Crafting an Anthology

There’s a lot that goes into building an anthology, but let’s start with the basics. An anthology is a collection of works (stories, articles, poems, etc.) by multiple authors while a collection includes work by a single author. Anthologies may have an overarching theme tying the stories together or no theme and can have one editor or multiple editors. 

What’s an anthology theme? This is the topic that links all the stories, to one degree or another. It can run from something very specific, like Clarion Graduates of 2250, to the more general Horses in Fantasy or Cats in Space. Why do anthologies have themes? The usual reasons include ease of marketing, a draw for certain authors and tapping into one or more specific audiences. Do they have to have themes? Nope. It can be helpful, but it can also limit your audience to some extent if a reader likes a given author but isn’t excited about the theme.

Where do anthologies come from? There are two main paths and many side routes:

  1. An editor (or a team) has an idea and pitches that idea to a publisher. The publisher accepts the idea, agrees to figure out some or all of the funding and the editor/team finds the authors and stories.
  2. An editor/team has an idea, assembles authors and stories and either puts the book out themselves or pitches the complete proposal or even the completed book to a publisher.

If you are reading this because you are considering editing an anthology yourself, bear in mind that while it can be very fulfilling, it is also very time and energy consuming. It can also be expensive, depending on how you are handling cover art, copy edits, paying authors, shipping and other factors. Being excited about the project for a lengthy period of time will definitely help so choose wisely.

How are anthologies funded? Generally speaking, one of two ways:

  1. Directly by a publisher, editor(s) or even by the authors themselves as a collaborative project.
  2. Crowd-funded. There are many reasons for this approach, ranging from the painful fact that many anthologies do not earn out or even cover their costs to achieving the kind of lift that a successful crowd-funding campaign can give to a project. 

Whether you are writing for an anthology or planning on editing/publishing one, it is helpful to know how it’s getting paid for. If the authors get paid a percentage of the sales, for example, the book needs to be selling in quantity in order for them to get paid. If it’s dependent on a crowd-funding campaign to pay for everything, then that needs to be successful or nobody gets paid for their time. Anthology costs can include everything from cover art to author royalties, copyediting, book design, ISBNs, mailing books to contributors and more. There may also be additional rewards for a crowd-funding campaign. Factor all this into your budget if you are the one planning the anthology.

How do authors find out about anthologies? They usually fall into the following categories:

  1. Invitation-only. The editor and/or publisher determine which authors will receive an invitation to write for the book. Getting an invite is often a matter of a combination of networking and publication track record. 
  2. Open call. This means that anyone can submit before the deadline if they think their story is a fit.
  3. Mixing things up. The editor might request stories from specific authors and do an open call for the rest, or vice versa if they’re not seeing the kind of stories that they want.

Where do editors find writers for an open call? They generally use a “call for stories/submissions (CFS).” These are the guidelines that an editor puts out on a website, newsletter, online group or writer’s forum that includes the theme (if any), word count, deadlines, what kind of stories they do or don’t want to see, payment information and more. You can find them by joining a Facebook group that posts CFS, following publishers and editors on Twitter or other media, subscribing to newsletters, checking out websites like, etc.

What does the anthology editor do with those submissions? They send out acceptances and rejections, decide on story order and word count, send out author contracts and all the other pieces that go into creating a good anthology. Note for those of you who are authors: anthologies generally sell better when the authors actively promote the book and that usually benefits everyone in the long run. At the end of the day, each anthology is unique and everyone involved has a part to play in that.

Catherine Lundoff

Catherine Lundoff is a Minneapolis-based award-winning writer and editor. Her recent articles and essays have appeared in such venues as Library JournalNightmare Magazine, the SFWA BlogThe World Remains Mysterious and Queer Voices: Poetry, Prose and Pride. She is the publisher at Queen of Swords Press.