An Author’s Guide to Anthologies
Exploring what anthologies are, why and how to join in, and how to make one for yourself.
I don’t know about you, but I love reading anthology books. I get to pick and choose my way through a bunch of interesting pieces by authors I may never have heard of before, and find some really cool hidden gems.
If you’re an author, anthologies can be a great way to get your name in front of a bigger audience and gather some publishing credits while you work on your solo pieces. Some people publish in anthologies exclusively, making their names as regular contributors.
So, what is an anthology, and how can you benefit from being a part of one - or even creating one yourself?
What is an anthology?
An anthology is a compilation of stories, or selections from works, put together in one volume. Anthologies might have many different works from one author or they might have lots of different authors in the same genre or covering the same topic.
Some anthologies are a series; new collections come out on a regular schedule under the same series title, either on the same theme or on a different theme in the same genre. For example, a paranormal romance anthology might require all the stories to feature werewolves in one volume, and vampires in the next. Poetry anthologies likewise involve the work of many poets.
Sometimes anthologies are put together and sold for a charitable cause or to raise awareness for a certain issue; usually, in these cases, the profits from the sale of these anthologies will go toward the cause directly, and the authors won’t be compensated monetarily, though they’re usually given the standard levels of credit.
Why should you participate in or create an anthology?
There are a wide range of benefits to being a part of an anthology but two of the most important are convenience and marketing opportunities.
One immediate benefit is that it’s much easier than publishing an entire book; with an anthology, you get to have your work officially published and recognized by a larger publishing project without the hassle of querying or the headaches of self-publishing. Additionally, you only have to work on a short segment - one story, essay, or poem - rather than having to put in thousands upon thousands of words, which means that you can spend more time polishing and refining your piece and still have it out to the public faster than a full-length solo project.
Beyond that, participating in anthologies puts you in good company. Because anthologies follow themes, your work will end up featured beside authors in your genre, some of whom might be well-known names. Not only does that hold a lot of weight on your resume, but it also makes for some great networking opportunities. Anthologies are a good way for new authors to get a foot in the door with a publishing house they like or another professional they’d like to collaborate with more deeply in the future.
There are also benefits to creating an anthology of your own work. Firstly, again, it’s easier than creating a brand new project from scratch - you’ve already got the stories, essays, or poems in place, you just need to find a logical order for them. It’s also a good chance to put your work in front of new audiences. Maybe you’ve got new readers who haven’t seen your older work; republishing it as part of an anthology puts it on their radar and can help expose it to more people.
Many well-known authors have released anthologies of their own work. Arthur Conan Doyle, for example, released several story collections of his Sherlock Holmes short fiction. New York Times bestselling author and horror genre legend Stephen King is no stranger to the format either, having released several short story anthologies, or collections of novellas, like Full Dark, No Stars.
Finally, it might even be a good idea to create your own multi-author anthology. Anthologies are, as mentioned, excellent networking opportunities; if you have some pull in your market and want to get to know more people working in it, then spearheading an anthology project might just be the best way to go about it.
It’s a great boost to your portfolio; the fact that you managed to convince other authors to work with you under your banner looks great when trying to get future projects published - it means that they believe in the quality of your work enough to have their names attached to it.
If you need some more concrete examples, here are some excellent anthologies on the market that you can check out.
Chicken Soup for the Soul
Chicken Soup for the Soul is an anthology series that began in 1993 and has since released more than 250 volumes. They’re consistent best sellers, and one of the most popular anthology series in the world, having sold more than 500 million copies around the world and been translated into 43 languages.
This nonfiction anthology series compiles essays from writers all over the world about personal experiences with various topics from pets to school to loss. These stories are known for being heartfelt, touching, emotional, and often spiritual, with a feel-good vibe that uplifts readers.
The Best American series
The Best American series essentially does exactly what it says on the tin - it collects the best short stories by American authors and publishes them in an annual anthology, covering all kinds of topics from genre fiction to personal essays and nature writing. It’s been around since 1915, making it the oldest continuously running anthology series on the market today, and it's still incredibly popular - you can find Best Americans in both major retailers like Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble, and small mom-and-pop bookstores around the United States.
The most recent offering in the original series - The Best American Short Stories 2021 - currently sits in the top 100 American Fiction Anthologies on Amazon and has a 4.5-star rating.
