America at Work

By Ellen Leventhal

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Labor Day. People are lining up for sales, barbecue grills  are going  full blast, and some of us are putting the white shorts away until next Memorial Day.

But what is Labor Day really? It wasn’t meant to be an end of summer celebration, and it wasn’t meant to signal the start of school or football season. Labor Day is a day set aside to honor the American labor force. If you don’t know about the divisive Pullman Car Strike, you may want to take time this Labor Day to read about it. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland initiated the holiday as part of the federal response to that strike. But even so, a lot more work needed to be done in order to secure living wages and safe workplaces for American workers. Do you recall learning about the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory? Again, if you are not familiar with it, Labor Day is a great time to learn about it and the Labor Unions which had a huge impact on workplace safety.

The Labor and Working-class History Association put out this list of what they feel are good books about labor. Take a look and see what you think.

http://lawcha.org/wordpress/2015/06/08/twenty-best-labor-books-first-

So yes,  we can take this day to relax.  We can enjoy our friends and family, and we can hit the snooze button a few times.But let’s always remember the meaning behind Labor Day and be thankful to the workers who make our lives what they are.

I HEAR AMERICA SINGING

~ Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day-at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

 

 

 

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Genius: The Relationship Between Editor and Writer

by Monica Shaughnessy

red-pen-1422017The movie Genius, starring Jude Law and Colin Firth, is catching buzz in writerly circles. It’s the story of famed editor, Max Perkins, and his protege, Thomas Wolfe. Okay, so the reviews aren’t great. Ironically, one reviewer said the movie was overly long and could’ve used an editor’s red pen itself. 🙂 But that’s not going to stop me from seeing it, and here’s why…

A reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that a literary biopic “usually describes sensationalistic yarns that cover every aspect of an author’s personal life — his or her sexual hangups, drug addiction, legal and economic woes — but hardly ever his actual job, writing.” This movie breaks that mold, and I find this refreshing – poor reviews or not.

You see, writing IS a job. It’s not a silly daydream or a gift from Heaven or the residue of angel wings or even what’s at the bottom of a whisky bottle. It’s thinking. It’s showing up and putting your rear in the seat. It’s planning. It’s debating, sometimes with yourself, sometimes with your characters. And it’s hard work. A lot of people who don’t write (and a few who dabble) think it’s purely art. If only that were true. So a movie that focuses on the actual job of writing, a movie that lifts the curtain and shows the struggle and heartache and emotion and finesse that goes into spinning words into prosaic gold needs, in my mind, a round of applause.

But that’s only half the story, isn’t it?

Genius asks the thought-provoking question: Would Thomas Wolfe have become an American Icon without the help of his editor? Likely not.

Enter one Max Perkins. The man was no ordinary editor, though. He worked with both Fitzgerald and Hemingway (my idols). Standing toe-to-toe with literary giants is, I imagine, no easy feat. To do so, one has to possess gifts of equal or greater value. Before anyone calls me out and says, “Hey, if that Perkins guy was such a genius, why didn’t I read his book in high school English?” Well…because editing is a completely different skill.

A reporter for the Houston Chronicle writes, “Of all the creative gifts, the ability to edit — that is, to edit text — is the least heralded and the least understood.
Most people have never been edited, and those who benefit from it most tend to forget that the editing ever happened. But the ability to see a shape within a mess, to recognize a structure before it’s in place, to understand on a first read what is there that doesn’t belong and what belongs that isn’t there — this is no casual talent.”

Disclaimer: I am a developmental editor.

Am I biased? Heck, yeah. Nonetheless, the Chronicle reporter hits the nail on the head. An editor’s job (at least a developmental editor’s job) is to see inside a story and interpret what the writer meant to say. Once that’s done, the editor must gently shepherd the writer toward the stronger version of their story, a version the writer must actually agree is stronger. Now if you’ve never been edited before, you might be thinking, “The only version of my story I’m interested in is mine! I won’t have someone telling me how to write!”  To that I say, keep calm and carry on. If an agent accepts your manuscript, you’ll be edited then. If they sell it to a publishing house, it will be edited a second or third time. And if you go straight to self-publishing, readers themselves will tell you how you should’ve edited it. Rarely does a book succeed without input.

