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Joshua Palmatier ([personal profile] jpskewedthrone) wrote2017-09-08 08:34 am

How to Create an Anthology Part 1: Concept

This is the first of a series of blog posts that I wrote last year to show how I create the anthologies for Zombies Need Brains, the small press that I founded in order to produce anthologies. It's basically a behind-the-scenes look at the process, which will be covered in multiple parts. Obviously, this is only how I produce an anthology and there may be other roads to follow in order to produce one. Keep that in mind.

So the first step in creating an anthology--at least a themed anthology, like the ones Zombies Need Brains creates--is to come up with a concept. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Ideas are a dime a dozen and can be found on every street corner. The problem is that not every idea will actually work as an anthology theme. There are some key aspects to the idea that need to be present in order for the anthology to work.

First, the idea has to have an immediate "cool" factor. There are two main reasons for this--it needs to appeal to writers and is needs to appeal to readers.

An anthology is, of course, composed of short stories and in order to get good short stories to fill your anthology, you need to have an idea that appeals to writers. When you give your elevator pitch for the theme to an author, their eyes need to light up and they need to say, "Oooo! That's cool! I already have an idea for it!" That initial idea they have is probably too cliche or obvious, but the key fact is that your theme must seize a writer by the throat with its awesomeness and squeeze the creative juices out of them. If you propose your theme and the writer sits back and says, "I need to think on this to see if I can come up with something, I'll get back to you," then the anthology has already failed. If you can't inspire the writers to write stunning stories, then you won't be able to pull the readers in either.

And that's the second thing about the theme's "cool" factor: it needs to draw in readers. You want people to buy the anthology, don't you? Well then, it better have a theme that makes readers sit up and say, "That rocks! I must have this anthology!" If you give the reader the elevator pitch, they need to immediately ask, "Where's the book?" Otherwise, it's never going to sell.

But a stunning "cool" factor isn't enough either. Your theme needs to be focused and broad all at the same time. It can't be too narrow, because then you'll end up getting a set of stories that are all exactly the same, and no one wants to read an anthology of story after story where they all involve exactly the same characters, set-up, setting, or outcome. There needs to be some room for variety, for the authors to interpret the theme in different and unique ways. For example, an anthology about werewolves with vampire lovers and an aversion to the night and the moon. You might get a few good stories with that theme, but once you put fifteen of them together in an anthology, they're going to start to sound repetitive.

At the same time, it can't be too broad either. If it's too broad, you'll end up with stories that are wildly different and perhaps have no cohesiveness to them at all. At that point, you may as well just say you're collecting random SF&F stories for the anthology. The themes needs to be narrowed down enough that there's some uniqueness to your anthology, something that makes it stand out on the shelves, but leave enough room for some variety between the stories. Again, this uniqueness should be part of the "cool" factor.

I think the Zombies Need Brains anthology CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK VS ALIENS had such a theme--aliens invade a steampunk Earth. Focused but broad. As soon as Patricia Bray and I mentioned "steampunk vs aliens," most writers got all wide-eyed and you could see the idea engine spit out smoke and start churning. I don't think anyone we asked said they'd have to get back to us on whether they wanted to participate. Same for the readers. I think that's why that first Kickstarter we ran actually made its goal; readers were drawn in instantly by the concept. I see it happening again and again at the dealer's tables I set up for ZNB at cons. At the same time, the idea is broad enough that writers have some room to play with the idea. We never specify whether the aliens or the steampunk society wins. We never said what kind of aliens invade. This left a lot of leeway for the writers to get creative, which in the end gave as an extremely broad spectrum of stories. Variety is the spice of life, as they say.

So, coming up with a good, solid concept for your anthology is the first step. Once you have that idea nailed down, you're ready to move on to the next step: collecting authors and/or stories. That will be the topic of the next blog post in this series. In the meantime, here's a message from your sponsor:

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Zombies Need Brains is currently running a Kickstarter (at http://tinyurl.com/insurgenturbar) to fund THREE new SF&F anthologies and we need your help! We can't produce anthologies unless we can get the funding to pay the authors, the cover artists, the print and ebook designers, and the printers. That's where the Kickstarter comes in, and you, THE FANS! We've got a ton of stunning anchor authors on board, including NY Times bestselling authors and award winners. And we've got a ton of great reward levels, such as tuckerizations, signed copies of books by your favorite authors, and more! Our themes for this current Kickstarter are:

THE RAZOR'S EDGE: One man’s insurgent is another man’s freedom fighter… Where is the line between the freedom fighter and the insurgent, or is it simply a matter of perspective? When does fighting for a cause slip from right to wrong, where does the moral high ground become immoral, and when do the ends no longer justify the means?  Edited by Troy Bucher & Joshua Palmatier, this military SF&F anthology will explore the heroes and villains on both sides of insurgencies, both in the realms of science fiction and in fantasy. It will include short stories by: Gerald Brandt, William C. Dietz, D.B. Jackson, Chris Kennedy, Kay Kenyon, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Seanan McGuire, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and Steve Perry.

SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE UR-BAR: In 2011, DAW Books published AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, the first anthology edited by Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier, starting them down the road that eventually led to the formation of the small press Zombies Need Brains. Now, we’d like to return to that legendary time-traveling bar with all new stories set throughout the ages. Here you will find heroes and villains alike, as the immortal bartender Gilgamesh serves up drinks mixed with magic and a dash of intrigue. And if you’re lucky, perhaps he’ll even mix you up his own special elixir! Edited by Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier, SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE UR-BAR will contain short stories by: Jacey Bedford, Gini Koch, Juliet E. McKenna, C.E. Murphy, Kristine Smith, and Kari Sperring.

GUILDS & GLAIVES: Sword and sorcery has long been a much beloved staple of the SF&F community. Who doesn’t like a daring thief skulking through back alleys in the dark of night, or a deranged mage conjuring death spells in a bubbling cauldron? This anthology will tackle the subgenre of thieves, assassins, guilds, and dark magic. Edited by S.C. Butler & Joshua Palmatier, GUILDS & GLAIVES will contain short stories by: David B. Coe, James Enge, David Farland, Esther Friesner, Howard Andrew Jones, Gini Koch, Violette Malan, and Seanan McGuire.

If you'd like to help fund these anthologies, swing on by the Kickstarter at http://tinyurl.com/insurgenturbar! And share the Kickstarter with your friends, family, and total strangers! We need more SF&F anthologies!




"The Razor's Edge" by Justin Adams of Varia Studios