Alright guys! Today’s post will not only be fun (and it really is, make sure you watch the video!) and will also be educational! You don’t believe me? Ever dreamt of knowing what anthologies are all about? How they were put together? Well I’ve always wanted to know! So when Ellen Datlow, editor of Teeth and Naked City, accepted to join us for the Paranormal Spring Break I jumped on the occasion to ask her all of my questions! Also, stick around until the end for a giveaway!
We are seeing many "Edited by Ellen Datlow" anthologies and I’ve always wondered what exactly does it mean? What’s your role exactly?
–The most basic thing it means is that I choose the stories and buy the rights to them for the anthology from the writers. But the process of editing an anthology is much more than that.
First of all, there are several different kinds of anthologies that I edit. I recently edited two reprint anthologies, one of which was non-theme, covering an historical period of time –Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror– and one themed –Tails of Wonder and Imagination –with cat stories originally published between 1977 and 2009).
For Darkness, I started with a list of writers whose work I wanted to be in the book. There were almost eighty writers on that list. I added the titles of my favorite stories by those writers. I was allowed about 150,000 words so I started eliminating stories and writers until I ended up with 153,000 by twenty-five writers.
For Tails of Wonder I wrote a list of cat stories that I’ve loved, written in the past 25 or so years. In addition, I put out a call all over the web for suggestions. When I wasn’t getting all the stories I needed, I contacted writers whose work I enjoy and asked if they happened to have published any stories about cats: domestic, wild, small, large, or mythical. At least one writer insisted he hadn’t written a cat story until I reminded him that I had taken one for The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror several years previously. (it was about jaguar men in Africa).
I also edit the Best Horror of the Year—a reprint anthology covering one year at a time. This is closer to Darkness in my approach to the project. For The Best Horror of the Year I read short stories throughout the year in sf/f/h/mystery, and some mainstream/literary magazines, anthologies, and collections. From those I pick 140,000 words worth of stories –during the year, as I read a story I really like, I asterisk it during the year as one of my favorites. Toward the end of the year I reread and reread those favorite stories over and over again until I eliminate everything but those that will be in the anthology.
Finally there are original anthologies, the ones like Teeth (which Terri Windling and I co-edited) and Naked City. I’ll explain what I do for that kind of anthology when I respond to question 3.
Anthologies are amazing because it gives us the opportunity to read material from many great authors all in one book, but how do you choose which authors to include in it?
—No matter what kind of anthology I’m editing I will acquire stories by writers whose work I admire and love. I edited the fiction at OMNI Magazine for seventeen years and at SCIFI.COM for almost six years. Plus I’ve been editing horror “best of the years” for 25+ years. During that time I’ve come across stories by hundreds of writers in science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and mainstream.
Unlike when I worked for magazines/webzines and had slush readers, I don’t have the time to read unsolicited manuscripts, but my experience has given me a very wide net to draw from for my anthologies. And I do try to keep up with the promising writers I hear about who are outside my range of current (horror) reading.
What’s the whole process like? Pick a subject, then authors, etc.? Can you enlighten us, mere mortals? *winks*
–Picking a fertile theme for an anthology I’m pitching is very important. It’s crucial that it be broad enough to encompass a variety of stories within that theme. In order for my finished anthologies to be satisfying to me and my readers, the theme must be something that interests me.
In order to sell an anthology, the editor usually needs a few big names attached to any project. I try to contact writers whose work I love and who I believe can write a really interesting take on the theme. If the anthology is sold I’ll go back to the writers whose names I used in the proposal and send them guidelines: when the book is due, the pay rate (which is entirely dependent on the advance I get for the anthology), what word length I’m looking for, and more details about the kinds of stories I’m looking for. I’ll also approach more writers—about one third more than I actually need for any given anthology, because invariably some of the hoped for contributors drop out because they don’t have time or don’t have a good idea, or started writing a story that wasn’t coming out right. Also, a few of the stories might be rejected by me because they don’t work as stories or don’t work for the book.
During the approximately nine months that I’m awaiting submissions, I will occasionally contact everyone to remind them that they’ve promised me a story, ask them how it’s is coming along, and remind them of the due date.
If I discover that I’m receiving too many of a particular type of story I’ll urge those who haven’t yet started their story to take a different tack. It’s my job as editor to be proactive and ensure that the final table of contents is varied in voice, tone, subject matter, and other elements of good storytelling.
As stories come in I make decisions about each one: Will I accept or reject it outright or will I work with the author on major revisions? Some stories have terrific potential but need work. I point out any problems I see with the story, make suggestions, and ask questions. The writer and I may go back and forth several times (through complete revisions) about what needs fixing until we’re both happy with the final result
Finally, before I submit the entire manuscript to my in-house editor, I’ll give each story a careful line edit to make sure I didn’t miss anything like overuse of words and phrases and other textual issues. This is very different from the copy edit and proofreading that a finished ms gets once it’s in production.
There are the mechanical things an editor does: sending out contracts and paying the contributors, rounding up bios that need to be as up to date as possible for when the book comes out (about a year after handing the book in to my in-house editor). Creating the copyright page. This last is done after I’ve bought all the stories (usually between 100,000-150,000 words) and decide on the table of contents.
The Table of Contents provides a guide to how an anthology should be read. Although I realize that some readers just look for their favorite authors to read first or might dip into an anthology haphazardly, the editor needs to assume that most readers read the stories in the order in which they appear.
