Earlier this week, I got a third anthology invite. After a dry spell of many months, I had three of these suckers in the span of two weeks. And, though it pains me to say it, I think I'm probably going to have to decline this latest one. I keep trying to convince myself I can do it, and I probably could. But I'm already stressing about the other two, I've got to get started on Goblin War, and the odds are very, very good that I'll soon have to do some editing on Goblin Hero for my editor.
To which most of you are rolling your eyes and pantomiming the mournful dirge of the world's tiniest violin. Yeah, I know. I'll shut up about it now.
Instead, I had mentioned to a few folks that I'd be happy to share what I knew about getting in on the invite-only action. I thought I had done this before, but I couldn't find it. Could be that was over on the Rumor Mill, not LiveJournal. So I apologize to anyone who's heard it before.
And I'll warn you up front, I don't know a lot. Other folks have had far better luck than I have, or have been doing it for much longer. (And for those of you reading this, please feel free to chime in and share in the comments.)
Anyway, this stuff started for me around 2003. I'm just going to spell out what I've done over the past 3 years or so. Hopefully, it will be helpful to some of you. And having talked to the editors in question and gotten their permission, I'm going to make this public. So please feel free to link, if you think it's useful...
The first anthology I got in to was Turn the Other Chick. I had seen a note on Ms. Friesner's website that she was doing another Chicks anthology. So I wrote a short e-mail introducing myself, listing a few pro sales (I didn't have many worth listing at that time), and asking if I might contribute a story. I was told I could submit, but she wouldn't tell me where. If I had worked with her before, or was recommended by someone who had, they would have the address. At this point, I had joined SFWA ... which includes a directory of members. Aha! Before I wrote the story, I re-read the other Chicks anthologies and spent days trying to come up with an idea that hadn't been done before, but still fit the theme. I ended up with "Over the Hill," a tale of three retired swordswomen trying to complete their mission while fighting both bandits and the effects of age. Lots of fun.
Around this time, a friend from my writing group mentioned that an editor was reading for a new volume of Sword & Sorceress. (Behold the power of networking.) I contacted the editor and mentioned my sale to MZB's Fantasy Magazine. (Since MZB had been the editor for the first 20 anthologies.) This was enough to get an invitation. I wrote a story, snarled at it, and threw it away. It was okay, but it wasn't kick-ass, and I really wanted to impress this editor. So I went back and reworked "Spell of the Sparrow," one of my favorite sword & sorcery tales. A year later, the editor bought it.
Both of these cases were "on spec" invites. There were no guarantees. In fact, for S&S, I'm told they had a ton of submissions, and most were rejected. I was lucky. The editor decided to go with an overall theme of animals and family, and my story had both. There was no way to predict that.
Now here's where it gets interesting. Turn the Other Chick was done through Tekno. Though this process, I exchanged a few e-mails with John Helfers ... who had just announced he would be reading for Five Star. I talked to him about GoblinQuest, and ended up sending him the book. He liked it and bought it. I said "Hooray! And hey, do you have any more anthologies coming up?"
Eventually, he gave me an invite for Gateways. This was my first real invite. I wasn't sneaking a story on to the pile; he asked me up front! Let's hear it for progress! But I still tortured myself to make it the best story possible, even moreso than I usually do for the stuff I was sending out unsolicited. I wanted to impress my editor enough that he'd invite me back the next time, dammit.
It sort of worked. He bought the story. I didn't get another invite for a long time. But in the meantime, I had been getting a bit more ambitious about this anthology thing. I looked around to see who was doing a lot of editing. I sent short, polite e-mails introducing myself and asking if they might consider me for their next project. Most of the time, these didn't go anywhere. I also e-mailed other authors I knew, asking, "Hey, how do I do this?" Basically, I was told to network, introduce myself to editors, and pray.
The next invite I got was for Fantastic Companions. Julie Czerneda was one of those editors I had found in my purely self-centered hunt for more invites. I lurked in her newsgroup for a while and discovered she was also an incredibly cool person. So eventually, I sent the "Hi, can I play in your next project?" A few months passed, and I got an e-mail invite. There were no guarantees here. The "slush pile" was smaller, but the invite-only bit meant I was competing against writers who were as good or better than myself. So I spent a while thinking about the theme, and trying to figure out all of the obvious stories. Having talked to some of the authors afterwards, I know she received several dragon stories, and had to reject all but one. Eventually, I decided to write about a young girl and her sentient, smart-ass kite. It was a little weird, but I'd bet anything she wouldn't receive two talking kite stories. She loved it.
