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This is the fifth of a series of blog posts that I wrote last year in order to show how I create the anthologies for Zombies Need Brains. 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.

Here are the previous parts of the series:

Part 4: Slush Pile:
Part 3: Funding:
Part 2: Authors:
Part 1: Concept:

At this point, you now have all of the stories you intend to put into the anthology. Now comes the heart of your job: editing. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

First, of course, you need to read through all of the stories with an eye towards how you can make the story better. That’s the entire goal. And at the same time, you have to respect the integrity of the author—their style, their voice, the story that they intended to tell. You aren’t trying to rewrite their story to what YOU think it should be; you’re trying to understand the heart of the story that the author wanted to tell and figure out how to improve on what’s written on the paper. It’s rare that a story can’t be improved in some manner. Writers aren’t perfect. In fact, most writers are, in general, unhappy with the story they wrote on some level, because they had this grand vision of the story in their head, and rarely does that grand vision translate completely onto the page. (I can say this because I’ve written so much myself and it never comes out the way I imagined it in my head.) So most writers are open to suggestions for how to improve the story … as long as they recognize that you respect what they wrote in the first place.

And that’s probably the key to editing: everything you say is just a suggestion. You should phrase the revision letter that you send to each author with that in mind. What you try to do as an editor is explain where you feel there are flaws in the story—plot holes, characters acting out of character, infodumps, too much setting, too little setting, not enough worldbuilding, too much worldbuilding, etc. You need to get across to the author why you feel there is a flaw there. If they can see why you have a problem with that section, then they can figure out a way to fix it. (Note: At this stage, you are NOT looking for typos or grammar errors or small stuff that like; you’re looking for the big picture story issues—plot, structure, character, setting, worldbuilding, etc.) Sometimes I’ll offer up a few suggestions as to how I might fix it, but this is mainly an attempt to clarify what I think the issue is in that section. I don’t expect the author to use my suggestions (unless they want to). In fact, I expect them to come up with their own solution, because in the end it’s their story and they usually come up with a better fix anyway. But even then, the decision to change the story in any way is still the author’s. And they may decide that the way it’s currently written is fine and not change anything at all in that section.

Basically, you need to remember that you’re dealing with real people, who are more personally involved in the story than you are. They’ve poured their heart into the story. One of the more delicate interactions you’re going to have during the entire course of creating this anthology will be writing the revision letters for the authors. You need to get across what you think can be improved, but at the same time you can’t be completely and totally blunt about it (unless you’ve worked with the author many times already and have an understanding with them). The majority of the time, I’m dealing with authors I’ve never worked with before. I don’t know how they’d react to a short, blunt assessment of the story. So write the revision letter with the idea that you and the author are collaborators. You both have the same goal: make the story better.

Writers need to keep this in mind as well. The editor (if they’re a good editor) isn’t trying to tear your story apart. They like the story, otherwise it wouldn’t have made it to the editing stage. They simply want to polish it up, take off its sharper edges, make it shine. Yes, it’s hard to step back and try to see what the editor is trying to say, especially after you struggled to get those words down on the page in the first place, but remember that they’re trying to make the story the best it can possibly be. And also remember that, in the end, you don’t have to listen to them. A good editor simply wants you to consider what they’re saying, because they don’t have the personal attachment to the story. They have a little distance, perhaps enough to see things that you haven’t yet. The editor’s suggestions are not attacks.

Once you’ve written the revision letters, the majority of the work passes back onto the authors. You have to give them a little time to absorb your suggestions, to come to terms with them, and then come up with their own solutions. As an editor, mostly you’re just waiting for the “final” stories to come back in. But be prepared to have a few conversations with the authors as well. They may bounce ideas off of you. They may need to discuss your suggestions—either to clarify what you meant or even to disagree with you and try to explain why. Often these conversations lead to a better understanding of what the story wants to be by both the editor and the author. Throughout this process, both sides need to keep in mind that it’s a collaboration.

While the authors are working on their revisions, what the editor should be doing is considering the Table of Contents for the anthology. This is a surprisingly complicated process for most anthologies, so will be the topic of the next post in this blog series.

And now a word from our sponsor:


Zombies Need Brains is currently running a Kickstarter ( 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:

PORTALS: In the blink of an eye, the familiar disappears as you step into the unknown. What new creatures will you meet? What strange planets will you explore? Will you find happiness, or doom? Open the pages of PORTALS, the newest anthology from the small press Zombies Need Brains, and you just might find out. From wardrobes to monoliths, wormholes to fairy rings, there is a rich tradition of stories in both science fiction and fantasy that explore what happens when--by accident or design--characters are transported from one world to another. Join fourteen of today’s leading science fiction and fantasy authors as they offer fresh takes on this classic theme. Whether a routine trip or unexpected journey, each tale will explore new worlds of adventure, mystery, humor, and horror, with stories for every taste and fancy. Edited by S.C. Butler and Patricia Bray, PORTALS will contain approximately fourteen stories with an average length of up to 6,000 words each. It will include short stories by: Jacey Bedford, F. Brett Cox, James Enge, Esther Friesner, Nancy Holzner, Gini Koch, Violette Malan, Jaime Lee Moyer, and Ian Tregillis.

TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED: In our spam boxes today, we both received notices that our bank accounts required resolution, and the content of the spam contained the following sentence: "We have noticed that you need to resolve important security issues on your account to prevent temporal deactivation." Of course, our immediate thought was of a new anthology called TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED! For this follow-up to 2015’s TEMPORALLY OUT OF ORDER, we are looking for stories that take a person, object, event, or phenomenon and somehow, during the course of the plot, “temporally deactivate” it, whatever that may mean in the context of the story. “Temporal deactivation” should refer to something more than a simple death, malfunction, or termination, and instead should touch in some way on issues of time — its flow, distortion, dislocation, etc. Edited by David B. Coe & Joshua Palmatier, it will contain approximately 14 stories with an average length of up to 6000 words each. It will include short stories by: C.S. Friedman, Faith Hunter, D.B. Jackson, Gini Koch, Stephen Leigh, Misty Massey, Jenna Rhodes, and Edmund R. Schubert.

ALTERNATE PEACE: All too often, alternate histories are based on a battle or assassination. We’re looking for stories where change grew out of more peaceful activities…science, business, and culture. Imagine a world in which the branch point from our own was caused by scientific endeavor, social change, natural forces, or other points of divergence which don’t rely on military activity or violence. Edited by Steven H Silver & Joshua Palmatier, it will contain approximately 14 stories with an average length of up to 6000 words each. It will include short stories by: D.B. Jackson, Stephen Leigh, Ian R. MacLeod, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kari Sperring, Harry Turtledove, Rick Wilber.

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

"Portals" by Justin Adams of Varia Studios


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Joshua Palmatier

March 2019

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