Anyone who’s edited a YA anthology since the recent boom began knows it’s pretty impossible to go at the proposal stage alone. I myself have talked a bunch of editors through it, and in order to do that, I had to be talked through it by some other fabulous and more experienced editors. (Thanks, Jess, Saundra, Marieke, and Katie!) And since this is an email I get every couple of months, I figured why not just make it easier on everyone (not that I’m not happy to answer questions!) and lay it out in a blog post?
So you want to edit a YA anthology! Let’s lay out the groundwork of what you need, first things first:
- The premise
- The lineup
This is generally based on a theme, identity, genre, or some combination of the aforementioned. To take a look at a few anthologies that’ve made it to bookshelves:
- All Out edited by Saundra Mitchell: This is both identity (queer) and genre (historical) based.
- A Tyranny of Petticoats and The Radical Element edited by Jessica Spotswood: Ditto. Same genre, but in this case, identity is American girl.
- Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi: Identity-based, as all the authors and main characters are Black, but other aspects vary
- Hungry Hearts edited by Caroline Tung Richmond and Elsie Chapman: This is theme based (food) and identity based, in the sense that it’s a very intentionally diverse collection of different ethnicities.
So, how do you know what works and what doesn’t? Ehhhh I don’t think anyone knows, but focus is key. Anthologies need a hook at least as much as novels do; what’s the singular cohesive pitch that’s gonna make someone grab it?
This is my favorite part, and while you can certainly make an anthology happen without a broad network, it’s much easier the more people you know, and the more people know and trust you. Personally, having a network is kind of my “thing,” as is reading widely and assessing people’s specialties, so I not only hugely enjoy creating lineups, but I find it relatively easy.
The thing to keep in mind when creating yours is that diversity is key, not just because it should be everywhere but because it makes for a far more interesting collection. No one wants to read ten versions of the same kind of perspective.
But I don’t just mean diversity along racial or gender or ability or orientation lines; I also strongly recommend diversity in anthology experience. I think the best collections have authors who’ve seriously proven their mettle at short fiction and authors who are totally new to the anthology world.
You know those authors you see in what feels like every single anthology? There are two reasons for that:
1) They’re good, and not just at writing but at being reliable. Having to chase one author is a lot; having to chase twelve? Is hell. So you want to have people who are going to make this a pretty dependably pleasant experience and who deliver the kind of work that keeps readers coming back for them.
2) They’re authors who sell really well. I’m seeing this less than I used to, but at least once upon a time conventional wisdom was that you had to have three bestsellers in your anthology to sell it. If you take out the ones who don’t want to write short fiction, who don’t have the time for it, who are contractually prohibited from writing outside their contracts until completion…you’ll find a core group of authors who appear in what might look like a disproportionate number of collections, but it’s because they can sell them and also they are good at this.
Anthologies are really complicated because it’s a lot of authors to corral at once, so working with people who are complete strangers to you both personally and as authors is not ideal. You want to know you can trust them to deliver and deliver well; one person massively screwing up a deadline can throw off things (including payment) for the entire group. So yes, it’s always going to be easier to work with authors you know, even a little bit, because sending a DM with a quick question is much easier than sending a formal email and certainly than going through an agent each time.
Another thing you must keep in mind is numbers. I know it looks like “Why don’t we just have everyone on board who wants to do this?” but every additional contributor means everyone is getting paid less; no one’s giving you extra money to add five authors. So let’s talk for a second about how payments work at the initial level, in the most common scenario:
There is a single advance.
That advance is divided in two, with half going to the editor and half being divided among the contributors.
As the editor, you have to make some decisions here. First, the agent cut: Are you taking it out of the full advance and then splitting in two? Or are you splitting in two and then taking the cut entirely out of your half?
Then, division among the contributors: are you including yourself in there and taking money for a story in addition to your editor half? Or not?
No judgment however you choose to do this! You have the right to be paid for your work however you choose. Obviously, the more you can and are willing to pay your contributors, the higher level authors you have potential to get, but many never ask how much they’re getting before committing, to be honest. I’ve asked before what people’s barest minimum is and they’ve said $500 a story if it was something they really wanted to do, and I’ve received anywhere from that to $1500. (Of course, anthologies where proceeds go to charities have their own rules.)
Part of why anthologies are so tough with publishers is because you can’t give them a “Well, I’ll take a shot on this” 5K advance; that money has to cover everyone. So if you’re starting at a minimum of 20K, and it’s already a tough market (partly because people are really lousy at supporting them and partly because they do not historically do well with subrights)…this is why they’re usually capped at around 13 (which is really 12 advances, in most cases, I’d say).
Another thing that’s important to mention is that anthology editors are far more often than not responsible for handling logistics of contributors. That means you’re the one sending out and receiving contributor agreements, sending out fully executed copies, working out the deadlines, sending out payments, dealing with agents, collecting W9s, issuing 1099s, etc. It is a ton of work. I’m not sure how it works if you’re not living in the US, but my guess is that you’ll need your agent to handle it for you.
So now! Let’s say you’ve put together your lineup and you’ve got your premise and you’re ready to set up a proposal. What does it look like? Well, here’s His Hideous Heart‘s. You’ll notice it has selling points, including the authors, comp titles, and explanation of its relevance in the current world. Why buy it? Who will read it? What proof do we have that a cohesive collection like this can do well? How will we market it? These are the questions to keep in mind.
