Lessons from Sidekicks!

As I begin work on my second anthology, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on what I learned in editing my first. Sidekicks! taught me a lot as an editor, but also as a writer. Thus, I’m going to separate What I Learned into lessons for myself as a writer and lessons for myself as an editor, and use bullets, because bulleted lists are awesome. And if you learn something from this list, then hey, bonus. Sharing is caring.

For Writers

  • Putting yourself out there is the best way to be invited to an anthology. Go to conventions. Enter competitions. Join a local writing group. Send your writing resume and a sample of your work uninvited to an editor or publisher. All of these were ways that I found authors for the anthology.
  • When you’re invited to an anthology, reply to the invitation. Even if you can only say “Sorry, this isn’t up to my pay grade” or “Sorry, I don’t have time for this project, but please keep in mind for others!” the editor will appreciate it, and remember it for next time.
  • Give the editor something she’s never seen before. Don’t bore her with the same concept, characters, and setting that every other author will use. Don’t go with the obvious.
  • Remember that you have to grab the editor’s attention with an intriguing title. Again, don’t go for the obvious. For instance, if you’re invited to an anthology about vampires, don’t put “vampire” in the title. Don’t use the word “blood” either. You want your title to stand out.
  • Common wisdom is that your first paragraph has to grab the reader’s attention, and this is true. But in a short story, the first page really has to grab. Don’t put a flashback or too much backstory at the beginning. Give me action and compelling characters. Make me want to read the rest by revealing the backstory as you go along, instead of infodumping it all over me in the first page.
  • Do your research. If you’re writing about someone who is different from you, talk to someone from that group. Read about them. Have someone from that group read your story and tell you whether it’s on the mark.
  • Copy edit. Put your story in front of a writing group or, at least, a reader who is a bit of a grammar hound. I might pass on a great story that is full of typos and mistakes simply because I already have too many other stories with similar problems and I can’t bear to deal with another one. This is especially important if you’re pinch-hitting, because your editor needs a story that she can insert into the anthology at the last minute, with minimal editing.
  • Even if the editor tells you the format of your submission is not a big deal, send it in Standard Manuscript Format anyway. At the very least, include the story title, author name, and an email address on the first page. Word count is also helpful. Your editor is tired. She has read many submissions. Make it easy for herย to track which submission belongs to you. She might appreciate it so much she’ll take a chance on an author whose story needs a little work, but who obviously wants to be in the anthology badly enough to bother going the extra mile.
  • Get MS Word. Every editor I’ve worked with uses this program to track changes, and I also use it. I’m not saying you have to pay for it. But the tracking feature is really ideal for editors, and you don’t want to annoy your editor by adding another level of frustration to editing your story because you can’t accept her changes. If you don’t want to download MS Word, I’m sure there’s an Apple or Linux geek you know who can hook you up with a program that will work.
  • If your story is rejected, thank the editor for his or her time and move on. Don’t reply with something snarky or something that implies that the editor is making a mistake when rejecting your story. That’s a great way not to be invited to future anthologies. There’s a reason your story was rejected. It’s your job to fix it before you find another home for it, not the editor’s. If the editor is willing to give you any tips to improve it, great. If not, respect that she doesn’t have time. It’s also not personal. She’s likely had to reject stories by her friends, as well.

For Editors

  • I invited about 150 authors to Sidekicks! and received 30 submissions initially. I bought 18 of these, and commissioned three pinch-hitters, two of whose stories I purchased, giving me an even 20 stories in the final manuscript. For an anthology that has a low pay rate, approximately 150 authors nets an appropriate number of submissions.
  • Make an effort to invite authors who are people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. I didn’t do very well on this for Sidekicks!, though there are a number of stories about POC and LGBTQ characters in the anthology. So this is something for me to improve for future anthologies. If you want diverse perspectives, you need diverse authors.
  • It takes me about two months to edit twenty stories. I was expecting to get it done in one month, but this was not enough time. I’m hoping that, for Steampunk World, since I’m mostly working with authors who are very experienced pros, the editing will be less extensive. Give yourself a cushion so that, if the editing takes longer than you expected, it won’t be a big deal.
  • Before you tell the authors that you’re purchasing their stories, try arranging them in a tentative Table of Contents. When you try to put similar stories far from each other in the arrangement, you may discover that some stories are too similar. Or that you have a story that just doesn’t fit. It will also reveal similar titles that you may need to ask the authors to change.
  • Have in mind some pinch-hitters (authors who write stories under a tight deadline to fill in gaps in your anthology). You can ask authors who have submitted stories that were rejected or authors you didn’t initially invite. I recommend inviting pinch-hitters whose work you have read, and whose writing tends to be very clean so they’ll be ready to insert into the anthology with barely any work on your part.
  • Spreadsheets are your friend. I have a spreadsheet with workbooks for invited authors, committed authors, and purchased stories. I keep track of the dates I receive communications and send acceptances/rejections, etc. I also track titles, word counts, and even story themes and the genders/races of characters in an effort to avoid too many stories with similar features. I use Google Documents for this, but Excel would also work fine.


If you’re an author or an editor, please comment below with advice you gained from your last project. Or tell me why I’m wrong! Or, suggest another tracking program I can use for editing stories, since so many authors don’t have access to MS Word. For Steampunk World, I may offer to attempt edits through Google Documents if an author absolutely refuses to use Word, but the tracking feature on Google Docs just isn’t as good.

6 thoughts on “Lessons from Sidekicks!

  1. Sarah, Excellent advice! I appreciate it. Kevin

    From: Sarah Hans Reply-To: Sarah Hans Date: Monday, July 22, 2013 4:31 PM To: Subject: [New post] Lessons from Sidekicks!

    WordPress.com sarahhans posted: “As I begin work on my second anthology, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on what I learned in editing my first. Sidekicks! taught me a lot as an editor, but also as a writer. Thus, I’m going to separate What I Learned into lessons for myself a”

  2. Isn’t it amazing how important all of those bits of writing advice become when you start editing? Your editing tips are particularly interesting to me. Nice job capturing your lessons learned!

  3. Great advice! It’s good to know another editor who’s just ahead of me in making anthologies, so I can absorb some of your learning process. ๐Ÿ™‚

    One thing I’ve figured out from my first editing experience is that Open Office (which is a free program) is compatible with Word for tracking changes. I had to look up how to find the “Changes” feature in the edit menu, but it’s working out well for me now. Writers who use it can save their files in .doc format, too. http://www.openoffice.org/

    And I agree about planning in extra time to get the work done. There may be illnesses or emergencies along the way, but even without those, the amount of editing to be done can be surprising.

    • Thanks Nayad! I knew Open Office was an option but I didn’t realize it has a “changes” feature. Definitely something to suggest to authors who don’t want to use MS Word.

      • I can also put in a good word for Open Office. I have Word on my work computer and use Open Office at home & on my laptop. I often port my work back & forth between the programs and rarely see any glitches. ๐Ÿ™‚

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