Did I say SEX? I meant "longing", of course...

  8. Congratulations, Karen and everyone! That picture with the baby kid of says it all, doesn't it? P.S. The B&B looks fantastic -- maybe even the perfect place to work on a novel.... Hmmm......

  9. Yes, always negotiate your book contract. NO, DO NOT ASSUME THAT BECAUSE YOU WORK WITH WORDS YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THOSE WORDS MEAN TO A LAWYER. A short consult with an experienced publishing lawyer can save you a lot of grief in the future. (Aaarrrrggghhh from this publishing lawyer. If I had a nickel for every person who has come to me with a problem they discovered AFTER they signed the contract... and there is little I can do once it is signed, and what I CAN do is costly. A pre-signing review is minimally expensive, can save you a lot of heartache, and if you decide to sign anyway, at least you know where the potential problems lie.)

    By the way, BEFORE EDITING, anthology editors need a contract with their authors, and should NOT draw that up themselves either. DO NOT ASSUME THAT BECAUSE YOU ONCE SIGNED A CONTRACT FOR A CONTRIBUTION TO AN ANTHOLOGY THAT THE ONE YOU SIGNED WAS A GOOD ONE. (More aaarrrrgggghhhh.)

  10. Yay, Karen! I have no idea how you managed an anthology project while doing your own writing AND running the B&B - I'm bowled over!

  11. And I should also add that I've known Karen for many years now, and can vouch for both her writing (very entertaining) and her Bed and Breakfast (very relaxing.)

  12. Congratulations on the pub!

    My writing group is trying to assemble a themed anthology now - this is great information to have. Thank you for sharing.

  13. PS THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A STANDARD CONTRACT just in case any of you thought so.

    Every contract is different (at least slightly so, but that could be an important "slightly.") The one exception is small publishers who are too cheap to retain a lawyer and have "borrowed" their contract from one they (or someone else) signed with another publisher. Again, if you're not a lawyer, you do not know the import of the words contained in the agreement, some of which may be based in some historic ruling.

    And lest you think it doesn't matter, I was just a member of a class in someone else's class action suit that involved the first paid article I ever wrote, back in 1978, and it netted almost as much as some book contracts.

    (End of rant.)

  14. The Twin Ciites Sisters in Crime have put together our first anthology, Festival of Crime, coming out this fall. Would love to read the Carolina one!

  15. Congrats, Karen! The Pittsburgh chapter of SinC did an anthology in 2013. We did it all ourselves though, after a majority vote. Were we to do it again, I'd lobby for contacting someone like Wildside. Yes, there are a lot of steps. We made our decision with the same kind of teenage naivete and enthusiasm. Eighteen months later, we finally had a completed project. We were happy - but exhausted!

  16. 830SO wonderful!
    And I can envision chapters printing out this blog to save for future reference. What a marvelous resource.

    And didn't editing an anthology change your consciousness as an author? To see the process from another point of view is quite revealing.

    I just edited an anthology of essays for SIsters in Crime called WRITES OF PASSAGE (watch this space for more on that!)..its incredibly hard work. But so rewarding. And truly life-changing.

    Twin Cities, we hope you'll come do a guest blog for us when your anthology comes out!

  17. Karen, excellent post! The teensy bit I did was great fun, and I think it's a terrific anthology. Thank you for all the hard work you put into it - and for the original idea and push. Well done!

  18. Like Debs, I'm so impressed with the organizational skills you possess and used during the process of creating the anthology. And, thanks, Karen, for outlining so clearly the steps involved in turning out a successful compilation of authors' works. This book sounds like a great read, and so, look out TBR pile, here comes another one.

    Oh, and Hank, in view of your recent editing of Writes of Passage, I have only one question. Do you ever sleep?

  19. Karen, Congrats on CAROLINA CRIMES! I was lucky enough to work on the first Guppy Anthology, and now the Los Angeles Chapter of SinC has a call out for our next anthology: LADIES' NIGHT. Great to hear of the success you've had with yours.

  20. Hi Karen! Congrats on Carolina Crimes. The chapter is fortunate to have you in charge.

    Like any group project, some members play more nicely than others. I'm in the middle of editing my 7th short story anthology. I think the phrase "Please remember, there are 22 of you and 1 of me" will be emblazoned on my tombstone.

    Just kidding--anthologies are a lot of work, but when the stories start rolling in, it is such fun. I am always blown away with how x number of writers can interpret a single theme xxx number of ways.

  21. Wow, this is amazing. I'd love to have SinC Portland do an anthology, but I shudder at the thought of all the work!

    I'm curious about the two authors who declined to make changes -- did their stories not go into the anthology then? If that's the case, they missed a great opportunity. Professionalism counts for a lot (if lack thereof was what the issue was).

  22. Thanks for all the great comments. Jungle Red readers are the best! And no, Kathy, Hank doesn't sleep. Not much, anyway.

    You all had two questions. Hallie - wish we could've had a panel at Malice - there were 4 of us there - but it didn't happen. Probably my lack of planning. But a Malice program on anthologies in 2015 is a great idea.

    Lisa - that's right, the two stories weren't included. One author said she didn't have time to revise. The other disagreed with most of my requests. I wished him good luck in placing the story elsewhere.

    Molly Weston has asked me to expand this post into an article for inSinC. Your comments have given me ideas I can use. Thanks!

  23. A few years ago I ran across an old (maybe 20 years old) anthology at a library book sale. I can't remember the name of the anthology but the contributions were all written by women mystery authors. And that's how I discovered a lot of people who are now among my favorite mystery writers!

  24. Deb, I have a 1988 anthology called "Lady on the Case" which is fantastic - Paretsky, Grafton, Christie, Muller, Eberhart, Davis, McGerr and Dunlap.

  25. Sounds like it was worth it. :)

  26. I read anthologies now—since discovering New England Crime Stories 2013: Blood Moon last year. This year I bought New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold. Wow! Now I must get all of them!

  27. Used to find lots of anthologies such as Cozy Cat Crimes and a lot of stories that appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I have quite a few books of new Sherlock Holmes stories. Haven't found many good ones in recent years. The Mammoth Books are good. They have all kinds.

    I've heard that contracts can be complicated. I think we skipped that chapter in Legal Terminology.

  28. Following up on my offer of a free copy of Carolina Crimes, I drew the name of one commenter at random. Congratulations, Susan McNeil!
    I will email you to get a mailing address.

  29. Spelliing-challenged...Susan MACNEAL