If you’re a reader, I encourage you to marvel at the unseen hand of an editor the next time you consume a flawlessly executed book. If you’re a writer just starting out, considering hiring an editor to take your prose and plot to the next level. It’s an eye-opening experience.

Am I a genius? Nah. I’ll leave that to Max Perkins.

Have a Piece of Chocolate and Move On

By Ellen Leventhal
rejection

I know I’ve written about rejection before. But see, that’s the thing. It’s not something you think about once, get over, and move on to a field of daisies and puppies to write happily ever after.  Yes, after a rejection, eat chocolate, have some wine, and move on.  Definitely move on. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking that once you move on, you’ll never get that punch in the gut feeling again.

For traditionally published authors, and those attempting to be one, the rejection letter is sometimes a literary form of “It’s not you, it’s me.” It usually reads something like this: “Although you have a wonderful way of telling a story, it’s just not right for our list. We hope your manuscript finds a home.”  (That always makes me think of hundreds of poor manuscripts huddled together under a street light; homeless and cold.) Sometimes that’s true. Different agents and editors are looking for different things. And sometimes it’s timing. I once got a beautiful rejection telling me that they liked my writing, but they just published a book with a very similar theme, and they are a small press….blah, blah, blah. You know, it’s not you, it’s us. But then there are also the ones that pretty much tell you that you are a fool to have submitted because your work is way below their standards, and you might as well throw your computer away because you are a hopeless hack. OK, I may have overreacted and read that into my last rejection, but you get the idea.

So how about if you indie publish? No rejections? Right and wrong.  Although there may not be actual rejections, you still need a thick skin. Most critique groups have caring, diplomatic members who will point out issues in your manuscript without making you cringe. Critique groups are wonderful for finding things you missed because you are too close to the project. But sometimes an editor may not be as diplomatic. And what about when you pay someone to critique your work and then get a less than stellar review? You may take their criticisms as a form of rejection. Again, drink wine, eat chocolate, and fix the manuscript. You still may feel like you have been punched in the gut, but at least you have a chance to revise. So do it.

Now, what about the indie writer who doesn’t get his work critiqued or edited? Well, maybe they won’t face the same type of rejection, but most likely, their book won’t do well. But those writers are for a whole different blog post. Indie writers need to go through all the same steps as traditionally published writers. When they don’t, they make the rest of us look bad. More on that another day.

We all face some type of rejection. It’s not just about writing.  How do you handle it? I’d love to hear because I’m running low on chocolate and wine.

 

 

Happy Leap Day/ List Day

time management threeBy Ellen Leventhal

The writer’s life and time management. Unfortunately, these two don’t always go together well. At least not for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in my wish for more hours in the day. Does anyone else end their days staring at the ceiling, ticking off all the tasks you did NOT get done that day? Please tell me it’s not just me!

So how happy am I that there is a full extra day this month? VERY happy. Surely, I will use this day to check things off my list. There aren’t that many things, right? I can do this! Here we go:

  1. Send poetry to that magazine.
  2. Dig out the email that tells me the name of the magazine.
  3. Type out texts of picture books to work on pacing.
  4. Go to the library and check-out said picture books.
  5. Begin work on that new website I’ve been talking about for years.
  6. Find someone to help me do that.
  7. Walk around the block. Sitting all day is bad for you.
  8. Finish three critiques.
  9. Call Comcast so I can get online to pull up the stories to critique.
  10. Re-write that short story in picture book format.
  11. Re-write that picture book manuscript into short story format.
  12. Have lunch!
  13. Stop at the Galleria after lunch to pick up those cute clothes for grandkids.
  14. Text daughters-in-law and double check sizes.
  15. Reply to store’s request for more books. Yes, the reissue of that book will be out by summer.
  16. Nag anyone who is responsible for getting the new book out.
  17. Have dinner.
  18. Climb into bed and tick off every item I did not accomplish. Sigh….

