Like I did last week, I’m rerunning this piece from 2006 (with minor edits) to get it into WordPress.
For a long time, invitation-only anthologies were my Holy Grail, a goal only one step below actually selling a novel to a major publisher. I drove myself a little loopy trying to crack the invite market, and thought I’d share those experiences for anyone trying to do the same.
The first invite-only anthology I got in to was Turn the Other Chick. I had seen a note on Esther Friesner’s website that she was doing new Chicks anthology. I wrote a short e-mail introducing myself, listing my meager story sales, and asking if I might contribute a story.
I was told I could submit, but she wouldn’t tell me where. If I had worked with her before, or was recommended by someone who had, they would have her address. Fortunately, I had joined SFWA … which includes a directory of members. Booya! Address accomplished! Now came the hard part.
I re-read the Chicks anthologies and spent days trying to come up with an idea that hadn’t been done before. I ended up writing “Over the Hill,” a tale of three retired swordswomen trying to complete one last mission while fighting both bandits and the effects of age.
Around the same time, a friend from my writing group mentioned that an editor was reading for a new volume of Sword & Sorceress. (Behold the power of networking.) I contacted that editor and mentioned my sale to MZB’s Fantasy Magazine. This was enough to get an invitation. I then went through several drafts and much stressing before finishing “Spell of the Sparrow.”
Both of these were “on spec” invites with no promises or guarantees. Both stories sold. And there was much rejoicing.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Turn the Other Chickwas done through Tekno. Though this process, I exchanged a few e-mails with John Helfers at Tekno and asked if he had any other anthologies coming up.
He sent me an invite for Gateways. I once again tortured myself to make it the best story possible, even more than I usually did for the stuff I was sending out unsolicited. I wanted to impress my editor enough that he’d invite me back the next time.
It sort of worked. He bought the story, but I didn’t get another invite for a long time. So I looked around to see who else was editing. Julie Czerneda was one of the editors I had found in that self-centered hunt. I lurked in her newsgroup and discovered she’s also an incredibly cool person. So I chatted a bit and eventually sent a short, polite “Hi, can I play in your next project?”
A few months passed, and Julie invited me to write for Fantastic Companions. I spent a while thinking about the theme and trying to figure out the obvious stories. Having talked to some of the authors afterwards, I know Julie received several dragon stories and rejected all but one. I decided to write about a young girl and her sentient, smart-ass kite. “Kitemaster” was a little weird, but I was betting she wouldn’t receive two talking kite stories.
I continued to chat with John at Tekno, and occasionally nudged him about other projects. I probably crossed the line into nagging. But John was forgiving, and passed my name to Brittiany Koren for Fantasy Gone Wrong. Brittiany had read Goblin Quest, and I think that helped. I wrote her a goblin story called “Goblin Lullaby.”
A short time later, I got an invitation from Russell Davis (another editor I had e-mailed, asking if he would keep me in mind for future projects). He also knew me from Goblin Quest. He was editing If I Were an Evil Overlord, and had come up short. He needed another story … in two weeks. Could I do it?
I did it in one. It was an ugly week, and I don’t know why my family didn’t put me out of their misery, but I did it.
These days, most of my short fiction is written for invitations from editors I’ve worked with before. I’m not flooded with invites, but I receive a handful each year. Occasionally I’ll see a project that sounds fun and e-mail to see if I can play too. It’s enough to keep me busy.
What conclusions do I draw from all of this?
- Your odds are better if you already have pro-level sales under your belt. Especially if the editor has read and liked your work (thank you, Goblin Quest).
- Networking is important, much as I hate to admit it. And editors talk to one another. So do authors. Authors talk to editors, too. So be nice.
- When you get that invitation, be professional. Don’t blow the deadline. Don’t turn in a dusty old trunk story (unless you revise the heck out of it to make it shiny and brilliant). Show the editor you’re someone they want to work with again.
- There are no guarantees. An invitation does not mean the editor will accept your story. I’ve had several rejections on invite-only projects.
- I’ve never had an editor get mad at me for politely asking if they’d consider me for a project. Don’t push, and don’t pout if they say no or ignore you. The worst they can say is no.
- Make your story stand out. Try not to write the most obvious story for any particular theme.
- Unfortunately, there are more authors wanting to write for anthologies than there are anthologies. Be patient. Like everything else in this business, it takes time.
I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to jump in with questions, or to discuss your own experiences.
September 18, 2009 @ 3:49 pm
I’m at the point where an editor had an anthology run short and needed something else. He had read a story of mine for a magazine he worked on, and I talked to him for about 5 minutes at a convention where I
1) Said who I was
2) Thanked him for looking at my story (with quick sum up/reminder of the story, which I probably shouldn’t have done)
3) Immediately switched to talking about the panel he had just been on. And
4) Thanked him again.
Seven months letter he sent me an email asking to see the story again as it might fill the hole he had in his antho. Asked me to cut it down to size, which I did with two weeks to spare. Then he asked for a rewrite (cutting it had made the frame into a bunch of characters with funny hats). Which I did and perfectly matched the word count to the original (nobody was as surprised as me), made the frame more poignant while still making the major points I wanted to. It still hasn’t been published yet (on hold right now, very long story). But he’s asked me if I have other stories that would work for other anthos he has in progress.
Networking works, but having a story ready to go works even better.
Jim C. Hines
September 18, 2009 @ 3:57 pm
One way or another, being able to provide something on short notice seems to help a lot. Like you, several of my early invites were last-minute requests for projects that had come up short.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the one you’ve got on hold!
September 23, 2009 @ 8:28 pm
…and for me, this is timely (even if I’m reading it late), since something I wrote for an invite-only anthology didn’t make it. Thanks for the reminder that even the best of us don’t succeed all the time.
Jim C. Hines
September 23, 2009 @ 8:38 pm
A friend of mine rejected me from one of these last year. In some ways, it stings even more when it was an invite, doesn’t it?
Is this something you can submit elsewhere?
September 23, 2009 @ 9:35 pm
Luckily, yes. I actually intend to send it to another market tonight. And there’s a few open slots (for the same anthology) that I’m currently editing another story to compete for. (Wow, that’s a tortured sentence.)
Crazy Short Story Plans « A Little Imagination
October 9, 2009 @ 3:36 am