I had continued to chat with John at Tekno, and occasionally nudged him about any other projects. I probably crossed the line into nagging, looking back. But eventually, he passed my name along to Brittiany Koren for her anthology of humorous fantasy, Fantasy Gone Wrong. Brittiany had read GoblinQuest, and I think that helped. I wrote her a goblin story, and voila: "Goblin Lullaby" should be coming out this September.
Here's where it gets even more interesting. A short time later, I got an invitation from Russell Davis (one of the editors I had e-mailed, asking if he would keep me in mind for future projects). He was also a former editor at Five Star, so knew me from GoblinQuest. He was editing If I Were an Evil Overlord, and had come up a bit short. He needed another story ... in two weeks. Could I do it?
"Sure," I said, because I was desperate and didn't know what I was getting in to. Two weeks? I did it in one. It was an ugly week, and I still don't know why my family didn't put me out of their misery, but I did it. I'm actually quite proud of that story, too. But it's not an experience I'd care to repeat.
So naturally, it happened again a short time later. Brittiany Koren had an extra spot for Places to Be, People to Kill ... how fast could I get her a story? Brittiany's a great person, and hard to turn down. In this case, I had an older story which could be reworked to fit the theme. That was a huge relief. I talked to her about it, revised the heck out of the story, and turned it in. She asked for some changes. I made 'em and crossed my fingers. She liked it. And best of all, this was a two-timer. I now had an editor who had bought two stories from me, and knew I could produce a good story on short notice.
The most recent three invites, the ones I've been stressing out about? Two were word of mouth. Someone I had worked with before, who had read and loved "Sister of the Hedge" in Realms, was kind enough to mention my name when editors invited her to be a part of their projects. This happens a lot, actually. When I was inviting people for Heroes in Training, at least four or five of the authors I talked to said, "If you're looking for people, try ________." I already had my list at this point, but I did send out one invitation based on a recommendation, and the others are still on my list for future projects.
The other invite, the one I should be writing for at this very moment instead of playing on LJ, was another project for Julie Czerneda. I hesitated, but this is another DAW anthology, and DAW is now my publisher. They pay really well. And I love Julie. This is also a last-minute deal. Once again, there's one spot left, and a fairly tight deadline ... but hey, it's Julie! And DAW!
So what conclusions do I draw from all this?
- Your odds are much, much better if you already have some pro-level sales under your belt. If you can prove you're able to write professional quality stories, an editor is much more likely to take a chance on you. If the editor has actually read and liked your work (thank you, GoblinQuest), you're even better off.
- Networking is important, much as I hate to admit it. And editors talk to one another. So to authors. Authors talk to editors, too. So be nice.
- When you get the opportunity to do this, be a pro. Don't blow the deadline. Don't turn in a dusty old trunk story (unless you revise the heck out of it to make it shiny and brilliant and new). Be polite, and show the editor that you're someone they'll want to work with again.
- There are no guarantees. This is what's worked for me, and it's been bumpy. I had three invites in the past few weeks. But I've had months go by with none.
- I've never had an editor get mad at me for politely asking if they'd consider me for a project. Don't push, don't nag, and don't pout if they say no or ignore you. Remember, the worst they can say is no. Personally, I don't feel like a big enough name for editors to notice, but I've also learned that the really big names are often too busy to write for these things, which means they need us. (Insert maniacal laugh here.)
- Make your story stand out. If three people write a story based on the same idea, there's a chance the editor will buy all three. There's also a chance they'll pick one and bounce the other two.
- Invitations aren't guarantees. Eventually, depending on the editor, there starts to develop an assumption that if you're given a full, official invite, they're probably going to buy the story. But never take it for granted, especially in the beginning.
- There are a lot more authors wanting to write for anthologies than there are anthologies. It's frustrating, but true. I've been told the anthology market has dried up a bit in recent years. I'm not trying to discourage anyone, just sharing what I've been told.
That's where I'm at, and what I've learned. I'll be very curious to see if selling the goblin books to DAW results in new invitations, once the books come out.
So ... questions? Comments? Shouting and screaming over something I wrote that's stupid or flat-out wrong?
I'm thinking of a follow-up to this. "From the Editor's POV." A few of the editors shared some thoughts when I contacted them, and I've got a few things of my own from doing Heroes in Training. But I'll save that for another time.