As I send the Suspended in Dusk anthology off to James Roy Daley at Books of the Dead Press for publication, I think now is probably the right time to look back on the experience and see what lessons I learned. So I guess this post is as much for my benefit as it is for all you guys and gals. I think, ultimatley, these piece of advice are values based and really translate to anything in life.. or at least to writing and publishing generally. Editing a short story anthology was a truly educational experience for me and here is what I learnt.
1. Aim High
When I started this project, originally with my dear friend Nerine Dorman, I thought I’d see whether I could get a favourite author of Nerine’s (Angela Slatter) to submit a reprint story. I contacted Angela and told her about the project, told her how we’re great fans of her work. I then told her that it wasn’t a pro-paying market and that I understand if she’s not interested but I was wondering if she’d contribute a reprint. Well guess what? Angela offered to submit a BRAND NEW STORY. A brand new story from a British Fantasy Award winning author… in my anthology? No way?? YES WAY! ❤
This then lead me to think … “Well.. if I asked Angela nicely and she said yes.. what happens if I ask one of the other great authors I admire? The worst they can do is say no, right?” Wrong. The worst they can do is actually not even respond, which I did learn. But that’s cool. Some didn’t respond, some responded and said no for various reasons. And you know what..? Some said YES. Specfically… British Fantasy Award and Bram Stoker award winner Ramsey Campbell. Bram Stoker Award winner John Everson. Super disturbo writer, Shane McKenzie. Editor extraordinary and self-publishing powerhouse, Rayne Hall.
What a coup!! And how did I achieve it all? Aim high. Hell, go for the freaking throat, man. Just don’t sell yourself short or be all half-assed about it.
2. Connect. Network. Reach out.
I call this anthology a triumph of networking. Both classic and in the modern social media sense. The majority of the writers that I invited to this anthology were via Twitter. Twitter is an awesome place to meet other people and writers in particular. Don’t ask me why but they love Twitter.
In addition to Twitter, as discussed, I reached out to well known writers via email. For the most part it was via the contact section of their websites. Sometimes I even emailed their webmaster and nicely asked if they’d forward on a message to the writer. They did. This is how I met some writers who contributed stories and how I reached Jonathan Maberry who read and endorsed the anthology with kind words.
I also sent out a call through my local writing group, Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, and to the Litreactor community and some of my writing friends I’d made during classes on the site. I was also able to approach one a writer who teaches at Litreactor through the site’s admin team and was able to ask them about writing an introduction to the anthology. Month’s later, they had a read of the final product and agreed and wrote a fantastic introduction. (can’t say yet who it is, but I’m super thrilled by this).
What was my secret? Read on, dear reader. It’s covered in the next point.
3. Be Gracious, and don’t be an ass!
One of the best piece of advice I’ve received.. succinct, to the point, and utterly true… was from Angela Slatter: Don’t be an ass. Whether it’s in life or in the publishing business, everyone appreciates basic courtesy and basic manners. If you’re going to approach someone and ask for something (especially an established or professional writer) … it’s you who is asking them. It’s you who wants something. They don’t owe you any favours. Hell, they probably don’t even know you. Be nice. Ask politely. Be friendly. Good manners don’t cost you a cent, sprinkle that shit around liberally. Don’t just ask nicely, thank people for their time. Everyone lives a hard life. Everyone has jobs and kids and obligations. These people are taking time out of their lives to work with you on your project. Nobody owes you anything. Be gracious. Say thanks.
4. Do your best work
without wanting to sound too preachy or pompous: Always do your best. When I started the project I felt like I was a little in over my head. So what did I do? I started the editing rounds and focused on what I knew I was good at or what I was most confident in. As I progressed, I polished up on my grammar, the elements of style (I even read The Elements of Style!), and tried to really hone my critical analysis skills and my understanding of story mechanics etc. In the subsequent rounds, I implemented this new knowledge and allowed myself a little more latitude to request developmental edits or to query writers on matters of style . Boy did it pay off. I’m a much better editor now. I’m much more confident with grammar. I’m much more confident and excited about editing my own fiction now. And I’m much more confident that I understand what makes a good story and my ability to assess that.
Moral of the story? Do your best. By really working your hardest and pushing the boundaries, you hone your existing skills and you open yourself up to new abilities and new vistas of awesomeness. Just do it.
4. Roll with the punches
When I started the Suspended in Dusk project, I originally intended to co-edit it with Nerine Dorman, who is one of the editors at Dark Continents Publishing. Nerine and Dark Continents were sadly unable to continue with the project and it all looked like it was done and dusted. By this point, however, I had already taken submissions from around 60 authors and was in the process of shortlisting and finalising the Table of Contents. I won’t lie.. this was crushing for me. Projects not going ahead are relatively common in the publishing industry.. but I felt like I’d come so far. Not only was I heavily emotionally invested in the project, I didn’t want to let all the authors down. Nor did I want the embarassment of going back to many of the well known industry veterans and saying “hey, sorry, shows off!”.
So what did I do? I pitched it to another publisher. And when they had a long look at it and decided to pass, what did I do? I pitched it to another bloody publisher.
The end result? Suspended in Dusk found itself a worthy home at Books of the Dead Press, a respected North American small press.
I can’t even begin to describe how satisfying and rewarding it is to have perseverance like that pay off. This is how PhD grads and olympic athletes and novelists must feel.
Wow. Just wow.
There will be times that you look at your writing or the book your editing and think: “When will this end?” or “I’ll never finish this.” or “I can’t even focus my eyes anymore.. I’m blind! I”M BLIND!”
Ignore this. Take a break. Rest your eyes. Focus on your own writing for a while. Watch some TV or kick back with a friend. Get a friend to proof what you’ve done to prove you’re not going mad.
Do all of these things, but don’t give up. One of the great truths in life is this: After every hardship, there is ease. This truth is constant, no matter how morbid you want to get with it.
Eventually, things get better. You wake up more rested and the blurry words are clear. You have another read of the story and you capture the filter words you missed the first time. You get through the first round of edits and the second round is comparatively easy because you’ve torched all the really horrible grammar and its a pretty solid set of stories now.
You push, you keep on at it, you sink your teeth into the jugular for one last dogged shake. And in the end you know what? You’re done. It’s finished. Book complete. You win.
Congratulations! You just finished writing your novel. You just finished editing your novel. You just finished editing your anthology or painting that piece of art you’v been toying with. Hell, maybe you finished cleaning your room and your mum is finally off your back. ENJOY IT. Celebrate. Read a book. Smoke a hookah pipe. Go out for a few drinks or paint the town red. You earned it. You’ve beaten the boss at the end. Achievement unlocked.
Just don’t forget points 1-5