Have you ever dreamed of inviting other authors to write a story in your world?
Sure, most authors are busy writing their own novel, and novels take TIIMMEEE!
But what about a short story?
A story between 3,000 to 7,500 words doesn’t take anywhere near the commitment or energy of a novel. Chances are if you have a compelling hook for your world (which I’ll talk about in a future article) I’m sure you could persuade a couple of writers to write a short story for you. Maybe in exchange for writing a story in their world?
If this sounds like a great idea then I have some good news for you.
My guest today holds a PhD in mathematics, has published a vast number of books and he is the owner of Zombies Need Brains; a small press publisher that specialises in publishing anthologies.
Let me introduce you to Joshua B. Palmatier.
I’ve invited Joshua onto the Worldbuilding School to talk about creating an anthology and specifically about how you can use them as a way to invite other authors to write short stories in your world.
An anthology is a collection of short stories written by different authors and organised by an editor into a single book.
Here’s what Joshua had to say when I spoke to him:
WBS: As the owner of Zombies Need Brains - great business name btw - can you share a little about your background and why you’ve chosen to focus on publishing anthologies?
JP: I’m a fantasy writer that just happens to have a PhD in mathematics. I teach college-level as my day job, but in my spare time for the past *coughcough* years I’ve been writing fantasy novels for DAW Books.
That all started with THE SKEWED THRONE, which came out in 2016, with the most recent novel, THREADING THE NEEDLE, coming out this past July. Along the way, I scheduled many signings, trying to promote the books.
This is all relevant because at one of those signings—a multi-author signing—I ended up in the bar afterwards with multiple authors. We were all drinking and joking and attempting to relax after the signing and at some point one of us suggested writing an anthology with a time-traveling bar and Gilgamesh as the bartender.
Everyone laughed and we moved on.
Except the idea stuck with me.
So I sat down one day and wrote up a proposal for AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, since I knew that DAW published multiple anthologies each year, all pitched to them by a company called Tekno (run by the late Martin H. Greenburg).
At the next World Fantasy Con (in Montreal), I asked a representative of Tekno how I could submit the idea for consideration. He said that if I got the proposal to him that night, he’d pitch it at his meeting with the editors at DAW the following morning.
That was my first editing sale.
Patricia Bray and I had a blast producing that book, and then a second, for DAW. But then the publishing world experienced a huge shake-up and DAW ended up cutting their anthology line back from 6-8 anthologies a year to maybe 2.
I waited to see if things would settle and they’d bring the anthology line back, but that didn’t happen, so after a few years of waiting, I decided that I should try to form a company whose sole purpose was to produce SF&F themed anthologies. And so Zombies Need Brains LLC was formed.
The short answer to your question is that producing anthologies is just fun, at least for me. I like bringing new books into the world. I like finding cool stories that fit the theme and putting them out there for others to read. I hope I can continue to do that with ZNB.
WBS: Your anthologies use fantastic themed hooks such as:
- Steampunk vs Aliens
- Robot overlords
- Alien Artifacts
Let’s say an author wanted to theme an anthology based on a world they’ve created. Would you recommend this as a good idea for an anthology?
JP: OK, there are multiple types of anthologies out there.
- There are those with no theme, that are just a collection of stories that someone thought were cool, such as “Year’s Best” anthologies.
- Then there are the themed anthologies, where all of the stories relate to some common theme, such as the ones that ZNB produces.
- Then there are “shared world” anthologies, where all of the writers are writing their own stories, with their own characters, but it’s all set in the same world, so that the editors have the additional job of making certain that none of the stories contradict each other.The most famous “shared world” anthology series is arguably “Thieves’ World,” although right now maybe it’s the “Wild Cards” series from George R.R. Martin, simply because it’s more current.
- And then you have what’s called a “mosaic novel,” where the entire book is written as a single story, although the chapters are written by different authors. This is the most complicated of the “anthologies” to produce, since it has to be an entire, coherent novel.
Essentially what you’re talking about is a “shared world” anthology.
As you can see, it’s been done before and has been highly successful. The trick is that in order for such an anthology to work, the authors involved must all be familiar with the shared world. There have to be set guidelines, agreed upon descriptions of cities, maps, landscapes, characters (if the authors are sharing characters), architecture, cultures, religions, etc., etc., etc.
This requires quite a bit of preparation on the editor’s part, although of course there has to be some leeway built into the system so that authors have an outlet for their creativity as well. And there has to be some give and take with the authors as well.
The editor has to be open to an author approaching them and saying, “I know it says that this church is built right here, but in my story I really need it to be over here instead. Can I change that?” and then allowing the writer to make that change to the editor’s world. Which keeps the editor on his/her toes, because that change may have ramifications in other stories that are going to be submitted.
