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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 (at 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! 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


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Joshua Palmatier

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