Sometimes it’s time management issues. Sometimes it’s computer issues. And sometimes life interferes with the best laid plans. But I will take this extra day for something. Even if it means counting my blessings because, although the book deals aren’t rolling in, a lot of other great things are.

Happy Leap Day, everyone! Use it to do what makes your happy.

 

 

Truly Bad Date? Share It and Win!

by Monica Shaughnessy

broken-heart-1316091“Love them or hate them, we’ve all had first dates…”

That’s the opening line of our blurb for First Last Forever: A Collection of First Date Disasters, and I think it’s one most people can identify with, no matter the culture or country. Even arranged marriages begin with a “date” – the wedding date! As we near the most romantic day of the year – Valentine’s Day – this is the perfect time to discuss such matters of the heart. Do you, dear reader, anticipate first dates with dry palms and nerves of steel? Or do you look forward to “getting them over with” so that the second date can begin, the date where you can relax and be YOU, the YOU that wears Converse high tops with dresses and puts Sriracha on pizza and sings off-key to “Ex’s and Oh’s.” (that’s not ME, I swear).

Before writing my own stories for the anthology, I didn’t give much thought to my past. I already had some plot ideas involving situations I’d never been in, like speed dating. No “plumbing the depths” necessary. But then this post arose, forcing me to catalog all of the firsts I could remember, starting with (eeek!) high school. After rummaging through the dusty filing cabinet in my brain, I came up with some truly awkward moments.

Take a look at my top four dating fiascos. I bet you’ve been in a few yourself:

  1. The Set-Up – “Oh, honey, he’s a nice boy, and we like his parents. You only have to go out with him once.” Oy. The small talk on this date was excruciating. Spanish inquisition-type stuff. But the joke was on me, because years later this frog turned into a prince.
  2. The Stand-Up – “Where could he be? Let me check my dial tone. Maybe he tried to call and couldn’t.” Mmm hmm. Bad connection. Gotta be. For anyone under the age of thirty, “checking your dial tone” equates to pinging your BFF with a desperate text asking if she’s receiving because he just. isn’t. answering.
  3. The Sit Down and Shut-Up – “Who is this guy? Certainly not the guy who asked me out. Because the guy who asked me out stopped talking long enough for me to to say yes.” This date was the OPPOSITE of the Set-Up. Too much talking. So much that I hardly got a word in edge-wise. By the end of the evening, I knew every possible thing about him…and he barely knew my name.
  4. The I Give-Up – “We should just be friends. No? Well, we should try. Really. Friends. You’re not getting the hint. Will you stop? Sigh. I guess one date couldn’t hurt.” Sadly, I have been on more than one of these. I am clearly a sloooow learner.

I’m sharing these to get the ball rolling, dear reader. Between now and February 10th, we’re hosting a contest to give away a copy of First Last Forever. We’ll select one winner randomly from the comments below. And I’m expecting my fellow Space City Scribes to stop by and share their embarrassing stories as well. You will, won’t you, ladies?

YOUR TURN: Tell us about your truly awful first date or funny first date or romantic first date, and you’re automatically entered to win a copy of our book. Thanks for reading! And good luck!

 

Acing Unlikeable Protagonists

by Monica Shaughnessy

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Tell My Story. I Dare You.

When I look back at some of the short stories I’ve written, many, many of them feature unlikeable main characters. I find deeply flawed people fascinating, and it’s easy to “get away with” telling their secrets in short form. Readers might not stick with them for an entire novel, but they’ll definitely stick with them over, say, ten pages.

Here are just a few of the evil/pathetic/bigoted main characters I’ve cast over the years:

Lydia Strichter (“The Trash Collector”) – A bigot with a big mouth who loves prying into other people’s business. Perma-free on Amazon.

Josie Kreneck (“Date From Hell,” First Last Forever) –  A fickle thirty-something who’s dumped more men than Madonna.

The Professor (“Hell Cent,” Lethal Lore) – An academician with a giant ego and a yen for strangling women.