So, yes, I would recommend anthologies built on a writer’s world, as long as the editor realizes that there’s going to be some extra work involved in making all of the stories mesh. The editor also needs to realize that some things in his/her world may change based on what the writers come up with. As long as there’s a solid background provided to the writers for the world, and some flexibility built into that world, then such anthologies can be highly successful.
WBS: Our author friend from earlier is ready to start their shared world anthology.
What is the role of the editor and what jobs can they expect to do?
JP: Well, the editor is essentially the one wrangling the cats (in this case, authors).
The editor needs to set deadlines for when the stories are due. Once the stories are in, the editor needs to read through the stories carefully and determine a bunch of different things.
Of course the editor should find grammar errors and typos and correct them. But it’s much more than that.
The editor needs to figure out what the author can do to make the story better.
- Sometimes this is expanding on character.
- Sometimes it’s fleshing out setting.
- Other times, it’s better explaining how the world works.
The editor should point out where the story is weak or flawed and perhaps make some suggestions on how to fix it (the suggestions should be used to highlight the problem for the author), however it’s up to the author to fix the issues. They can listen to the editor’s suggestions and use them, or they can come up with their own fixes, once they understand what the editor is attempting to change.
At all stages of the process, the author needs to realize that the editor is always trying to make the story better, but it’s their story. They may or may not agree with the editor. But it should be a collaboration to improve the story.
In the case of the shared world anthology, the editor has an extra job—making certain the stories within the collection don’t contradict or interfere with each other. For example: making certain that two stories aren’t set in the same place at the same time without referencing each other. Or making certain that, if two stories use the same setting, like a church, that it isn’t described in completely different ways.
Continuity errors like this drive readers crazy and errors are more prone to show up in shared world or mosaic anthologies. It’s the editor’s job to make certain they’re all eliminated. Sometimes this requires the editor to get the two authors to work together on their revisions.
Once the stories have been revised by the authors, it’s the editor’s job to decide the order in which the stories will appear in the anthology (unless this is obvious), which is a job unto itself. You want to start and end with strong stories that really epitomize the theme. The stories should alternate in terms of content and tone—you don’t want two dark stories back-to-back, nor two stories with werewolves back-to-back if none of the other stories involve werewolves.
Break things up and give the anthology some variety.
Once the table of contents has been established, the editor puts all of the stories together in one file, and then it’s shipped off to the copy editors (if you’re using them).
So in essence, the editor’s job is to make the stories the strongest possible by giving solid direction to the writers, and then get the anthology put together, ready for the next phase of the process.
WBS: Right, so the author (now editor) has gathered a group of writers willing to contribute to their anthology. They know the world and have agreed upon the topic for each writer’s story, along with how questions of cannon will be resolved.
What do you find is the hardest part in completing an anthology?
JP: To be honest, the hardest part of completing an anthology is the part you’ve skipped over—the funding. But if we’re beyond that, then the hardest part is probably attempting to explain to the authors what you think is “wrong” with their stories.
This is always tricky, because you’re basically saying there’s a problem and you want them to fix it, but this story is their baby. No one goes up to someone and says, “My, your baby is ugly!” It’s a similar situation with a story.
It’s rare that a story is perfect and doesn’t need some kind of revision. But how you approach what needs to be revised can be stressful.
Writers each have their own personalities and while with one you can just bluntly say, “This sucks, it needs to be fixed,” you can’t necessarily do that with everyone. So figuring out how to point out what needs to be fixed in an affirming, compassionate way . . . well, sometimes it’s hard; especially with writers you’ve never worked with before.
Once you’ve done a few stories with an author, you’ve figured out how thick their skins are and you know how blunt you can be. But for the ones you’ve never spoken to . . . yeah.
WBS: Are there any glaring pitfalls or tips that you can offer to a new anthology editor?
JP: Basically, the whole process is a minefield. At any point, you can do something or say something that will derail the process.
I think the key is that at every stage, you must remain completely professional. Treat the authors with respect.
If problems arise, sit down calmly and work them out in a professional manner. Be prepared to say, “I’m the editor, this is how we’ll do it,” but at the same time make every effort to avoid being forced to say that.
If you do have to say something along those lines, be ready to back up WHY you feel it has to be done that way. It shouldn’t just be because that’s what you want. It should be because changing something will negatively affect other authors’ stories (shared world) or because the story doesn’t fit the theme or because the story is too similar to another story in the anthology.
Basically, have a REASON for why you want the change. Typically, if you have a reason, the author will say, “Oh, I see, yeah, I can change that,” and you don’t have a problem at all. But at all times, approach the authors in a professional manner.
Thank you Joshua.
I’m sure you’ll agree there was a shed full of useful information in the answers above.
So has that whet your appetite?
Did you learn something new?
In the comments below feel free to share your ideas or even use it to connect with other authors and produce your own anthology.