Guest Post: Selecting Stories for an Anthology: A Publisher’s Point of View

A Guest Post by Judy Penz Sheluk

I’ve been on all sides of the anthology fence, as a story submitter, a publisher, editor, and judge. I’ve felt the thrill of acceptance and the disappointment of rejection (as the intake coordinator for Passport to Murder, the Bouchercon Toronto anthology, I had the dubious distinction of sending a rejection letter to myself).

As the publisher/editor of two multi-author anthologies, with a third planned for 2021, I’ve also spent many hours reading and rating submissions with one goal in mind: Culling down the entries (71 for The Best Laid Plans; 105 for Heartbreaks & Half-truths) to a manageable 20/21. Here are some tips to improve your chances:

Does it meet the theme?
Most anthologies have an underlying theme. Don’t think your story is so special that the theme can be ignored. No matter how good a story is, or how impressive your writing credentials, if it doesn’t meet the theme, it won’t be accepted.

Does it meet the word count guidelines?
Some anthologies (as was the case with Passport to Murder) are very strict about word counts; one word over and you’re out. For my recent anthology, Heartbreaks & Half-Truths, I requested stories from 1,500 to 5,000 words, though this was “somewhat flexible. I did, however, draw the line at one submission of 7,800 words, which I didn’t take the time to read. There’s somewhat flexible and then there’s submitting the equivalent of an Olympic gymnast.

Does it meet the criteria?
For Heartbreaks, the callout stated: Traditional, locked room, noir, historical and suspense will be considered; however, do not submit stories with overt sex, violence, or excessive bad language. And yet, I received some with all of that and more. Do yourself a favor and send your story to a market that is more likely to accept it.

Did you format according to the publisher’s specifications?
I requested: Times New Roman 12, double spaced, 1” margins, .5” indent (no tabs), no header or footer. Word .doc or .docx only. About 50% of authors paid attention to this (headers/footers being the one thing no one wanted to give up). Will you be rejected for submitting in Calibri 11, single-spaced, with headers and footers? Probably not. But why not show the editor that you can read as well as write?

Don’t be last minute
You don’t have to be first out of the gate. In fact, if you submit on day one, I’m pretty sure you’re sending me something out of your slush pile. That doesn’t mean sending it in on the last day, or in some cases, in the last hour. Be respectful of the editor/publisher’s time; most of us read the stories as they come in, starting our long list as we do so. And no one wants a long list that is, well, too long.

Judy Penz Sheluk

Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short stories appear in several collections, including Live Free or Tri and The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, and Heartbreaks & Half-truths: 22 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, which she also edited. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime National, Toronto, and Guppy Chapters, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, International Thriller Writers, South Simcoe Arts Council, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Chair on the Board of Directors. Connect with her online and sign up for her newsletter to get notification of her next anthology callout.

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5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Selecting Stories for an Anthology: A Publisher’s Point of View”

  1. I had the pleasure to read many of the submissions along the way to the publication of both of Judy’s anthologies, and of course the final products. She is an absolute pro. Respect your work, respect your reader, and respect your publisher; professionalism will pay back dividends in the long run. She produces high-quality work, second to none.

    1. Cheri, complete rules are now on my website. The post went out today. But no header / footer means just that. I don’t want page numbers, your name or anything else in a header or footer But you are best to read the complete rules.

  2. Great post, Judy, and you have my deepest empathy, as I have similar experiences in doing the BOULD Awards anthology for the third year. I have found ways to simplify the prep (font, header/footers, line spacing, etc.) before sending the entries off to the judges, but you’re SO right on many writers not reading the specs carefully.

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