Happy book birthday! A word on creating an anthology

Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts is the first anthology I’ve created as an editor – and what a wild ride it was. I co-edited with award-winning author Chris Mason, who I’d not met or talked to prior to this experience. What a way to get to know someone – it was certainly an ordeal by fire! Between mid-December and the end of January, Chris and I read 200 submissions and edited 60 poems and stories – just under 60,000 words. There were days full of email communications, other days with phone calls and Facebook chats. We read each story and poem submitted, most of them several times. We didn’t always agree, often having to revisit stories and reread to find what the other person saw in it that we didn’t. We had long lists, short lists, possibly rejected and definitely rejected lists, and over the six weeks the call was open, things moved with some fluidity between categories. But, we got there, almost all of a sudden. In the week before submissions closed, the theme and categories were clearly established, and the anthology began to really take shape.
I would also like to thank all the other people who helped complete the task: first thanks has to be to Chris Mason. It took longer than either of us thought and she just pushed everything else aside to get it done. Everyone else: The proofreaders: Liz Charpleix, Rebecca Fletcher, and Tyler McPherson (who can be found on Instagram: @trmcpher), the cover artist Luke Spooner, and of course, we couldn’t have done it without Steve Dillon at Things in the Well and all the authors who contributed their stories. Everyone donated time. Kudos to all of you.
When I pitched the idea of a Valentine’s Day anthology to Steve Dillon – just before Christmas I might add – I had no idea, whatsoever, what would be involved. To be honest, I was hoping he would do it and I would help. But he said, ‘It’s yours! Who do you want to work with?’ and suggested Chris Mason. It happened so fast I was saying ‘Yes’ before really thinking it through. At this time, Chris was under threat of the fires in the Adelaide Hills in SA. Thankfully, the fires caused her no harm and a few days later, Chris agreed to be co-editor. There were fires still burning in many other places when we started, therefore it was easy for us to dedicate receipts from this anthology to the victims of the bushfires.
It’s been one hell of a journey. Sure, there have been some ups and downs: missed emails, incorrect spellings, misunderstandings, even a little tension here and there. But it was a massive job with a tight timeframe, and we chucked everything we all had into it, so this was bound to happen. Now the project is complete, we are all happy with the result and still talking to each other – which is always a bonus, especially for someone with an Italian temperament (me). Would we do things differently another time? Certainly! For a start, I wouldn’t have to ask so many questions about contracts, acceptances, rejections, process, protocol and – all the other stuff you need to do when publishing a book – printing, sales, reviews and marketing. Maybe I’d also look at a longer submission period with more warning for authors – starting in … November!
As we compiled the anthology, Steve would remind me, often, about Hell’s Bells, the 2016 Australasian Horror Writers Association member magazine. Steve was president and I was a general committee member and we’d created Hell’s Bells in two weeks. Two weeks. Could it be harder than that? Could it? Apparently so! For a start, Hell’s Bells was a member magazine and had only forty submissions of 500 words – all of which were accepted. But, knowing it could be done … thanks Steve for the gentle encouragement along the way.
The thing I most loved about the submissions for this anthology was the way in which the authors took to the theme. The submission call was brief:
“The theme is Valentine’s Day, so we’re after dark, suspenseful, menacing, memorable tales of human love gone wrong, or monster love gone right!”
And we certainly received tales that suited. There were some that didn’t match our interpretation of the theme, and others that were looking for a home in a different type of anthology perhaps, but we enjoyed reading every one. As a writer, this made me realise that some submissions can be very well written, but they don’t suit the editors’ vision for their product. This is really worth remembering when you get your next rejection.
The other thing we wished for was more time to work with authors on their stories. Big take home for authors who are submitting to a call out – Don’t submit last minute! Towards the end of the submission period, we had a clear idea of what we still needed and what we already had. It would be true to say that some stories, had they come in first, may have been accepted in place of others.
We also saw so many diamonds in the rough that we would have loved to help polish, but just didn’t have the time.
When we were reading the submissions, we did not want to be influenced by publishing credits or experience and often read the introductory letter last. Maybe because of this – or certainly in part, who can really say – we’ve ended up with a collection that showcases emerging, established, literary and genre writers, all from a multitude of backgrounds and ethnicities. The stories selected transcend the standard love tropes. The characters in this collection find love in crisis, experience love that is or creates a crisis, and find love born from crisis. Once again, crisis is the catalyst that helps us find what we seek, and is why I love the speculative fiction and horror genre so much. The tales of love, in some instances, extended beyond species, gender and death. Another reason to love this genre – there are limitless boundaries.
Now, as I hold the proof copy in my hand and flick through the pages and read the stories anew, it’s like childbirth: I forget the bumpy road and all the work it’s taken to get here. I look at this new creation and know: It’s a damn fine collection.
Chris and I love Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts. We feel every piece selected adds to the narrative and makes the anthology richer for its inclusion. With this concluding thought, our wish is that you, the reader, enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed reading and compiling it.
Happy book-release day to us, and happy bloody Valentine’s Day, sweethearts!