Lydia Strichter, by far, has hit the most home runs with readers. Reviews mention her by name, either calling her out for bigotry or praising her journey. (I won’t spoil the ending!) The Professor comes in a distant second, but only because “Hell Cent” is part of a recently released collection and “The Trash Collector” is perma-free (and more widely distributed). We’ll see about Josie Kreneck. But I think her story will resonate with readers as well.

So how do you write an unlikeable character that people will tolerate, maybe even secretly like or identify with? Here are my top tips:

  1. Give them a past tragedy that evokes sympathy and let it drive the story. Lydia is a grieving widow. Josie is afraid of entering middle age alone. The Professor is out of a job. Even readers who haven’t gone through one of these major life events can at least imagine what it’s like to lose a husband, their youth, or their career. This evokes a sympathetic response from the start. It’s harder to hate (truly hate) someone when you know they’ve had a rough past.
  2. Give them a least one likable or admirable quality. Perhaps it’s a sterling work ethic (The Professor) or sentimentality (Lydia) or even bravery (Josie). Your unlikeable main character must have at least one winning quality. Why? Because that’s real life. And people love characters that read like real life. No one is ever “all bad” or “all good.” If you write them like that, you’re creating cardboard characters (which is WORSE than writing unlikeable characters!) Plus, it gives readers something to root for when things turn ugly.
  3. Give them a foible that is very, very common. If a reader has that foible, too, or at least knows someone with it, chances are, they will receive your protagonist more kindly. In the case of my characters, Lydia is uncomfortable with anything too “different.” Josie is desperate for companionship. The Professor is superstitious. I don’t know about you, but these traits resonate with me because I’ve displayed them at one time or another in my life. Luckily not all at once!

Okay, to show you all of these tips in action (and to prove they work), I’m going to give you some characteristics of a real person (now deceased) who has made a great unlikeable main character in both fiction and non-fiction in the past. And by the way, all of the bullet points below are factual. Can you guess who I’m talking about?

Our Protagonist was:

  • An aspiring artist and cartoonist
  • A student with unfilled dreams
  • A grieving brother
  • A decorated veteran with multiple war wounds
  • A vegetarian against the slaughter of animals
  • A loving husband
  • An electrifying speaker

I don’t know about you, but I can either identify with or root for many of these qualities, even admire them. Except, they all belong to…

>

>

>

Adolph Hitler.

Yeah, no kidding.

Which leads me to the very last tip:

4. Don’t make your main character so freaking bad that no tragic past/admirable quality/common foible can overcome their evil. In other words, it’s possible to wade too far into the deep end and create a character that prompts readers to shut the book on page one and curse your name. Er, like Hitler.

So don’t be afraid of casting bad guys in protagonist roles. Just do it with thought and planning and a little sympathy.

————>

How about you, dear reader? Ever cast a bad guy as your protagonist? Ever made your hero an anti-hero? Let’s discuss!

Holiday Goodies from the Space City Scribes!

by Monica Shaughnessy

I envy you, dear reader. You’ve already completed your holiday to-do list, haven’t you? If not, I bet you’ve completed half. Want to know how many people I’ve crossed off my gift-giving list? Two. TWO. If I didn’t have Amazon Prime, I’d be sweating my jingle bells off right now. And let’s not forget the biggest dilemma of all – deciding what I want for Christmas. People need to know, and they need to know NOW because they’re trying desperately to cross me off their list. If I don’t answer quickly enough (ie, before December 24th), I will certainly receive reindeer leg warmers or a battery operated pen that blinks when you write or a gift basket filled with cheese that doesn’t have to be refrigerated. Ho-ho-ho.

So forgive me if this post is quick and to the point.

This holiday season, the Space City Scribes are offering discounts and freebies to our blog readers (and all readers):

Monica Shaughnessy (that’s me!) marked down most of her Amazon.com books to 99 cents for the remainder of December:


Mandy Broughton is offering ONE free digital download from iTunes/iBooks in December, the book of your choice:

To receive your download coupon, email her:
To: Info [at sign] CypressCEUs [dot] com
Subject line: Free Mystery [insert title choice here]

Artemis Greenleaf marked down several of her titles to 99 cents for the remainder of December:

K C Maguire is offering a FREE piece of flash fiction for our blog readers. She manages to blend sci-fi and sexy in this stunning short about a man who’s desperate to please his android partner. Click here to read “Holo Imitation.”


