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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Chesapeake Crimes Series

By Barb Goffman

Each time we put out a call for stories for another volume in the Chesapeake Crimes short-story
The most recent
Chesapeake Crimes
released in March
series, I usually get at least one email asking me if we made a mistake in the listed dates. The deadline isn’t really ten months from now, is it? The anthology isn’t really scheduled to come out three years from now, is it?

Ah, but it is, I reply. No mistakes have been made. The deadline is far off, and the publication date, well, you can’t even see that sucker on the horizon.

You see, with the Chesapeake Crimes series, we like to take our time. My fellow editors Donna Andrews, Marcia Talley, and I have found that a leisurely pace pays off. Every volume in the series has stories that have won or been nominated for major mystery awards. Chesapeake Crimes stories have won the Agatha, Anthony, Derringer, and Macavity awards. We’ve also had a story final for the Thriller Award. We have high hopes for the stories in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies, the eighth volume in the series, which was recently published by Wildside Press. Submission to our anthologies are open to members of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

The previous
Chesapeake Crimes
While other anthology series often have a new book published annually, we put out a new Chesapeake Crimes every two years. And while many anthology calls for stories have a quick turn-around time, with a deadline two to four months off, we like to give our potential contributors nine or ten months to work on their submissions.

Why? Some writers could come up with great stories in a flash, but others may need more time. Perhaps they’re busy with day jobs. Perhaps they need a lot of time for story ideas to percolate. Or perhaps they’re new to short stories, and they need the time to write a first draft and then revise and revise some more. Whatever the reason, since we have the time, we’re happy to give it to the writers. Our goal is to put out great books, and an important step toward that goal is giving authors a lot of time to polish their stories.

Then comes decision-making time. For each volume, we have three authors who review all the submissions and choose which stories are accepted. The people who choose the stories can’t submit to that volume, so they have no skin in the game. They also don’t know who wrote each submission. We like this so-called blind approach because it aims to ensure that stories are accepted or rejected based on their merit, not on who wrote them. (That’s why Donna, Marcia, and I can submit for each volume—we don’t choose the stories and our names aren’t attached to our submissions.) Because we know that acceptance decisions are subjective, we use a different three-person panel for each volume. If the same panel chose the stories for each volume, an author whose style wasn’t to a panel’s liking could be shut out regularly. But with different authors choosing the stories for each volume, an author has more of a chance of getting in.

There’s something else different with our anthologies, and it comes into play at decision-making
Chesapeake Crimes
time. A lot of other anthology editors look for stories that are pretty much ready to be published. Maybe some light line editing or copy editing will be done. Not us.

When it comes time to choose the stories, we tell our panelists that they shouldn’t look only for stories that are ready for publication. Instead, we ask our panelists to choose stories they enjoy that could become publishable with work—because after the stories are chosen, Donna, Marcia, and I edit them, in the true sense of the word. Do we love stories that are in great shape at the outset? Of course. But a story that’s in mediocre shape that could be become great with work, we’re happy to have that story accepted. In fact, for me, helping make stories shine is much of the fun of working on the anthologies. For many of our chapter authors—including me—publication in Chesapeake Crimes is their first fiction publication credit. It can be a dream come true, and I love playing a part in making that happen. Indeed, when the Chesapeake Crimes series began, it was with the idea that the books would serve as a learning experience for our chapter authors. We want to help them improve, and we’re willing to put in the time to do it.

Chesapeake Crimes
And here’s where that time comes in: once the stories for a volume are accepted, Donna, Marcia, and I divvy them out amongst ourselves. Each story has a primary editor, but the other two of us will review every story before publication to ensure we’re happy with them too.

As the primary editor, I’ve worked with authors whose stories have gone through five drafts, maybe seven, over a several-month period. It starts with a developmental edit, which can take multiple drafts. Then a line edit and a copy edit. (Depending on the shape of the manuscript, the line edit might occur with the developmental edit.)

Why not one round of edits? Well, after the first revisions are done, new problems can appear. Maybe they’re newly introduced problems, or maybe they’re problems that were buried in the manuscript before, but you couldn’t see them at first. Inconsistencies. Factual matters that need to be corrected.  Dialogue that sounds off. All of this work takes time—spotting the issues and then correcting them. When I edit a story and send it back to the author, I try to give him or her several weeks to work on the revision. And then several more weeks if it’s returned again. And again. I’m sure I’ve annoyed authors by returning a story with yet more questions, but we aim for the stories to be the best they can be, and I’m willing to be a pest for us to reach that point.

Once each author’s story is deemed done by her primary editor, the other two editors review. This is a vital step in our process, because even after multiple drafts and months of work, problems can be overlooked. Two extra pairs of eyes make it much more likely such problems are spotted and
Chesapeake Crimes
# 4
fixed before publication.

Does it sound like we should be done by now? Nope. Once Donna, Marcia, and I think the stories are good to go, we decide on the story order, and then we send the draft off to Wildside Press, where the eagle-eyed Carla Coupe reads the book. Sometimes she just spots typos. Sometimes she spots bigger problems all of us have missed, and a story goes back to its author one more time.

Eventually we come to the proofreading stage, then review copies go out, and finally, finally, the book is published—three years after the call for stories was put out, two years after the submission deadline. Is it worth it, putting all this time into each book? We think so. But the real test comes upon publication. What will the readers think? That’s where we are now with Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies. We’re waiting to see what the readers think. The few reviews we’ve had so far have been good. Fingers crossed on those to come.

Thank you to Barb Goffman for joining us with some of the backstory behind the anthologies produced by Chessie Chapter of SinC.

                                                                                                                                    KM Rockwood


Jim Jackson said...

Barb -- Thanks for sharing your process. Quality takes time and many today are too impatient to produce excellent work.

Kait said...

What a great glimpse into the process. Thanks, Barb.

Warren Bull said...

Thanks for giving us the inside scoop.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Interesting glimpse of the other side of anthology publishing.

KM Rockwood said...

I was pleased that Barb was willing to outline the process for us!

Barb Goffman said...

Thanks to all you Writers Who Kill for hosting me today and for commenting on my post. The Chesapeake Crimes anthologies are a labor of love, and I'm glad to have the chance to share the process with you all.