Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. October Interviews 10/6 Joan Garcia 10/13 M. E. Browning 10/20 Lori Lewis Ham 10/27 Krista Davis 10/31 Veronica Bond Guest Blogs 10/2 Kathy Manos Penn 10/16 Kate Lansing 10/30 Jule Selbo -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Editing an Anthology: Five Stages of Grief

Today J. Alan Hartman of the publisher Untreed Reads tells us about his experiences as editor in putting together his most recent Thanksgiving anthology, The Killer Wore Cranberry, a Fifth Course of Chaos. (Full disclosure: I have a story, Turkey Underfoot, in the an thology.)

Ah the humble anthology. At first it seems like creating one would be a load of fun.  As an editor you think you’re going to have the time of your life. After all, you’ve had a simply brilliant idea for a theme, you’re going to get tons of submissions and the stellar ones are going to shine through like a beacon in the night, the selected authors are going to shout from the rooftops how wonderful the anthology is and how everyone should buy a copy and everyone lives happily ever after in a state of anthological and royalty bliss.

Of course, then you actually start to work on the thing and you realize there’s a definite difference between the fantasy of creating an anthology and the reality.

The fantasy part was me back in 2010 when I put together the very first entry in what would become our annual anthology titled The Killer Wore Cranberry. I had decided that the stories would all be humorous mysteries and crimes taking place at Thanksgiving and featuring a traditional foodstuff from the holiday table.  Seven years later and five entries in the series (in fact, volume five titled The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos just dropped in ebook and print this past week) I’ve certainly learned a lot and come a long way from that first experience. But, for the sake of this blog, let me show you how putting together that original anthology was very much like going through the stages of grief. 

(Well, in fact, it still kind of is.)

Stage 1: Denial

I couldn’t possibly have 150+ entries to read, nearly all of which are spectacular and that I must limit to around 10. There’s no way I have all of these contract questions to answer.  I don’t want to think about the fact that I’m going to have to somehow figure out royalties to be split among those ten people evenly when the book is being sold through 20+ vendors around the world with 20 different royalty reports. Let’s face it, I’ve done stupider and harder stuff in life, right? And sleep is overrated anyway, yeah? As long as the noose is around my neck I might as well jump off the horse. There’s no way it can be as complicated as it all seems, right?

Stage 2: Anger

Why are there so many stories with mashed potatoes but nobody can do one damn story with a turkey? Why are there so many stories where everybody lives on a farm and talks like an idiot?  Why are there so many stories that aren’t even related to the theme of the anthology? Who thought of this stupid idea anyway? Why am I bothering with this when nobody seems to be buying anthologies? Look at the insane number of hours I’m putting into this. I’m not sleeping, barely have time to eat and now I don’t think I want to celebrate Thanksgiving ever again. Or any holiday.

Stage 3: Bargaining

OK, if I can just get through five more submissions tonight then I can have that whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Core. If I format two stories than I can allow myself 20 minutes of a nap. 50 more pages of edits and I can collapse in the shower and let it rain down on me like the shower scene in Psycho minus the blood. Five more social media posts of promotion and I can watch one episode of Breaking Bad. Then again, maybe I should just make my own meth and sell it and forget about this anthology.

Step 4: Depression

What if nobody buys this? What if people think I have a lousy sense of humor because of the stories I picked? What if all the authors that got rejected hate me now and are spreading vicious rumors about me on Facebook that I once kicked a puppy and laughed? What if the authors don’t help me promote this because they hate it, then get upset when it doesn’t make money and blame me? What if all of this time and effort was for nothing? It’s awful, isn’t it? The stories are in the wrong order. I should have chosen something else to end the anthology. My introduction was too personal. My career as an editor is over and nobody will ever trust me to publish anything ever again.

Step 5: Acceptance

You know what? These authors are amazingly talented and these stories are hilarious. They won’t be for everyone but there’s going to be people who will love the anthology and have favorite stories and won’t be able to wait until the next volume. Screw any reviews, they’re just one person’s opinion. This is a fun work, and regardless of the hell I went through to get here I wouldn’t change a thing.

Repeat Steps 1-5 for every future anthology.

The Killer Wore Cranberry, a Fifth Course of Chaos and the previous anthologies in the series are available at and through the usual sources, including Amazon.


Barb Goffman said...

All these years since book one, and I never knew how hilarious you are, Jay. I especially like the anger stage. You should have written that turkey story yourself. Happy Thanksgiving!

Kait said...

Pass the stuffing, please. Don't hate me if I eat and run, I have a book to buy. Great post, Jay, and a wonderful anthology.

Art Taylor said...

Love this post! And congrats on all your fine work. Great series, still going strong!

Gloria Alden said...

Jay, this is a funny post. It makes me want to buy your anthology. I've been in five anthologies and have yet to receive any money from them so I'm guessing they don't make
a lot of money for them.

Gail Farrelly said...

This post is ALMOST as much fun as TKWC books themselves. I've always felt the title TKWC is perfect. It's short and tells you all you need to know about these books. Jay, wishing you and the authors lots of success with this year's book. Hope there are many more to come!

Shari Randall said...

Hilarious! As Barb said, maybe you should write that turkey story yourself. Best wishes and happy Thanksgiving!

Warren Bull said...

Maybe you should put out an anthology about anthologies.

Tonette Joyce said...

I love anthologies, especially crime anthologies, plus, I adore Thanksgiving. I will put this one right on my list.
I have never complied an anthology, but I have coordinated writings, and I used my acquired skills in coordinating 'pot-lucks'...don't leave it all to 'luck'. In other words,
you could have contacted the writers that you know and said, "We are heavy on the mashed potatoes, could you (bring/write)something with a casserole, ham or turkey?"
Maybe next anthology, which I will be on the lookout for.

KM Rockwood said...

Thanks, Jay, for your fascinating insights.

And thank you to everyone who responded to them.

Earl Staggs said...

Gee, Jay, I go through all those stages with every story I write. I'm proud to have stories in four of the five editions of these wonderful anthologies and look forward to running the gamut all those emotions for the next one. Thanks for all you do.

Lesley A. Diehl said...

It's been a real joy on my end writing these Thanksgiving stories. As for the mashed potatoes thing, maybe that's a nod for all those vegans at our Thanksgiving tables and for me because the best part of the meal is the gravy on the taters (well, there is also the fun of a murder, isn't there?). Next year you'll get a lot of stories about the rutabagas. Thanks for being willing to endure those five stages so many years, Jay.

Linda Rodriguez said...

What a funny post about editing anthologies--and so true! Thank you, Jay!