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Awesome Anthology: 10 Not-So-Easy Steps
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by Karen Pullen

In the early spring of 2013, I convinced 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 want to take on such a task, know these ten steps to success.

1. Recruit awesome help. See all the names below? It helps to have a village. SinC members are so smart, hard-working, and reliable that this step was easy.

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.

(The "sex" theme segues very nicely into what I'll propose as themes for TriSinC's next two anthologies: drugs, and rock and roll).

3. Solicit stories.  SinC has guidelines: Submissions must be open and blind from SinC members; monetary compensation to the author; stories must be original, never before published. We sent our solicitation to the 170 members of SinC who lived in North or South Carolina. Names were gleaned from the SinC member database and email addresses then uploaded to an email program.

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

We devised a scoring scheme which I’d be happy to share. Each story received three sets of scores and comments, and as you’d expect, the results weren’t necessarily consistent. Overall, outstanding stories scored well, marginal stories scored low.

Those rejected had one or more of these qualities: too much material for a short story (a novel crammed into 4,000 words); the first chapter of a novel; plot problems, e.g., no ending, not credible, too convoluted; offensive (by “offensive”—I think you’d agree if you’d read it.) This phase was challenging; I know what it’s like to receive a rejection.

5. Edit the accepted stories. I marked the accepted stories and asked the authors for revisions. Two declined. The remaining 19 stories went back and forth, many times—polishing, tightening, adding, subtracting, improving. Working with these authors was a pleasure. If they gnashed their teeth and turned purple after yet another email from me, I didn’t know it.

The editing process was revelatory. I had edited non-fiction and technical books and had belonged to writing critique groups for years; but, knowing that my name would be on the cover of CCLLL seriously focused my attention on making each story the best it could be. I detested backstory, removing it wherever I saw it. Why, oh why? I’d think, deleting the main character’s unfortunate childhood and family members who had nothing to do with the story arc.

I blue lined explanations and tightened wordiness, reduced multiple points of view, insisted on additional scenes or a bit of description: just being your ordinary power-hungry editor—but flexible, if the author was insistent enough. It’s a tug of war, the dynamic between editor and author, and some- times compromise is necessary.

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. This is a nail-biting phase that can last an indeterminate period.

8. Negotiate a contract and cover. Most of the terms were acceptable, standard for an anthology. The authors kept rights to their individual stories. Royalties go to our chapter. We asked for extra copies to send to reviewers and a free copy for each author. We solicited blurbs for the back cover from some good people: Hank Phillippi Ryan, Kaye George, Tamra Wilson, and Barb Goffman. We worked with Wildside to design a cover—they were SO easy. There were lots of back- and-forth on details, but no roadblocks.

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

10. Hold your baby in your arms. Then show it to the world. I had a lot of fun creating a book trailer. I talked it up at Malice, and 11 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 newspaper review called it “delicious.” This step requires group participation, time, and energy—but it’s fun and rewarding.

Looking Back

When we began, we had no idea whether we’d end up with a real, live book. Would we get any submissions? Would the authors be willing to work on revisions? Could we get blurbs, an intro? Could we find a publisher? Would the publisher allow us cover input? Would the project suck up our lives for years? (Actually, a few months . . . )

Carolina Crimes is available in paper and e-book format from online retailers and your local bookstore.

[A shorter version of this article first appeared as a guest post on the blog Jungle Red. We also ran this article in our inSinC quarterly September 2014 issue. You can open the two-page article here.]

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 NC.


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