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.
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