We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction
This anthology is a little different from the others in that it’s a one-off collection. It features fascinating stories from queer writers and was specifically designed to amplify and celebrate these often-ignored individuals and their communities in a space of their own. It currently ranks in the top 300 LGBT+ Science Fiction books on Amazon and has raving reviews across the web.
The Best Short Stories 2022: The O. Henry Prize Winners
The O. Henry Awards are an annual prize given to the best short stories in the United States and Canada that were written in English. These prizes have been awarded for the last century, and each year, 20 of them are collected into an anthology that is released for general sale.
Winning an O. Henry Award is one of the most prestigious honors that a short story writer can achieve, and so being featured in this anthology is a major accomplishment. Interestingly, for the first time this year, eligibility was opened up to stories in translation. They also brought on a guest editor to select the stories - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an award-winning Nigerian writer, helped put together the latest edition.
The Star Wars Tales Series
Everyone's favorite galaxy far, far away is no stranger to anthologies. There were five Star Wars anthologies published in the 90s that tell other stories for background characters in the movies. Written by some of the biggest sci-fi writers of the time, you can learn more about the band in the Mos Eisley Cantina, or this history of the dancing girl who met her unfortunate end in Jabba’s Palace. More recently, Star Wars release two From a Certain Point of View anthologies, following background characters through the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.
How to participate in an anthology
A good way to get a feel for how anthologies work is to try and participate in one, so let’s look at how to do that.
Look for relevant projects
To submit to anthologies, you need to figure out what’s out there in the first place. Look for anthology projects that are relevant to the genres that you write in. Anthologies tend to have specific demographic targets in mind, like young adults, or operate around a theme, like fairy tales. You want to submit to a project that’s relevant to your author brand. The Writing Cooperative has some great recommendations on where you can find them:
- The Opportunities of the Week newsletter by Sonia Weiser. This is a general freelance writing newsletter and is a paid subscription, but if you are looking for places to submit your work as well as places to get freelance work, it might be a good option for you.
- Submittable’s Discover option. Submittable is a submission aggregate service that’s used by tons of different publishers, clubs, and other organizations to make gathering, sorting, and responding to submissions easy. You can use their search feature to filter for anthologies in your genre of choice.
- Genre and industry magazines. Especially nowadays, magazines for your specific niche will often have a “where to submit” section on their websites that you can check out, which will sometimes include anthologies looking for new work.
You might also choose to do some more research and get recommendations for anthologies to submit to from your network - chances are, some of your author friends know an anthology that would be good for your work, and can point you toward their submission page.
Polish your submission
Okay, once you’ve picked the anthology you want to be a part of, you need to polish the piece you’re submitting to them.
First, be absolutely certain that you’ve read and adhered to the submission guidelines, down to the formatting and any additional information you’re asked to provide. Publications seeking flash fiction will not be happy with you if you send them a 5,000 word story. Make sure your work is topical and be sure that it’s not been published anywhere else unless the guidelines specifically say that it can be, as that can lead to an automatic denial.
Beyond that, you’ll want to go over your piece with a fine-toothed comb of proofreading to ensure that it’s as good as it can be before you send it in.
Read your contract
You’ve sent in your piece and…hooray!! You’ve been accepted!!
Once your piece has been accepted into the anthology, the manager for the anthology (this might be an editor or the publisher or someone specifically hired to handle submissions) will send you a contract that states how much (if anything) you’ll be paid, when you’ll be paid, what other perks you might get (usually a free copy of the book), and what the situation is for the rights of the piece you submitted.
That last one is important. Usually, anthologies will claim first publication rights (meaning, they get to be the first to publish this particular piece) and a certain amount of time during which the piece can’t appear anywhere else. After that time, however, you’ll usually be free to use your work however you want to. In every case, you should make sure that you retain the copyright to your work, and that you will be properly credited for it in the anthology and all of its marketing material. You want to retain the rights so you have the option to publish your own book of collected stories later, and have the option to explore other opportunities, such as audiobook production or comic book / graphic novel adaptations.
Read your contract thoroughly and only sign it once you’re sure you know exactly how your piece is being used. After you sign, send it back and you’re good to go!
Promote the anthology
Now that you know your work will be included in the anthology, you should start to promote it. This is much the same as any other work you release - you’ll want to announce your involvement and let people know when and where it’ll be published, then keep promoting the anthology through its release.
