Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Editing an anthology

I promised to talk about the art of putting together an anthology - so here goes. Of course, I claim no special expertise, but after editing seventeen anthologies, and being invited to contribute to a good many others over the years, at least I do have experience!

My own preference tends to be for anthologies that have a connecting theme or link of some kind. This helps to give a bit of shape to what might otherwise be shapeless. But I don’t tend to obsess about the theme. ‘Perfect crimes’ or ‘Identity’ are themes that can encompass a remarkably wide range of stories.

Variety does seem to me to be important. The risk is that a reader may like some stories more than others. But that is inevitable. The key is to try to include good stories, so that even if some readers aren’t bowled over by one story, others will be. And variety includes variety of length. Sometimes I include pretty short stories, sometimes much longer ones, though never anything above 10,000 words.

It’s great fun to receive and read the stories. Crime writers, I’ve found, are very generous. I like to include stories by overseas writers when I can, and I also like the idea of mixing star names with unfamiliar names, and relative newcomers. The only part of the process that I hate is rejecting stories. None of us likes rejection, and I don’t like inflicting it. But it’s unavoidable, because every time, I receive more stories than there is space. To reject a story does not imply fault within the story itself, and I do try to make that clear to the authors concerned. I can only hope they understand the dilemma.

I love writing short stories, and I love reading them too. I’ve been especially thrilled when stories I’ve selected have gone on to win prizes – CWA Daggers, an Edgar, a Barry, and many nominations over the years. These honours give me a vicarious sense of satisfaction. But even more rewarding is the privilege of having been the first to see some masterly stories by the likes of Ian Rankin, Lawrence Block, Edward D. Hoch, Reginald Hill and so on. For a crime fan, what could be better?


aguja said...

I enjoy reading short stories and I admire those who can write them. It may appear easy, but there is an art to the short story that eludes me and is why I have so much time for them.
Keep up the good work Martin!

Paul Beech said...

Thanks for your very interesting post, Martin.

I also like a themed anthology and think one of the fascinating things is the variety of treatments. Short stories offer scope for authors to stray beyond the tried and tested approach of their novels and try something different, if they so wish – macabre, historical, maybe a first outing for a new character, whatever.

The important thing, of course, is that it’s a fairly broad theme such as your ‘Original Sins’ or John Harvey’s ‘Men From Boys’. Anything too narrowly defined would be likely to stifle inspiration and produce shallow contrived work.

I like your editorial approach and feel sure your anthologies will always be strong, varied and highly entertaining, with more than the occasional prizewinner amongst the stories you bring us. And good anthologies greatly benefit the genre.

Regards, Paul

Tara Maya said...

Anthologies are interesting. I enjoy an anthology that becomes more than the sum of its parts. When I put together my own anthology, Conmergence, I tried to arrange the stories, along with my comments about what was going on in my life around the time I wrote them, so that taken together it had a subtle rise to a climax. At least, that's what I *tried* to do. The reader can of course read the stories in any order they please, but I like to think that there's an added value to reading them right through.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Aguja!
Paul - I really must read the John Harvey book. Keep meaning to get round to it...
Tara, do tell us more about Commergence.