Monday Musings: Some Thoughts On Anthologies

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by Kathleen Valentine

OutShadowsThroughout my years as a writer I have been invited to participate in a number of anthologies and I try to take advantage whenever such an offer is made. In fact this week the latest anthology I participated in was released. This one is called Out of the Shadows and is available currently from Amazon, Kobo, and Scribd. It is a collection of nine short stories by an international group of nine women writers.

When I was asked to participate in this, I was told they were looking for short stories that were original and featured a strong female lead character. Of all my female characters probably the strongest is Vivienne Lang, the mixed-martial artist who is featured in three of my four Crazy Old Lady books. Viv is an accomplished fighter and does not hesitate to knock someone on their backside or punch them in the nose if necessary, but she also has a fragile side that I love. As I contemplated writing a short story about Viv, I decided to depart from my usual psychological horror in those stories and do something different. The title of the story is What Is the Group Noun for Crazy Old Ladies? I’m eager to see what people think of the story.

As I was reading this collection—which features stories by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar and Christine Nolfi, whose works I have read previously, and six stories by writers whose work I don’t know—I thought that anthologies are an interesting way for writers to cross-promote one another. But it is a good idea to have certain parameters on who is included in any collection.

Years ago, when I was new at this stuff, I contributed to an anthology that was doomed from the start. A bunch of us who participated in an early online writer’s group decided to do it. The end product was a mess because we had no guidelines for the collection. One story was romantic, one was comedy, one was paranormal, mine was a crime story. There was absolutely nothing cohesive about it except that all of us belonged to the same forum and how was the reader supposed to know that?

Later I was included in a few more that were better organized—three were all crime stories, two were women’s fiction, and one, Cooking With Our Characters, was a charming combination of excerpts with recipes. The idea of any anthology is that all the included authors will promote their books to their readers and, if the readers like a particular genre or style, they may find other stories in the collection that appeal to them as well. It’s a good way to expand readership.

I came across a very worthwhile blog post by Alex J. Cavanaugh called Anthologies: How They Can Advance Your Writing Career. I know Alex from the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge and he makes some excellent points in his post and offers good advice. One of the things he mentions is that when you decide to organize an anthology be very clear on the guidelines and requirements for submission. I think this is where a lot of anthologies fall flat—there is too much diversity of genre or style. I admit I, as a reader, am as guilty of this as anyone. There are genres I read and genres that I just skip. I refuse to read anything about zombies.

Length is also a factor for me. I tend to purchase anthologies of short stories but when it is a collection of full length works, I tend to skip it. I am not sure why. Maybe because I have more books than I can give my attention to as is, and I don’t want to download 10 full-length novels just to get 1 or 2.

All that being said, a well-planned and executed anthology can be a big boost for writers who want to cross-promote one another’s books. I can recommend a good example—why not try Out of the Shadows to start?

Thanks for reading.

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