I love writing for and submitting to anthologies. I’ve had so many story ideas popping around in my head over the years, but there’s no way they all are good enough to adapt into full novel form. So a good place to share a short story is a prime opportunity for me to get some fun writing done.
So when I had the opportunity to edit an anthology myself, I was incredibly excited! That process is of course happening now, but I have seen a few other editors tell their tales of the slush pile. I found these so helpful in figuring out what makes submissions stand out and how to choose the stories I did for my own anthology. So I wanted to share a bit myself in case it helps others.
Now that we’ve got the introduction out of the way, let’s get to talking about the anthology! The theme in general was about game shows, Survivor, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, things like that. There is so much potential for where you can go with it in terms of themes and I certainly saw a lot of them! The other part was that all of the characters in these stories were anthropomorphic animals. So we had the opportunity to see what kinds of animal features might help someone have an edge on a show.
So onto the story choosing process itself. I took advice from several other editors who have worked in anthologies on how to approach this. I’ve edited other things like articles before (I was the editor in chief for a large website even) but this was different. I read every story twice, making sure to not know the authors of the stories. I didn’t want any preferential treatment of friends, even on accident.
From there, I rated the stories based on my first impression. Was it just as good the second time through? Reading the stories more than once really helped me see which ones would stand out in the collection, so I rated them on that second reading too.
A few specific things stood out to me from the stories I ended up accepting:
The story didn’t focus on a contestant playing on the game show itself.
Of course, plenty of the stories I accepted did, but because those were the majority of what got sent in these stories stood out even more. Seeing things behind the scenes from a producer’s point of view, someone who watched a show and loved it so much it inspired their career, things like that brought to life different kinds of stories. I’m going to remember this for my own future submissions, take the themes into different perspectives when possible.
- They decided to tackle a stronger or darker theme
I certainly accepted stories with a more playful tone, this is about game shows after all, but a few stories decided to go darker, or tackle some big themes. They stood out incredibly strong to me. I hadn’t expected such a strong horror story selection to choose from as an example. I think these stories are going to knock some socks off in an unexpected way and make this collection of stories even better.
- They provided a solid variety of stories
This one is probably obvious, but if I only included stories about trivia games, the anthology would be boring fast. I collected things from a huge variety of game shows so we don’t get into a rut with stories. There’s a transformation story, horror-esque, romance, drama, a lot of different tales.
- They worked together cohesively to make a strong reading experience overall
This one may be weird, but follow along. I could have chosen only very serious stories tackling some huge theme. I could have kept things very comedic too! However, I wanted to make sure when all the stories were together in print, things made sense. Do we have a lighter story to let readers recover after reading some horror? Do we have NSFW stories to even make an “After Dark Network” section? Things like this.
It actually was a challenge, especially as we did allow stories that were for 18+ readers only. Mixed anthologies have to strike a balance on how much of the safe for work is in against the not safe for work.
To make that work, I reached out to an author of one story to see if they would make adjustments to maybe fit into that section more too so we could round out the anthology more. At worst, I can settle down and write a story to help, although that’s already happening in a way. I wanted to make this anthology special, so the introductions to each story was planned to tell a story all on its own that you got to see how it ended if you got through the whole anthology. I know how many people pick up a book and never finish, so it’s an experiment to see if this might help get readers all the way to the end.
In the end, it looks like I have eight fantastic stories to hopefully feature, not including the curious introduction story I have to work on myself. I hope this gave you a bit of an inside look at how an editor might choose their stories so you can have a better chance of getting that acceptance letter. I’ll try to talk about the actual editing process too, but I have to get to work on getting that done first! So I hope you stay happy and safe until then. Keep reading, keep smiling!