And last but not least, we’ve marked Space City Six: Houston Stories from the Weird to the Wonderful down to 99 cents.

Like the holiday season, our offers end on January 1st.

Thank you for your readership and your support. We hope you remember to treat yourself before the new year. You deserve it! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go shopping.

What’s On Your Backpack?

By Ellen Rothberg

Backpacks are icons of personalities. One would never consider carrying a backpack emblazoned with a picture or caricature of something or someone they were not connected to in some shape or form. The advent of the backpack is a real nineties phenomenon, one that obviously earned tons of money for an industry previously employed by Colorado hikers. Have you ever thought about what we carried our books around in before the big backpack bang? I had a red rubber book band. It had two metal doohickey things on the ends that sort of connected to each other and tried to keep the books sort of together, but didn’t actually work well in the New York winters. It didn’t help that I had a pretty long walk to and from school in those cold winter months either because the red rubber band invariably froze and disintegrated on the long, snow-laden treks home. This musing is not, however, actually about my school experience or how I managed those miles and miles of walking in the snow . . . it is about the backpack phenomenon and how each generation is characterized by the apparatus chosen to, well, lighten the load that students have to bear.

Back in the nineties, my children were introduced to backpacks depicting the Transformers and Strawberry Shortcake. There might have been a Batman one school year and I think we might have done Barbie once. There were Nike bags when in middle school and cartoon characters were no longer cool. We had a Jansport era in high school, I think. I can visualize the many backpacks, but there are no photos of them. I don’t think that we record those items the way we do Halloween costumes and holiday sweaters. If I were to ask my son and daughter to name their favorite backpack, I know they would give me that look. The one that says, “Oh, she’s writing something about us” or “Oh, she’s about to remind us of the trials of growing up in an apartment with only one bathroom”. This musing is not, however, actually about my children’s school experience or how their backpacks defined or didn’t define their school success, popularity or ability to roll their eyes at things their mother says. . . it is bout the backpack phenomenon and how each generation is characterized by the heavy-duty canvas surrounding their load of books.

Now tht I have a grandchild, I know that the backpack phenomenon is coming full circle. Will students really contiune to need backpacks? After all, one only needs to have a small tablet computer, right? Do kids really need a whole backpack just to carry their electronic device to school? The answer is a resounding YES! The backpack is here to stay. My precious granddaughter, age 4 1/2 has three current backpacks. The first was purchased at her birth and has the beautifully embroidered words “Aggie Class of 2033” underneath her name (courtesy of her Texas A & M parents). The second one came from Pottery Barn Kids and also has her name embroidered on it (a very Twenty-First Century thing). The third one and her favorite, was purchased at Walmart and has the cartoon character Sofia the First beautifully screen printed across it. It ranks up there with the Strawberry Shortcake and Transformer ones. This musing is not, however, actually about my granddaughter’s school experience or how the more things change the more they stay the same. . . it is about how each generation is cherished by the ones that came before and how, when you get right down to it, we will always be carrying something to school in something that is popular at the moment. Oh, and that we love grandchildren!

And . . .speaking about books, Come out and Celebrate Local Authors at the Maud Marks Library, 1815 Westgreen Blvd., Katy, Texas on Saturday, October 24, 2015 fom 12:30 PM — 5:00 PM. Mingle with local authors of children’s and adult books. Books can be purchased and autographed. The library will also host presenters reading excerpts from a variety of genres. Attendees are eligible for door prizes! Come in costume for a bonus door prize ticket!

Would You Date this Protagonist?

dating

By Ellen Leventhal

I love character driven stories. Great characters become your friends. They hit a chord in your heart. You don’t have to like them, but they should evoke some type of emotion. Are they kind? Funny? Quirky? Certain characters stay with us forever. Is it weird that I wanted to name my first born either Scout or Atticus? As a writer, there are hundreds of ways to develop characters, and I’ve used a bunch. They were all good, but now I’d like to share a new one with you. Match.com. Stay with me on this.

