Guest Chick: Judy Penz Sheluk

We’re happy to welcome back Judy Penz Sheluk, who offers invaluable insight into how stories are chosen – or not chosen – for an anthology. Read and learn!

For the past three years, my indie-imprint, Superior Shores Press, has published a multi-author anthology of mystery and suspense on June 18th. Each time, the process has been the same: Post a Call for Submissions in October (with a deadline of mid-January) on my website, share it on social media and various writing groups, and wait for the stories to roll in. To date, I’ve received close to 300 submissions.

As the editor and publisher, I’ve read every one of those stories at least twice. The ones eventually selected? A conservative estimate would be 12 to 15 times. That’s a lot of reading, and with that many submissions, organization is a must.

I start with an Excel spreadsheet (little known fact: I’m quite a whiz at Excel), log every story as it comes in with eight columns: Author Name, Author Email, Story Title, Word Count, Yes, No, Maybe, and a blank column for comments, where, after reading the story, I’ll enter a one-sentence blurb like “Beatles White Album, clever.” (That would refer to ‘Crown Jewel’ by Joseph S. Walker, the opening story in Moonlight & Misadventure.)

I also ask for a brief bio with the submission. Some might think this is because I’m selecting stories based on “who” vs. “what,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, I love that an author of John M. Floyd’s stature considers my little indie press worthy of his consideration, but I’ve rejected stories by some very well-known authors. I’ve also rejected stories submitted by friends. Because, at the end of the day, it’s business. It’s never personal.

Okay, then, you’re thinking. She doesn’t care WHO wrote the story. So, what is she looking for? The answer: the same as any agent or publisher. Something that surprises me. Something that makes me chuckle, cringe, or cry. Something that I’ll remember, three weeks after reading it.

Even so, that might not be enough. Culling down submissions is a multi-step process. The first rejections, while never easy, are the least difficult. The story didn’t resonate. Didn’t meet the theme. Or it had werewolves. I really don’t get werewolves.

Once I’ve culled the submissions down from 30-something to the final number (21 for The Best Laid Plans, 22 for Heartbreaks & Half-truths, and 20 for Moonlight & Misadventure), the hard work begins. Because these are all stories I really, really liked. Or at least liked enough to put on my long list.

Sometimes it comes down to word count. A balanced anthology has a mix of short, medium, and long stories. If two stories are rated equally, one at 1,500 words and one at 5,000 words…and if I need a 1,500-word short story vs. one at 5,000 words…well, the short-short “wins.”

Sometimes it comes down to premise. In the case of Moonlight & Misadventure, two stories had a premise of a guy killing his boss. Both were of equal length. One of them had to go. In the end, I picked Billy Houston’s ‘The Promotion.’ Only later did I find it would be his first publication credit. I’m honored to be the one to facilitate that.

So, that’s it in a nutshell. I’m afraid it isn’t very scientific, and it’s certainly not glamorous. But it is rewarding to know that I’m promoting short crime fiction, one anthology at a time.

Readers, what would you look for in a short story? Is there an anthology theme you’ve yet to run across that you’d like to see? Maybe it will be theme of Judy’s next collection!

About the book

Whether it’s vintage Hollywood, the Florida everglades, the Atlantic City boardwalk, or a farmhouse in Western Canada, the twenty authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of “moonlight and misadventure” in their own inimitable style where only one thing is assured: Waxing, waning, gibbous, or full, the moon is always there, illuminating things better left in the dark.

Featuring stories by K.L. Abrahamson, Sharon Hart Addy, C.W. Blackwell, Clark Boyd, M.H. Callway, Michael A. Clark, Susan Daly, Buzz Dixon, Jeanne DuBois, Elizabeth Elwood, Tracy Falenwolfe, Kate Fellowes, John M. Floyd, Billy Houston, Bethany Maines, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Joseph S. Walker, Robert Weibezahl, and Susan Jane Wright.

Bio

A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including The Best Laid Plans, Heartbreaks & Half-truths, and Moonlight & Misadventure, which she also edited.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime National, Toronto, and Guppy Chapters, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Chair on the Board of Directors.

Find the Book: https://books2read.com/u/47NPkj

25 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Judy Penz Sheluk

  1. Judy, this is such great insight into the short story process! I know some collections, like the ones for Bouchercon, start out with a roster of invited authors, leaving not that many slots for open submissions. Do you ever do invited author slots? It doesn’t sound like it but I’m curious.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Ellen, first, thanks to the Chicks for hosting me once again. I’m such a fan of you and this blog. And no, I never “invite” anyone. My first publication credit was a short mystery story in The Whole She-Bang 2 (SinC Toronto) and it gave me the confidence to keep on writing and submitting. So part of this is paying it forward. And it’s why I list every author’s name on the cover.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This is much the way it went for the anthologies I helped put together, and the one I did solo. The hardest part, for me, is turning down good stories. Really good stories, sometimes. Why? Because they don’t really fit the theme mostly, or there are too many with that plot, like you said.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Kaye, it’s tough to turn down good stories but when I send the dreaded rejection letter, I will always add a comment like “you came so close, but XX is the reason, please try XX publication.” and in a couple of cases, the author has come back to me to say they picked it up! That feels good.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is fascinating, Judy, and I’m in awe of the dedication it takes to put together an anthology. Congrats on Moonlight & Misadventure! If I were selecting short stories, I’d definitely pick the ones that grabbed me from the first paragraph.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jennifer, for sure the first paragraph is important but to me the end is everything. If it disappoints, no matter how good the rest of the story, it’s done. And I’ve selected a couple of stories simply because I loved the ending. It takes a lot to surprise me or make me laugh out loud and when something does, I’m usually committed.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So loved this thoughtful insider’s look into putting together an anthology, Judy. And thank you for bringing so many wonderful short stories before our eyes! Congrats on the new one–it looks terrific! (And the only werewolf story I ever liked was American Werewolf in London.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Leslie, I’ve loved every story in all three collections but I do think this may be the strongest yet. There is a lot of talent out there. And in my sub guidelines I say “no werewolves.” And yet…I got some werewolves!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great insight into the process. I’ve been lucky enough to land in a couple of anthologies. For me, the best short stories grab me right away and hold my attention. If I start saying, “blah, blah, blah,” I know that story isn’t for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Liz, I think with most anthologies, there’s always a story or two that won’t resonate with a particular reader. I love reading reviews where someone writes, “I didn’t get XX story” and the next review is “I loved XX story especially.” It’s all so subjective.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Judy, what a great post. Thanks for visiting Chicks and sharing these insights into the nuts and bolts of your editorial process for anthologies. I’m sure there are a lot of curious authors out there. And congrats on Moonlight & Misadventure. The title is so moody and intriguing–and also fun–that it grabbed me right away. Looking forward to reading the selections.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Judy, I also think the ending is everything. I recently read a book that was great, until the end — the ending was terrible! And it was by an author whose books usually WOW me. Thanks for visiting the Chicks today! (We ate dinner by Lake Superior tonight. I’m thinking of you dining on the Canadian side!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That dinner-across-the-lake scenario sounds like the setup to a great moonlit misadventure to me, Vickie!

      Like

    2. Hi Vicki, Superior really is Superior, isn’t it? Here’s hoping we can cross borders again in future! And nothing worse than a flat ending.

      Like

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