Writer Advice: How to get accepted into an anthology (or not)
The short story. That fascinating nugget of an idea that won’t crawl past 3,000 words, but won’t just get back in the closet either. A theme or character outside of an author’s comfort zone itching to get out. Anthologies are also the perfect way to build a publishing record. That little bio in the end can sell a few books if readers like a particular story. But how to get in? How to get a story accepted? There are no hard and fast rules. Here are a few tips from an editor that might just help somewhere along the line–
1) This will seem obvious, but it’s one of the most overlooked in the submission process. Read about the publisher. You’ve got a story you know is brilliant. You’re excited to get it out there. BLAM! Hit that email send. Your gothic vampire story is now in the submission pile of a publisher specializing in gore/ splatter horror. A good fit? NO! It may take months to get rejected and you start all over. Our anthologies focus on atmosphere, suspense, and tone rather than gore. A serial killer/ slasher story isn’t going to find a home here. Know the publisher going in.
2) On a very related note, look into the anthology as well. Most (not all) anthologies are themed to some degree. Mummies, Lovecraftian, an image prompt, graveyards, heavy metal songs… the list is endless. Some are broad, and others are very specific. Don’t just send your latest and greatest out. If the theme is graveyards, you might have something that fits. If the theme is ‘stories based on heavy metal songs,’ now’s not the time to dust off that zombie story (unless it can be modified, of course).
3) DO NOT BE AFRAID! Don’t be afraid to step out on a limb now and then. Remember that editors get hundreds of submissions for a single anthology. What makes your story different? What’s going to make it stand out? Good writing is essential, but there has to be something just a little more. Let’s say the theme for Anthology X is nightmares and dreams. Very broad, but you’d be surprised how many people will fall back on the “he goes to sleep and this monster appears in his dreams” narrative. By the fifth submission, an editor checks out on that idea (to say nothing of the fiftieth such story). Your story might be good, but the idea’s lost its sheen. After the seventh “virus unleashed in a lab accident” for an environmental horror anthology, there’s nowhere left to go with that concept. An editor is looking for variety in the stories featured, so don’t be afraid to be the little devil out there to deliver.
4) Write a proper submission email. I see an email come into my inbox (along with two dozen others). There’s no body text, I don’t recognize some strange gmail name, and there’s an attachment. My first thought? VIRUS! The next action is the delete button. “Hey, check out my story. Hope you like it.” My name is not ‘hey’ and do you have a name? Multi-colored fonts, clever sayings, twenty point fonts, and graphics annoy. They do not catch anyone’s attention. Like any other profession, there are standards and expectations.
5) If an editor says he/ she likes the story, but would like to see some changes, do not get ruffled. You might not like the changes. That’s okay. You can pass on them and take the story elsewhere. That’s an author’s creative right and any good editor will respect that. But think hard before you do. There’s interest right here and right now in the story. Do you want to wait another six months on it? Remember that an anthology is a collection of stories and the editor is at the helm. Anthologies are different animals from novels. The editor has read all the stories and sees the overarching vision for the collection. What will make this story better for the entire collection? Those changes to your story might make it fit just that much better with the theme. The pacing might match the stories around it better. Most good editors will tell you why they want the changes made. Ask. Communicate. Remember point number four here. If you don’t want to make the changes, state it professionally. Any good editor will respect the artist, but think before you jump off the ‘no way’ cliff.
This is not a be-all/end-all list. Other editors and publishing houses may have different tips. These are the top five on my list. I love the short story format. It provides authors with a chance to experiment, challenge new ideas, and run amok! Seek out the anthologies that speak to you, take these tips, and RUN!