I have been happily married for close to 44 years, but for some reason I get match.com emails almost weekly. I’ve now also been introduced to the ranks of eHarmony and my new favorite, OurTime.com (for mature couples). Obviously, the internet knows I’m old. It just doesn’t know I’m married. Or doesn’t care.  My inbox is a virtual cornucopia of “singles in my area.” One day last week, being of curious mind and wanting to put off real work, I decided to look around a little. You know, just for fun. And then it hit me. The Constant Contact gods did not want me to leave my husband and troll the internet for people looking for love in all the wrong places. They sent these lovelorn souls to me for something much more interesting. Character development! You want to know a character? Read the online dating profiles and then write one of your own. I’d like to introduce you to three characters you may meet in some of my stories.

Ms. Magnificent is a 5’10” (6’ in her Jimmy Choos) Texan with a heart bigger than Southfork. She has been hurt, yet she doesn’t let that stop her from trying to find love. She believes that everyone is basically good, and she is kind to everyone. Those Prada sunglasses she sports may keep out UV rays, but they are rose colored and has caused her some disappointment. But don’t worry. She bounces back for more! She wears her heart on her her Stella McCartney dress sleeves, and when she is upset, y’all will know it. She feels sure that her Prince Charming is right around the corner. Could it be you? Ms. M. likes mocha frappacinos (sugarfree, no fat) arugala salad (dressing on the side), and long walks. (But not in the rain because her hair has a tendency towards frizzing). Ms. Magnificent is an animal lover. She rescues puppies and kittens, and her favorite farm animal is a unicorn. She doesn’t eat carbs, but she’s a wonderful baker. That’s not the only reason they call her Cup Cake. Call to find out more.

Mr. Macho is 6’2” and muscular. He has been divorced for five years, and he enjoys life to the utmost. His luxurious hair is almost to his shoulders because he doesn’t care that it’s not 1969 anymore. He’s a people lover and wants to love as many people as possible. He sometimes gets sad when he thinks of his ex-wife because she is really pretty and rich. They only divorced because she took advantage of his good nature and had a crazy idea that their relationship should be monogamous. He’s too much of a giver to only give to one person. He is also too much of a man to be told what to do. He believes women should be treated like ladies all the time. He opens doors and makes decisions for them. He doesn’t want “his girls” to work too hard. If you want to have fun, and you have very low self-esteem, call him. He’ll answer if he feels like it.

Ms. March wants you to know that’s her name, not her title. And it will be Dr. March as soon as she finished her PhD. She is a biology professor at a prestigious university. She’s never been married because her career comes first. Although she spurns the institution of marriage, she’d like someone to spend time with and possibly travel with her to third world countries. She likes politics, but is open minded. As long as you agree with her. Ms. March does not want to be categorized by political party, race, or religion, but she will not date a Republican. If you don’t recycle, don’t call her. She will have to clear her chakras after being with you, and who has time for that? A perfect date would be margaritas on the beach and an anti-war demonstration. Call and find out why they call her Top Shelf.

So there you have it. Put any of these people together and watch what happens. Thanks, match.com! Research comes in all forms.

 

 

How to Create Your Own Anthology (without losing your mind)

by Monica Shaughnessy

FINAL Cover_no sixOn October 8th, the Space City Scribes released an anthology. In case we haven’t talked about it quite enough, here are the particulars. It’s a loose collection of stories about Houston, ranging from literary fiction to sci-fi to fantasy. The ebook sells for $2.99 at Amazon and other major etailers.

Okay? Okay.

Now on to the “how to” portion of my post…

How To Create Your Own Anthology

There are a lot of reasons to create an anthology. Chief among them is exposure. If someone already loves, say, Mandy Broughton and buys the anthology to read her story, then that same person may read my story, like it just as much, and go on to buy one of my books. It’s also a way to build excitement for local events – signings are always more fun and “busy” when you have a group of authors. Lastly, my friend Artemis Greenleaf likened the anthology to a super-deluxe business card, and she’s right. It’s a great way to get our content “sampled” by as many people possible, especially since we’re pricing it low. Visibility is an author’s greatest challenge, whether indie or trad published, and the more people who’ve heard of us, the better.

