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Anthology Invites

When I was doing Heroes in Training, I received several polite "No thanks" e-mails from some of the authors I'd invited to participate. I remember thinking how nice it would be to get to that point.

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.



( 53 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 8th, 2006 03:05 pm (UTC)
May I strongly suggest that you rewrite this post in a way that you can make it public? I think there's a lot of valuable advice in here, and as someone who has been asked all the same questions at times, I'd love to link to it. (But don't delete this version.)

You've hit the nail on the head here, pretty much, with everything you've said.
Jun. 8th, 2006 03:08 pm (UTC)
I want to. I'm not entirely sure where it crosses the line, though. What would you suggest changing to make it publically publishable?
(no subject) - mabfan - Jun. 8th, 2006 03:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 8th, 2006 03:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mabfan - Jun. 8th, 2006 03:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 8th, 2006 03:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mabfan - Jun. 9th, 2006 11:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 9th, 2006 12:37 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 8th, 2006 03:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this; your timing is good. I had indeed been wondering how you got yourself into that kind of situation. :-)

I'm not sure I have the brass to cold-call (cold-e-mail just doesn't sound the same) editors out of nowhere, and I rarely hear about anthologies anyway, but I'll keep it in mind. I've got enough of a sales record at this point that it might be worth a shot.
Jun. 8th, 2006 03:09 pm (UTC)
"I've got enough of a sales record at this point that it might be worth a shot."

'Round these parts, we call that an understatement, ma'am.
(no subject) - swan_tower - Jun. 8th, 2006 03:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 8th, 2006 03:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swan_tower - Jun. 8th, 2006 03:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kristine_smith - Jun. 8th, 2006 03:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 9th, 2006 12:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ellameena - Jun. 8th, 2006 03:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ellameena - Jun. 8th, 2006 03:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 8th, 2006 03:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 8th, 2006 03:29 pm (UTC)
Julie Czerneda is cool. I went to her and Anne Bishop's 1-hr writing workshop at Ad Astra. When I went to her book-signing at BakkaPhoenix, I told her about my WOTF, she told me I couldn't keep such good news secret and announced it to the whole store, resulting in applause :) I'm on her mailing list and newsgroup now.

I'd love to do a story for an anthology, but I think I have better chances of getting an invite after my WOTF story comes out (making it my first pro publication).

Jun. 9th, 2006 12:32 am (UTC)
Let's see here ... a cool editor, one you've met in person, and who thought your WotF win was impressive enough that she took it upon herself to announce it to a store full of strangers. Explain to me again why you don't think you should ask her for an invite? ;-)
Jun. 9th, 2006 12:33 am (UTC)
Excellent post, and I echo Michael B. that you might eant a public post or essay out of it. Very very insightful.
Jun. 9th, 2006 12:37 am (UTC)
Look again -- the post is now public. Link away, if you wish. I've got permission from all of the editors :-)
(no subject) - norilana - Jun. 9th, 2006 12:49 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 9th, 2006 02:47 am (UTC)
Dude, thanks so much. That was a fabulous post. Boy, the internet is educational!
Jun. 9th, 2006 11:35 am (UTC)
You're most welcome. Tune in tomorrow, when I teach the secrets of folding your T-shirt, ninja-style!
Jun. 9th, 2006 03:33 am (UTC)
I don't have the guts to ask anyone to let me in--too afraid of rejection. (And also too afraid that my ideas will keep turning into chapter ones instead of staying short.)
Jun. 9th, 2006 11:30 am (UTC)
That's okay -- for you, some of us will come a-knocking :-)
(no subject) - sartorias - Jun. 9th, 2006 01:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 9th, 2006 04:10 am (UTC)
this is probably a no-brainer, but perhaps you might mention that part of professional behavior is shooting off an e-mail or message or *something* to let the editor know that RealLife(tm) has interfered so much with your writing time that you will be unable to meet the given deadline. "Mea Culpa Maxima, Hope I can do this next time."
Jun. 9th, 2006 11:37 am (UTC)
Actually, I just had to do that yesterday. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I have to decline the invitation." Between 2 other invites, a book to write, and books getting prepped at DAW, I just couldn't commit.

I'll bring this up in part 2. Both professional ways to decline the invite, and what to do if you accept and realize you're not going to make it. Thanks!
Jun. 9th, 2006 05:07 am (UTC)
Jim --

I'm linking to this essay from the TCSF Writers Network site... I will note that my one anthology invite came as a result of asking Mike Resnick point-blank if he could let me know about anthologies... He told me he did not have anything that fit me... And then a month later told me to send him the best story I had. (He did not say what it was for, mind.)

I recently asked another editor how I could swing an invitation. She told me "Get this straight. I solicit you... If I decide you are worth soliciting. You do not solicit me."

I shrugged and said, "Fair enough. I'll just have to make myself irresistible then."

She stopped, and looked at me surprised. And then she smiled. "Okay, you go ahead and do that."

I figured that by not taking obvious offense, I've laid some groundwork for the future. But it is much harder to deal with face-to-face rejection than with the long distance variety.

Jun. 9th, 2006 11:29 am (UTC)
Thanks for the link!

And wow ... I've never had an editor respond so harshly. But I adore your response. And I think you probably took some good steps to making yourself both memorable and irresistable right there :-)

And yeah, face-to-face can be much more intimidating. Though thinking back, the Gateways invite I got from John came after I got a chance to meet and hang out with him at a convention. Now you've got me thinking maybe I should add a bullet point about networking in-person...
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 9th, 2006 11:48 am (UTC)
You're most welcome, Aliette. Glad it was helpful!
Jun. 9th, 2006 02:07 pm (UTC)
Excellent post, Jim. Lots of good points, and things I'll definitely keep in mind for the future.