Guilt. Regret. Love. Loss. Self-loathing. Terror. Vulnerability. Vengeance. Edgar Allan Poe may be over a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his notorious and much-beloved work have a whole lot in common with modern Young Adult literature.
HIS HIDEOUS HEART brings Poe’s stories and poems into the current era of YA through the imaginative minds of some of YA’s most exciting and creative mystery, thriller, and horror authors. Picture “The Tell-Tale Heart” retold by the author who brought you the utterly shattering and award-winning Charm & Strange, or “The Black Cat” redone with a queer teen vengeful spirit pursuing her attacker. Envision what an award-winning sci-fi author could do with “The Fall of the House of Usher,” or what havoc a disabled New York Times bestseller could wreak on “Hop-Frog.” Whether the stories are already familiar to readers or they’re reading them for the first time through the YA lens, one of literature’s most artful, compelling, memorable authors will be brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.
STATEMENT OF INTENT
HIS HIDEOUS HEART is a YA anthology featuring authors known for their talents in horror, thrillers, mystery, and generally high-stakes fiction reimagining individual works of Edgar Allan Poe as their own creations, in whatever genre they may choose. Contributors range from recent debuts to established bestsellers, some with considerable experience in creating enticing short fiction and some for whom HIS HIDEOUS HEART will be a first entry. Readers will find brand-new authors in one of these genres while also enjoying original work by familiar favorites.
This anthology is coming at a time when not only is the popularity of such collections booming in YA lit (see: BECAUSE YOU LOVE TO HATE ME ed. by Ameriie debuting on the New York Times bestseller list, the vast popularity of A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS ed. by Jessica Spotswood spinning off into a second volume, We Need Diverse Books releasing both Middle Grade and Young Adult anthologies), but pop culture is trending toward the psychologically twisted and chillingly fantastical as well (see: Stranger Things, Westworld, Black Mirror).
A collection of Poe-related stories combines long-standing literary resonance with decidedly current popular trends, and this diverse author lineup in particular stands to draw readers from a plethora of fanbases that stretch well beyond Poe devotees.
HIS HIDEOUS HEART will be in the vein of SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS ed. by April Genevieve Tucholke, creatively and creepily spinning established literary work on its head and introducing readers to a fantastic collection of current authors paying tribute to one of American history’s best. Poe in particular makes for perfect source material for such a collection, as his work could be considered among the earliest examples of psychological thrillers and unreliable narration—elements that are certainly familiar to and beloved by many a YA fan but rare for literature of that age.
It will feature 13 (of course) stories, each around 5,000 words, for a total of approximately 65,000 words. At present, 12 authors have signed on, while a number of others have expressed interest. Space remains for a final contributor still to be determined.
Bestsellers: Contributors Marieke Nijkamp, Kendare Blake, and Hilary Monahan are all New York Times bestselling authors, and Nijkamp is a National Indie Bestseller as well.
Critically Acclaimed Authors: Included in the contributor list is a Morris Award winner (Stephanie Kuehn), a two-time Edgar Award nominee (Lamar Giles), three Cybils finalists (Marieke Nijkamp, Tessa Gratton, and Kendare Blake), a Teen Choice Book Award finalist (Marieke Nijkamp), an Indies Introduce selection (Emily Lloyd-Jones), an Andre Norton Award winner, Compton Crook Award winner, Locus Award nominee, Hugo nominee, and two-time Nebula nominee (Fran Wilde), and a number of authors who’ve received starred reviews, had books selected for the Indie Next List and Junior Library Guild, and appeared on ABA, YALSA, and state lists, lending not only prestige to the lineup, but visibility as well.
Promotional Platform: As a prolific contributor to the Barnes & Noble Teen Book Blog, Dahlia Adler offers a significant blogger network for promotional purposes. Nearly all 12 contributors have considerable social media platforms, and the geographical range of the author list offers excellent opportunities for both group readings and festival panels or solo events.
Educational Appeal: With a basis in seminal works of American literature, HIS HIDEOUS HEART would be ideal for high school curricula and library use. The material lends itself perfectly to a reading/discussion guide for analyzing the works of Edgar Allan Poe and how its themes translate into modern literature and across different genres.
The following authors have confirmed interest in writing a story for HIS HIDEOUS HEART:
Dahlia Adler (Editor) is an Associate Editor of Mathematics by day, a contributor to the B&N Teen Blog by night, and a writer of kissing books at every spare moment in between. She’s the author of Behind the Scenes, Under the Lights, Just Visiting, and the Radleigh University series, and a contributor to the historical young adult anthologies The Radical Element and All Out. She lives with her husband and son in New York City.
Bibliography: BEHIND THE SCENES (Spencer Hill, 2014), UNDER THE LIGHTS (Spencer Hill, 2015), JUST VISITING (Spencer Hill, 2015)
Anthologies: THE RADICAL ELEMENT (Candlewick, 2018), ALL OUT (Harlequin Teen, 2018)
(And so on)
And that’s it! You can also see some of how the contributors were chosen in that proposal, and also how important it is to be familiar with what’s already out there. And I’d be remiss not to mention that if you want to maintain a market for anthologies, you have to support the ones that exist.
Any questions? Other than “How can I get in an anthology”?