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This is the sixth of a series of blog posts that I wrote last year in order 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.

Here are the previous parts of the series:

Part 5: Editing:
Part 4: Slush Pile:
Part 3: Funding:
Part 2: Authors:
Part 1: Concept:

So at this point you’ve got all of your stories back to your authors with revision notes and they’re working on revisions. Editors don’t get to sit back and relax at this point. There are other things to do, and one of those is the Table of Contents for the anthology. You might think that this is just writing down what stories are in the anthology and then you’re done. You’d be wrong.

The Table of Contents is a little more complicated than that and ends of requiring a lot more time than you’d think. Patricia and I have literally spent hours trying to figure it out, often with breaks because we both had a headache. Now, it may be that the ToC is obvious, such as with our anthology AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, where the stories had a chronological order. But most anthologies don’t have a set-up like that. Which means you need to carefully consider what order you want the stories to appear in the book.

The first and last story in the anthology should be two of your strongest stories AND they should also be stories that epitomize the theme of the story, especially that first one. Why? Because readers who are searching the shelves at the bookstore may pick up the anthology and most people turn to the first story (or sometimes the last) in order to see what kind of stories they’ll find in the book. You need to have a good, solid introductory story to get them into the theme. And if someone does buy the anthology and reads it, you’ll want them to end the anthology on a high note, so perhaps they’ll run out and buy one of your other anthologies.

You can’t simply throw the other stories in the middle either. You should try to vary the tones and atmospheres and concepts. You don’t want to put all of your dark stories in one group, or all your humorous ones, because that becomes repetitive for the reader. You need to alternate them a little bit—perhaps a humorous story followed by a dark one, then a medium-ish story in tone, then a lighter one, etc. Do the same for the concepts, don’t group the werewolf stories together when you’ve got vampires and fae to mix it up. Basically, you don’t want the reader to be reading through the anthology and ever have the feeling or say to themselves, “I just read this story.” If you’ve designed the concept of the anthology so that it’s broad enough, then you’ll have a variety of themes and tones in the stories you accepted. You should be able to make the reading experience jump around in those themes and tones so the reader is getting different experience from story to story.

For Zombies Need Brains anthologies, where we have anchor authors and other authors pulled from the slush pile, we also try to alternate between the two types of authors, although this isn’t really necessary. But we find mixing familiar names with unfamiliar ones keeps the reader reading as well, and may even give the reader an unconscious nudge to try some of the authors they don’t recognize. Because, let’s face it, most people buy anthologies because they recognize a few names in the Table of Contents. Often, they’ll open the anthology and read the familiar authors’ stories first, no matter where they are in the anthology. Having them read some of the other stories, and perhaps find new favorite authors, is one of the best things about producing anthologies in the first place.

So think carefully about how you place the stories in an anthology’s Table of Contents. It is more important than simply listing those stories in order. Shoot for some variety, so the reading experience is a rollercoaster of a ride.

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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