Now, erm, ::cracks whips:: back to work!
Jun. 9th, 2006 02:16 pm (UTC)
Yes sir Mister Abbamondi sir! I'll have a new progress bar posted by the end of the day. (And hopefully I'll even manage to finish this freaking draft...)
Jun. 9th, 2006 02:48 pm (UTC)
An excellent and informative post, Jim.

I would say there are three things that any writer needs to convey to editors before invites arrive:

1) The writer's name. The editor has to have a reason to remember you. Best bet for that is to follow-up any face-to-face meeting with a quick thank you note or email. Not only is it professional, but it gets your contact info into the editor's hands in a non-pushy fashion.

(My problem in this area is that most editors know my name and face, but only because I have been a publishing contracts and rights director for almost 20 years. It is very hard for them to make the disconnect between my dayjob and the fact that I am also a writer with pro credits.)

2) The writer's credits. It's always intimidating for New Writer to find an interesting way to tell Big Editor about their credits. Luckily, I've got three very funny anecdotes that go along with my sales, but it's not easy finding the right time to use them.

3) The writer's ability to work to a theme or on short notice. I doubt many writers get the opportunity you had to fill that last slot in an anthology close to deadline. Still, finding a way to communicate that you can write to a theme, or that a theme can spark a story idea quickly, is a tricky, but necessary skill. My first pro sale was spurred because I happened to be in the room when the editor pitched the theme, and I immediately had an idea for a story (several actually). When she saw my enthusiasm for the theme, she told me to write a story. It sold.

BTW, congrats on the novel sales. I hadn't heard, but am very happy for you.
Jun. 9th, 2006 02:54 pm (UTC)
Hi Sean!

Good points all. On number 3, it's strange ... I've actually done the last-minute thing three times now, for three different editors. I don't know if word-of-mouth helped there. (Hey, who do you know who can do a story in two weeks?) But like you say, if you can convey that you're able to do a good story, on theme, and nail your deadlines, that's huge.

And thanks on the congrats. I'm very happy for me too ;-)
(no subject) - mt_yvr - Jun. 9th, 2006 07:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 9th, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mt_yvr - Jun. 9th, 2006 08:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - swan_tower - Jun. 9th, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swan_tower - Jun. 9th, 2006 06:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 9th, 2006 07:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swan_tower - Jun. 9th, 2006 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 10th, 2006 04:06 am (UTC)
Thanks for the info, Jim. That actually mirrors my own experience with Slipstreams. i.e., a whole lot of chutzpah in selling myself to potential editors, a whole lot of praying, and then a few invites on-spec came my way, and while I've struck out several times, John liked what I sent him enough to buy it, and voila.

I'd have to say that the important things are
A) Be polite. Always, always be polite. Recognize that you're essentially cold-calling the editors, and you're on their turf. Take rejection well and never burn your bridges. You never know when they might change their minds.

B)Be professional. You're a writer, they need writers. But they can pick and choose. You want -them- to see -you- as reliable, dependable, trustworthy, and talented. And if you don't know what professional entails, I certainly can't tell you. It's hard to boil down to each individual.

C)Be Good. And that's where the you being a writer comes in handy. Write your best, give them your best, and pray it sells. If it doesn't, try again.

I'm hoping that I'll see more invites in the future, from those I've queried in the past, and those who might hear about me through the grapevine, and those I might meet in the future. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

You raise some very good points, and I urge anyone who reads this to take heed, pay attention, and for the love of God, don't abuse the knowledge. Wouldn't want the golden goose to stop laying invites, or whatever. :>
Jun. 10th, 2006 07:27 pm (UTC)
Excellent points all. And props for sticking with it on the on spec invites. I rejected a few of those myself, and in those cases, I think the writers gave me stories that were far, far better than the ordinary slush. In fact, I intend to invite them to try again when and if I get another anthology.

And yes -- don't piss off the geese :-)
(no subject) - oneminutemonkey - Jun. 10th, 2006 11:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 10th, 2006 02:50 pm (UTC)
Hey Jim -- thanks for posting this. It's really good stuff.
Jun. 10th, 2006 07:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Ken! I'm glad it's useful.
Jul. 16th, 2006 05:22 am (UTC)
Thanks for the great advice!
Jul. 16th, 2006 01:36 pm (UTC)
Glad it was helpful!
Jul. 24th, 2006 12:34 am (UTC)
Mr. Hines,

I enjoyed your anthology post. I've been published in a few anthologies. I'd come across an anthology market (market newsletters and online listings)and send them a reprint that looked like a good fit (after checking to see that they accepted reprints). After being published in one anthology with a reprint, I was invited to a shared world anthology by the same editor. I didn't think I'd like writing to someone else's specifications, but there was enough leeway that that wasn't a problem.

I've heard that there are too many anthologies now, and I know that some have been cancelled when they couldn't find a publisher (which is frustrating for a writer whose work was accepted by the anthology editor); but I see in the latest Science Fiction Book Club mailing that they have an anthology (it got almost a full page in the main brochure), The Space Opera Renaissance. They have them now and then, of course, often an annual Best of .... It's reprints, btw, but I think it's a good thing for writers that readers learn about anthologies. I love a good theme anthology!

( 53 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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