What follows below are my tips for creating a homegrown anthology with a group of friends – not the kind of anthology where you welcome submissions from strangers and pay them. Those are good, too, but outside the scope of my discussion.

Now on to the show…

1. Find Your Writers: If you’re in an author collective like me, then your circle is already formed. If not, you might be in a critique group or a professional writers’ organization. Ask around to see if anyone’s interested in putting an anthology together, but I strongly caution you to pick writers you know and trust. If you want to work with people you don’t know as well, be prepared to draft legal documents to protect yourself. Another reason to pick people you know: you can choose writers whose work you admire and whose publishing skills compliment and/or supplement your own. This becomes very important when the “easy” work of writing is done and the hard work of “book creation” begins.

2. Decide on a Cost/Payment Structure: Our anthology was a no-pay structure where individual writers submitted freely without expectation of royalty or advance. This is a little harder to pull off with “strangers.” We also decided to keep overhead low by designing the cover ourselves, formatting ourselves, etc. We are lucky enough to have two educators in our group who have a meticulous command of the English language (thanks, Ellen Leventhal and Ellen Rothberg!). They did all the proofreading for the project. As for payment, we decided to funnel any profits from group signings back to Space City Scribes. We’ll use the money to sign up for festival booths, book advertisements, etc. If, however, we buy and sell the books as individuals, then the profits are ours to keep.

3. Put Someone in Charge: Things run more smoothly when you have someone keeping the schedule, checking on work, and sending update emails. For this project, I acted as editor. I won’t lie. The anthology was a lot of work. But I’m really proud of it.

4. Decide on a Theme: Since we’re a diverse group of writers, we found a common core in our hometown: Houston. Using this as a starting point, we all wrote stories set in Space City, hence the title of the anthology. If you’ve assembled a genre-based group, then you’ve got a built in theme already, say, horror or middle grade. But go further… Do you want to do a middle-grade collection of holiday stories? A science fiction anthology of space opera? There are a lot of ways to segment your content.

5. Assign the Work Fairly: Some of our members are very tech-savvy. They took the project pieces that required certain skills, like ebook formatting and paperback creation. Some members are awesome editors and proofers, so they took these pieces. Or some, like K.C. Maguire, happened to have experience with certain kinds of blogging and promotion. That’s the beauty of working with a diverse team – we all bring something to the table. When you’re choosing writers, be thinking not just about the stories you’ll need but the skills you’ll need after the words are on paper.

6. Get ready for a ton of email. Just deciding on our cover? I think we sent and replied to around fifty or more emails. No joke. And this was just one small piece of the project.

7. Remember That Friendships Come Before Business: If things get a little crazy or if there are disagreements (think there won’t be? ha!), take a step back and remember that this is supposed to be FUN or, at the very least, a good use of your time. Not the gateway to an ulcer. With so many cooks in the kitchen, the final recipe may not turn out like the one in the cookbook – do they ever? – but you’ll end up with something new and exciting if you give in to the process.

8. Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor: When it’s all done, and your glorious new book is for sale, it will stand as a testament to your hard work and friendship. This, really, is what makes your anthology worthwhile.

You can also go a second route: assemble your friends and acquaintances, offer them exposure, do all the work yourself (ask nothing of anyone, except for a little social media at the end), and reap all the profits yourself. This would be a good choice if you have the skills you need to produce a book or if you’ve got a particular vision you want to see through (and like to be the only cook in the kitchen). But I would recommend drafting a content release form that gives you first printing rights and having your authors sign it. When money is involved, people get funny. And I don’t mean “funny ha, ha.” I mean “funny stark raving mad.”

However you decide to do it, creating an anthology is definitely time-consuming. But it’s also worthwhile. If you want to take a look at how ours turned out, visit the anthology page on this blog and read more about the book.

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How about you, dear authors? Every contemplated an anthology? I’d be happy to answer questions. And readers, what’s your opinion of anthologies? Do you enjoy reading them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!