Some publishers will ask you to participate in marketing campaigns or events specifically for the anthology. This is a double-boon for you - you get to promote the anthology and build your audience in one go!
How to create a great anthology
Participating in an anthology is great, but what if you want to create one for yourself? Whether you’re organizing your own works into a single-author anthology (something I did) or looking to gather works from other like-minded creators, you’ll need to have a plan.
Set up the guidelines and a submission page
If you’re creating an anthology in which you plan to include other authors, the first thing you need to do is set up some guidelines for submissions. Consider the following:
- What’s your theme? Is it a specific topic or a general genre or idea?
- What kind of work will you include in your anthology? Poems? Short Stories? Essays? Some combination of the three?
- How long should a submission be? You’ll want to keep it short - no longer than about 3000 words is fairly typical - so that you can include as many submissions as possible.
- Speaking of, how many pieces will be accepted?
- Can one person submit multiple pieces? Can one person have multiple pieces accepted?
- Can authors submit previously published works, or do they have to be brand new? Will you accept simultaneous submissions?
- What is the timeframe for submissions? When will they start, and when will you stop accepting them?
- When can authors expect to hear back about their submissions?
Once you’ve decided on the answers to these questions, you’ll need to post your guidelines on your submission page.
You can either run submissions yourself - you can do this by asking authors to submit directly to your email or through a service like Google Forms - or you can use an aggregation service like Submittable. If you think there will be a lot of responses for you to keep track of, it’s probably a good idea to go with an aggregation system simply for logistical ease.
Once you’ve got a submission page going, announce and promote it across your author platform. You may want to start talking about the anthology and your search for submissions before your submission window opens so that you can build some buzz.
Keep talking about your anthology project and your open submissions all the way through to the end of the timeframe so that you can spread the word as far as possible. Even if someone doesn’t submit, if they’ve heard about your anthology accepting submissions, there’s a good chance they’ll come back to see the finished project, so this is the first step in your marketing plan.
Review your submissions
Once submissions close, it’s time to review your submissions and choose the best entries to be included. Make sure that all of the submissions you consider have followed your guidelines - it would be unfair to accept a submission that hasn’t.
Consider picking pieces that are the most interesting to read, whether that’s because they’re structurally unique, have an engaging style, or the content is simply fantastic. When you finalize the pieces you want to accept, notify the authors and offer them a contract for including their pieces.
Organize and format
When you’ve gotten all of the signed contracts back, it’s time to actually build the anthology itself. Start by organizing your submissions in some way - you might choose to do this alphabetically, by topic, or by some other metric. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you include a table of contents that shows where each submission is in the book.
You’ll also want to make sure that everything is uniformly formatted. All of the pieces should be accompanied by the title and the author’s name; whether this appears at the top or bottom of the story is up to you, but make sure it’s the same for every piece.
Beyond that, make sure you’re following the usual publishing standards of font style and sizing; you’ll want everything to be big enough to read in the format it’s being published in (for instance, larger print for ebooks, so they can be read on smaller devices, is a good idea).
Put on the finishing touches
Now you’ll do the regular publishing things - rounds of edits (get approval from the authors first!), adding in an introduction, getting a cover designed, and all of that good stuff. Get your anthology’s synopsis drafted and ready to go and be sure that you’ve got the ISBN sorted for all formats the anthology will be published in.
When all of that’s said and done, it’s time to go live! Publish your anthology and promote it across your platform.
Market your anthology
While yes, your contributors will likely be hyping the anthology up on their own platforms, without support from you, it’s not likely that that hype will do much. You need a solid marketing plan for your anthology.
While that plan is going to differ depending on your specific platform and resources, there are a few things you can and should do across the board:
- Make sure that you’ve got a press kit - including a high-quality file of the cover image and a copy of the synopsis - available to share with your contributors and the press.
- Decide how you can reach the people most likely to enjoy your anthology - can you get a spot on podcasts, YouTube channels, radio shows, or blogs in your niche?
- Try holding special events such as a launch party, either virtually or in person, to celebrate and promote the book.
Anthologies can be an excellent opportunity to market yourself and your work, whether you’re just contributing or running them yourself. They can help you build a network, reach wider audiences, and add to your portfolio with some great credibility.
The next time you’re book shopping, consider picking up an anthology and taking a look through it. You might just find yourself inspired to join in the fun.