by Stefanie Brook Trout and Taylor Brorby
The word anthology comes from the Greek anthologia, meaning a “flower collection,” and each essay, story, and poem in an anthology is like a flower in a carefully tended garden. Anthologists, like good gardeners, cultivate, weed, and select using a discerning eye. They know what they like, what creates a diverse body of work, and which essays, stories, and poems complement one another.
When looking for the best fit for placing your work, you are likely familiar with the many free websites and databases listing literary journals and their calls for submissions—like The Review Review, for example—but what about calls for anthology submissions? Do you just google “anthology submissions 2015” and hope the opportunity of your dreams is in the first page of search results? (It probably won’t be.) Or do you just vigilantly read every call that goes out on the CrWrOpps listserv, waiting for the right anthology project to fall into your inbox?
Take advantage of the Information Age and consider following publishers, presses, and journals on social media to get the latest on what anthologies are open for submissions. Poets & Writers has a database of small presses, which is a great place to start. You can sort the results based on the type of writing you’re looking to place.
But let’s assume you’ve found that dream project, the anthology that makes you giddy just at the thought of seeing your name in its table of contents. Here are five recommendations to keep in mind before sending your work along:
1. Anthologies typically have a very specific focus. Respect that.
Some of the following tips can be transferred seamlessly to submitting to literary journals, but one major difference between the submission processes is that most literary journals have very broad criteria. Some have themes or only publish in one or two genres, but many simply ask for your “best work.” Anthologies want your best work too, but any anthology taking open submissions is going to have a very specific focus.
Whether it’s a certain theme, genre, or length, anthology editors know what they want, and work that doesn’t meet that criteria—even if it’s brilliant—won’t be considered. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take an unconventional approach to a theme—by all means. But don’t submit something that you know isn’t going to be selected. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. If you see a call for submissions and don’t have anything that fits the theme, treat it like a prompt and get writing!
2. If you really want to be anthologized, you can’t afford to be lazy. Do your research.
Sometimes submission guidelines are intentionally vague because the editors writing them don’t want to limit your imagination. Regardless of how much information the guidelines provide, reading them should never be the end of your research. Literary journals are wonderful, important places to publish your work, but their audiences can be limited, there are so many of them, and individual issues are, in a sense, ephemeral. Anthologies, on the other hand, are published less frequently. They are supposed to bring literary work to broader audiences and to stand the test of time. If you want your writing to appear in one, it’s worth doing a little extra work to find out what kind of work they are looking for.
Has the press published something like this before? If so, you should read it. (Yes, that means buying books. If you aren’t willing to pay for a book, how can you expect others to pay to read your work in a book? If you really can’t afford it, check it out from the library. If the library doesn’t have it, request it.) If this is their first time doing a project like this, look at other types of books they’ve published. Get to know their aesthetic. Many publishers have blogs where they give pointers to writers who would like to be published. You are the intended audience for these posts—read them. Follow the press on social media.
Find out who is editing the anthology. Look up what else they have edited. Maybe they talk about the kind of work that appeals to them in interviews or on blogs and social media. Not only will this research give you a sense of their tastes, but it will also clue you in to how you might show them something they haven’t seen before.
If you’ve done your research and still have questions, don’t hesitate to contact the editors. But whatever you do, don’t send them a question that you could have easily answered yourself if you had only taken 30 seconds to look it up.
3. Not all anthologies are created equally. Don’t assume anything.
Maybe you’ve been anthologized before or edited an anthology—or maybe you know someone who has and told you about their experience. That’s wonderful—and probably valuable—information to have, but it doesn’t mean that all anthologies are put together the same way. (If they were, it probably wouldn’t be very exciting to read them.) Regardless of your editing experience, don’t make assumptions about the process of someone else’s project or submit with any expectations not explicitly stated by the editors. Carefully read the submission guidelines, do your research, and, if you haven’t found answers to your questions, contact the editors in a polite and professional manner.
4. Editors are underpaid and under recognized. Be nice to them.
Most editors are not highly paid for their work, if they are paid at all. They do what they do because they are passionate about helping writers reach audiences. They are not your enemy. When corresponding with editors, be professional and polite. (The Review Review has published several articles on writing cover letters. If you aren’t sure how to do it well, look it up.) Even if your submission has been rejected, accepting the news with grace will ensure that you aren’t remembered for all of the wrong reasons. In that vein…
5. There are lots of factors at play. Don’t take a rejection personally.
There are any number of reasons why your submission might have received a rejection. Maybe it was off-theme or didn’t follow the guidelines or had many typographical errors that showed carelessness on the part of the writer. These kinds of things are preventable, and a professional writer won’t commit them.
But even the best, most professional writers receive rejections, and part of their professionalism is that they know not to take a rejection personally. An editor’s opinion is subjective, and your submission is competing against many others. Rejection is never going to feel great, but it’s a part of being a writer.
Stefanie Brook Trout and Taylor Brorby are the editors of the forthcoming Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America.
Stefanie previously edited Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland (Ice Cube Press 2014) with Lance M. Sacknoff and Xavier Cavazos and was the 2013-2014 nonfiction editor for Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment.
Taylor is a contributing editor for The EcoTheo Review and Assay: Journal of Nonfiction Studies, and he guest edited the 2014 “Sense of Place” issue of On Second Thought with Deb Marquart as part of a North Dakota Humanities Council Grant.