So for the first story I might take something that I feel defines the theme or maybe just something intriguing enough (and not too dense or complex or experimental) to bring the reader into the anthology. I might put the story or stories that I think have a good punch at or near the end. Or use a particular last story as a grace note. I try to vary length and tone and complexity. Maybe put a long one or an experimental one in the middle (when you hope the reader is already hooked and so ready to deal with oddities).
How do you choose the final title? Do editors have a say? Are you the hand of god, or does the publisher hold the strings?
Usually the title is as important to selling the book as the proposal and who will be in the book. I believe both Teeth and Naked City were at least partly sold because the publishers thought the titles were catchy. Terri Windling, my co-editor for Teeth came up with the idea. I came up with the title. With regard to Naked City—I came up with the title after brainstorming at a dinner party with non-publishing friends. The genesis of other titles has sometimes been agonizing. A Whisper of Blood, the title of my sequel to Blood is Not Enough, (adult vampirism) was the result of a five hour drive from Boston to NY with my editor. The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy was agreed upon by me and my publisher while I was almost finished with the anthology and none of was happy with any other titles suggested.
The only really terrible experience I’ve had with the publisher over a title was when the title of my UK anthology of revenge and vengeance was changed from Wild Justice to Lethal Kisses by the publisher, because he thought the implication of erotic horror (which the anthology was not) would sell more books. The anthology tanked and was never sold in the US.
I guess you could say that because the publisher holds the purse, he holds the strings, but once an anthology is sold with a specific title, it’s rare that the publisher will change it.
Teeth will be releasing in April, and I’m really excited about it! Can you tell us a bit more?
Terri and I are both very excited about the book too. We deliberately wanted to edit a “non-sparkly” vampire anthology, one that would put some of the menace back into the creatures of the night. That’s not to say there’s no romance—there is –for example, in Tanith Lee’s gorgeous story “Why Light?” Several of the stories are bittersweet, concerned with loss and with friendship and what both can mean for mortals and vampires.
The contributors hail from all over the fantasy and dark fantasy field. Suzy McKee Charnas, author of the brilliant novel Vampire Tapestry writes about the tradeoff made by becoming a vampire, Australian star Garth Nix writes about a time when vampires have been domesticated –to a point. Jeffrey Ford writes about a strange ritual brought to the United States from a foreign land. Neil Gaiman writes of the loneliness of being a vampire. And there are plenty of other great stories by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, Cecil Castellucci, Melissa Marr, Kathe Koja, Catherine M. Valente, Christopher Barzak, Ellen Kushner, and others.
By the way, if you haven’t yet seen it, I hope you’ll check out the videos made of me and Terri and most the contributors responding to two crucial questions:
Would you like to be a vampire for a month?
What attribute of a vampire would you like to possess?
Naked City is also right around the corner (and I have to mention what a gorgeous cover it has!), what’s to expect with this anthology?
Naked City is a big (almost 150,000 words) anthology of all new urban fantasy stories.
To provide some background, “urban fantasy” originally referred to fantasy written in reaction to the works most popular up to the early 1980s– high fantasy imaginary worlds with medieval trappings. Instead, some writers began to inject magic into contemporary times and into urban settings– both real and invented. Examples are Mark Helprin’s A Winter’s Tale, John Crowley’s Little, Big, Charles de Lint’s Newford stories, and Emma Bull’s War for the Oak. Terri Windling was influential in the sub-genre’s “founding” by creating Borderlands, a shared universe original anthology series set in an imaginary city in which humans and magical creatures could meet and interact.
Urban fantasy as we have come to know it today combines the often dark edge of city living with enticing worlds of magic.
The stories in Naked City are by traditional urban fantasists such as John Crowley, Delia Sherman, and Ellen Kushner and by newer writers who have made their chops in the current urban fantasy craze –Melissa Marr, Holly Black, Jim Butcher, and Patricia Briggs. Plus writers such as Elizabeth Bear, Pat Cadigan, Lucius Shepard, Richard Bowes, and Caítlin R. Kiernan, who all have their hands in many genre pies.
The stories take place in cities ranging from New York, London, Berlin, and Las Vegas to brilliantly imagined fantasy cities.
I’d like to think I’ve put together a mix that will appeal to avid readers of both kinds of urban fantasy
What project are you currently working on?
–Terri Windling and I are working on a young adult dystopian anthology called After. The book will be handed in this summer and should be out some time in 2012.
I’m also working on The Best Horror of the Year Volume Four.
Terri and I have a couple of proposals being considered by publishers. One adult and one young adult.
And I have a few ideas that I hope to sell on my own.
You’ve been in the industry for a while now, if you had to give the ultimate tip to a debut author, what would it be?
Don’t rest on your laurels. Start writing your next story, your next novel. Consider writing a few shorts stories to keep your name out there while you’re working on your next novel.
Thank you very much for your time! I’m really looking forward to your answers, I’ve always wanted to know more about anthologies =D
Thank you so much Ellen for taking the time to answer my questions enlightening me! Also loved the video, Neil Gaiman rally cracked me up lol
I have one ARC of Teeth to giveaway!
Please take note: If you live outside of Canada, you might have to pay shipping for that prize, if I don’t get enough donations to cover the shipping cost
To enter, just leave a comment letting me know if you’d like to be a vampire for a month and why ^^
Don’t forget to include a way to contact you!
If you want to earn an extra entry, spread the word and provide a link in a different comment =)
Tweet: WIN! ARC Teeth – Vampire Tales #paranormalspringbreak hosted by @tynga & @parajunkee #giveaway http://bit.ly/g43Gt3 PLZ RT
Ends April 6th, 2011.
To anxious? You can purchase Teeth books here: