As we embark on more anthologies, the leadership team for the Salt City Genre Writers thought it would be useful to put together a document that outlined what you can expect and what is expected of you as you submit to each anthology.
More than anything, each anthology is designed as a learning experience to simulate the realities of professional publications you’ll find out in the wild. You’ll find that there are differences to this process based on publishers and editors, but this process is approximately what you’ll experience.
We haven’t arbitrarily decided how our anthology will work, it has been built to give you knowledge that you’ll be using to publish works outside of our anthology publications with editors in the professional world.
Our hope is that you’ll have a lot of success with the skills you learn here.
Answering the Call
The first step in any anthology is answering the call.
For our anthologies, you’ll be given a theme and/or a genre and told to let your imagination roam free. Most anthologies work in this way. You can google “anthology submissions” along with your chosen genre and you’ll find dozens ready to accept your story. (this page is a good resource of places taking short stories) Their constraints will vary but they will all have four key things:
Genre/Theme - This is how you know what your story is going to be about. For our overall chapter anthologies, we tend to have a theme that can be broadly interpreted so you can fit just about any genre into it. (To do a great right, one must do a little wrong; Some rise by sin and some by evil fall; Perchance to dream, etc.) Others can be more specific. “We are seeking horror stories about fairies performing murders at midnight.”
Word limit - They’re all going to have a range of wordcounts. Our chapter anthologies all have a limit of 5,000 words and it’s a hard cap. Some will be shorter. 1000. Some will give you an upper limit and a lower limit, say 3000-5000 or 3500-7500. Those are all pretty average.
Pay rate - Make sure they’re offering you a decent rate. Some will offer a flat rate ($75 upon publication!), others will offer no money but royalties on sales (I would avoid these, generally), others still will offer a word rate. .08 cents per word is the SFWA recommended minimum for professional publication. If you decide you want to take less, that is up to you.
Submission Fees - For the most part, you’re not going to want to pay submission fees to a for-profit publication. In the for-profit world, the money flows to the writer. In situations like that of our chapter publication, the money goes into printing and paying for the experience and feedback and supporting the education aspect. There’s a direct benefit for you paying the fee. For the most part, though, unless you’re getting something back even if you don’t get published, there’s no reason to pay a fee to submit.
Deadline - The last thing they’ll offer is a drop-dead date for when your story needs to be submitted for consideration. Do your best to have your story in at least a week early from your deadline. Editors reading and evaluating stories are frazzled from reading so many at the end of the process from people who all submit at the last minute. So, try to beat the deadline.
Once you know all of your constraints and have an understanding of what sort of pay and distribution you’re getting for your story, you can get to work on writing.
Writing and Submitting a Story
Coming up with an idea that fits the theme and word count can be difficult, but it’s also one of the most fun parts of the entire process. Spitballing ideas that could fit the theme and then plotting how to make it work at the proper length can be exhilarating and you should get to it as soon as you have your idea.
Get it out as quickly as possible and my recommendation for the story would be:
Beta Readers - Have a couple of trusted writer friends comment on the story. Have them tell you how it made them feel, have them let you know where they got lost, have them let you know what’s working and what isn’t. Then give it another once over.
Critique Groups - We have our monthly critiques with the chapter, workshop your story there. Then revise again.
Polish, Polish, Polish - You want to give it the best sheen you can. Go through all of the best-practices for self-editing. Remove unnecessary adverbs. Nuke the passive voice. Read the story over again and pretend you’re a new reader with no context, trying to understand the story for the first time.
You want to ensure that your draft of the story is the best possible draft you can make before it gets to an editor’s desk.
Once it’s polished? Make sure it’s in proper manuscript format. Here’s a handy link for that. https://www.shunn.net/format/story.html This is a handy link to have around because when you submit ANY story, it should be in this format.
Then, it’s time to submit! Send the story along via the requested route. We’re asking you to submit a google form with the story. Other places might use a service like Submittable. Others will have you submit on Medium (like our flash fiction contest.) Others require an email and a cover letter. (A cover letter is sort of like a short, short query. You write a sentence or two about your story, why you think it would be great with the publications, and a little bit about yourself.)
Then… you wait.
Acceptance or Rejection
The wait can be the hardest part.
Did I get in? Did I make the cut? Am I out? Does my story need more work?
My best suggestion for coping with this sort of stress is to write another story for another publication while you wait. Your anxiety can’t gnaw at you if you’re working on something else.
If you get an acceptance letter, hooray! Refer to that letter to tell you how to get through the next step.
If you got a rejection letter, that’s not so bad, either. One thing that took a long time for me to understand is that rejections are not always about the quality of your writing. They’re not always a reflection on you OR your story. Sometimes they’re just not quite hitting the theme. Sometimes, your story is too similar to another they’ve already accepted or scored higher so it needs to be cut.
If the writing or the story didn’t meet the minimum criteria for publication, don’t take it personally. If you’ve written another story in the interim, you know that you’ve already gotten better as a writer for the next time. If you’re getting rejections from professionals, never--EVER--respond to them. Don’t ask for feedback (they will include it if they have any to give you), don’t expect a reason, and don’t take it personally.
For the Salt City Genre Writers anthologies, we’re getting to be more competitive, so you MIGHT get rejected from the chapter anthology. If this is the case, and the writing is the issue, you’ll have the option to workshop your story, one on one, with a mentor from the chapter. You’ll be getting feedback from us regardless, don’t be offended or take it personally. We’re here to help you get better and make sure you don’t miss the next one.
The Editing Process
So! You’ve been accepted to the publication and you want to know what’s next. There are a lot of different ways editors will handle the process, but the one we use is the most common I’ve encountered in my professional life.
First off, even if you’ve offered the most clean, well-written story to a publication, there are going to be some minor edits. Sometimes, it can just be conforming it to the style guide they’re publishing the book in. Other times you might have missed some minor grammar.
It’s not often that you’re going to have a lot of structural edits required for a piece that’s been chosen for publication, though we tend to do that to accept pieces in our chapter anthologies.
What you should expect!
Notes - You’re going to receive a google document with a lot of comments and suggestions on it. You’re going to receive them from the whole editing team. Sometimes, depending on the team, those notes might be contradictory. It is your job to decipher the notes, accept the suggestions you agree with, reject those you disagree with (if you have a reason to do so) and parse the conflicts, trying your best to make the best story possible. It might seem overwhelming, but take it one note at a time and you’ll be fine.
Important reminders -
Do not take the notes personally. Sometimes they might seem precise or harsh, but everyone on the team is working to help make your story shine so it works well in the book and can win awards. If you find that a note that stings, reflect on that and remember not to take it personally, the editors are working to better your story and volunteering their time to help.
It is normal to be working with multiple editors at once, you’ll need to get used to having a lot of notes from different directions if you want to make it.
Professional editors aren’t going to sandwich complaints in compliments, don’t expect that.
Converse - The notes are not the only communication to be had with the editors. Ask them for clarification. “What did this note mean? How did this make you feel? I don’t understand this note?” etc. That’s how the process is supposed to work. It is a dialogue, treat it as such.
Deadlines - Your revisions will need to be made ON TIME! Do not be the writer asking for extra time. It is inconsiderate to the editors (especially those on a project like ours, volunteering their time to edit) and the schedule. You need to get your edits done on time. There is no harm in looking at your edits and, if you decide they’re too extensive to fix in the deadline, to withdraw. But do reach out and talk. Maybe the editors CAN work with time extensions but understand that a deadline is a deadline and they’re not obligated to offer more time.
Editors accepted the story you submitted. They give you notes and want the notes deployed. Unless they specifically ask for a rewrite DO NOT REWRITE. That is very unprofessional. If you feel you have to rewrite it, simply withdraw it or talk it over with your editor first.
Submit - Once you’ve gone through the notes and feel like the story is as good as you can make it, resubmit. We’ll have a google form to submit through, though most editors will have you simply email them a word doc.
This process might repeat one or even two more times. Just make sure you hit the deadlines, be easy to work with, don’t take things personally, and be willing to debate things you feel firmly about and you won’t have an issue.
Proofs and Publications
Once the edits are all in and the book is laid out, you’ll have one more chance to proof your story and make sure everything works. Are all the ts crossed and the is dotted? Are all of your italics intact?
This is your last chance to fix that typo that managed to make its way through the process. You will send these notes to the layout editor (in the case of SCGW anthologies, that’s me, Bryan) on a line by line basis. They’ll read something like, “On page 60, top of the page, sentence beginning with “And there were none”, there’s an extraneous e on the word “playing.””
This is not the place to do any last-minute rewrites unless you catch something major, so please don’t use it as such.
This is also the time you’ll be submitting your work for awards at the League of Utah Writers contest. Entries must be made prior to any publication of a work and, hopefully, by this point, your story is shining.
Once all of this is done, that’s it. You get to sit back and relax until the book is published and it’s time to promote it and go to the signing event. And you should make every effort to be at the signing and promote wherever you can! A rising tide lifts all the boats and we’re here to boost each other’s boats.
Then, put the book on your vanity shelf and start all over again!