Editing A Short Story Anthology in Three Easy Steps, Along With Months and Months of Hard Work
By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
Editing my first short story anthology stretched me both as an editor and a writer. I undertook the project beginning in 2017 when I pitched the concept of Columbus Noir to Akashic Books as part of its long-running Noir series. After the project was accepted and the contract signed in January 2018, I had eleven months to solicit stories, edit them, and assemble the manuscript. I developed a system early on that proved useful as submissions rolled in and my deadline approached, and which I thought might be worth sharing.
When a story first arrived, I created a Word folder with the story title and saved it there, along with a second notes document devoted purely to that story. However, no edits yet.
Next, I sent the story to the Kindle app on my iPhone, which is where I read e-books and e-documents (I don’t have a tablet or a physical Kindle right at the moment). At the next available juncture, I would sit in my arm chair in the living room away from my desk and read the submission through as I would any story—again, without making any edits.
After that—usually a few days later—I returned to my office and read the story a second time on my computer. As I did, I wrote down observations on that separate notes document, but didn’t insert any comments into the story itself. Those observations typically entailed plot points to come back to, grammatical issues, and any thematic questions.
In the third step in my process—usually after another few days—I saved the story as an editing file, consisting of the story title with my initials tacked on. Then, with Word’s tracking changes activated, I read through the contribution and made edits and suggestions as I saw fit. Finished, I sent that document to the writer and began a back-and-forth conversation about the story and my edits.
The hardest part of this was not necessarily the edits, but juggling the combination of staggered due dates. Because I invited writers over a period of weeks, the arrival of a first draft often coincided with the deadline for someone else’s revision. I tracked everything on a Word document, including where in the process a story was, and made ample use of Google Calendar for any deadline prompting of the contributors that I needed to do. Once October 2018 arrived, I assembled the manuscript and did a final read-through of everyone’s stories. Based on that, I made a few additional but mostly minor suggestions to the writers before submitting the final draft. Slotted into the publishing rotation, Columbus Noir launched March 3 as the 101st title in the Akashic series.
In hindsight, I learned three lessons I recommend to anyone tackling a similar project:
_ Underscore the rubrics. Whether your anthology is based on a call for submissions or invitation-only (as Columbus Noir was), the clearer the instructions are about the project upfront, the better. This includes everything from length requirements, to making sure the theme of the anthology is clear—in this case, stories in the noir style, each with a strong connection to a Columbus-area neighborhood—to whether the work must be original to the collection, as the Akashic series mandates. Laying all this out in writing came in handy when, in a couple of cases, I had to part ways with writers whose submissions just weren’t working.
_ Explain your edits. It’s reasonable to suggest changes, whether syntactical or thematic, but it’s also reasonable to explain why you’re asking for it. This is not a universal rule, nor should it be a heavy lift, but a simple note in the Word comment mode is a fair way to outline your thinking.
_ Don’t neglect your own contribution. The other part of my balancing act was my own short story along with the introduction to the book. Of the two, I was more nervous about the latter, since it would set the tone for the anthology and also serve as an explanation for why Columbus was noir enough to begin with. I made sure to undertake both pieces early on, giving me plenty of time to show both my story and my introduction to beta readers ahead of inclusion in the final manuscript.
In conclusion, while assembling Columbus Noir was a chore at times, I tried never to lose sight of the obvious: someone was paying me to edit fantastic stories by a bunch of great writers. That was the most important lesson of all.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins ©2020
Writer, reader, owner of too many pets. AP News Guy, author of the Andy Hayes private eye mystery series, and editor, Columbus Noir, from Akashic Books.