Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Editing Anthologies

I received an email a little while ago from John Sargent, giving me some interesting information about CWA anthologies of the past, and also suggesting that I write a post for this blog about the process of editing an anthology. A nice idea, and I’m glad to respond.

Anthologies come in various different forms, and the approach that one takes depends on what the publisher is trying to achieve, and also, needless to say, the budget. And suffice to say that budgets are often very tight indeed.

I’ve been involved with editing four different types of anthology. First, three collections of crime writing by members of the Northern Chapter of the CWA, and one by members of the East Anglian Chapter, which I co-edited with Robert Church. Second, thirteen collections of crime fiction by CWA members not only from the UK but also elsewhere in the world. Third, two collections b members of Murder Squad. And fourth, a “Lost Classics” collection of stories by Ellis Peters, with input from the late Sue Feder, and published by Crippen and Landru.

The approach I’ve taken has varied depending on the type of book, but with the annual CWA volume, I seek contributions from members and wait to see what comes in. I usually aim to have original stories specially written for the book, but occasionally I’ll include a previously published story by a stellar name such as Ruth Rendell.

Publishers like big name contributors, because they help to sell books. But of course it’s very hard to persuade a bestselling writer to write a brand new story for a tiny sum of money when they have little time to spare and anyway, could do far better elsewhere. However, I must say that time and again, major writers have shown a good deal of generosity in their response to requests I’ve made for help. I’ve been very grateful to them - not just Ruth Rendell, by the way, but Colin Dexter, the late Reg Hill, and numerous others.

The tricky bit comes in deciding which stories to include and which to reject. I hate turning down stories, especially if they are written by friends. But it’s impossible to include everything that is submitted, even when it’s of very good quality. I can only hope that people whose stories are not accepted understand the dilemma. In picking stories, I’m looking not just for merit, but for balance and variety. So if I receive three or four stories about spouse-murder or blackmail, for instance, some of them will have to go.

I do have a preference for shorter stories, and those that are unusual. I also pay a lot of attention to submissions from writers who haven’t previously featured in the CWA anthology and from those who are less well-known. The book is a showcase for members, and it should, I think, be a showcase for all types of writers, not just the stars. But above all, of course, one is trying to put together a book that is fresh and entertaining, and that readers will enjoy.

1 comment:

aguja said...

This is a great post, Martin. I find it most interesting and can see the dilemmas involved in making choices; also, what writers such as yourself are doing 'behind the scenes', as it were.
John Sargent. Is he the John Sargent who has edited poetry anthologies in the past?