The growing market for anthologies creates opportunities for publishers, editors, and writers. For writers, they get compensation of one kind or another; if not money, at least recognition and publishing credentials. Editors also get recognition and credentials, not to mention the satisfaction of putting together a decent publication. What does it take to compile an anthology? Where do you get your material? Who is going to read it? Beyond the basics, assembling a collection of stories or poems is an art that requires elements of design, direction, marketing skills and a fair amount of faith that it will all come together in the end.
Two fellow alumni from The University of Southern Maine recently compiled an anthology of YA science fiction stories titled Futuredaze, which has been getting great reviews from ForeWords Reviews, Tangent Online and others. It is available in print and online in the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK. They have a website for their anthology as well as a book trailer, all which help ensure success. Impressive! I asked editors Erin Underwood and Hannah Strom-Martin about their experiences in publishing their anthology:
What spurred you and Hannah to do a YA science fiction short story anthology?
Erin: I really think it boiled down to two things, at least for me. First, we both really wanted to work on a project that meant something to us and allowed us to give back to the genre that inspired us as teens. Second, when we realized how few young adult science fiction anthologies had been published over the last ten year, we knew there was a definite need for more collections of this type.
Hannah: I’m a high-fantasy junkie so perhaps I’ve been oblivious to some of the publishing efforts the past few years, but it just seemed like I wasn’t seeing any high profile SF—other than the Hunger Games—for the YA set the past few years. And it felt I hadn’t picked up any sort of science fiction anthology for ages. I’ve read and reviewed efforts like Machine of Death, or Ellen Kushner’s Bordertown series but when it came to future dystopias or weird fiction or space opera I felt there were far more horror or fantasy titles in the mix than sf. I liked the idea that I could be a part of publishing the stories I was interested in reading—which, I suspect, is what gets most anthologists out of bed in the morning.
What was the first step in going forward?
Erin: Money. Definitely, the first step was securing the funds to pay all of our authors, our copyeditor, and our artist. That was key. Without the money to pay Futuredaze’s stakeholders, we wouldn’t have been able to take on the project. So, we set up a Kickstarter project and hoped for the best. We’re happy to say we reached and exceeded our goal.
Hannah: Kickstarter was 100% Erin. I had never even heard of it until she brought it up. She worked tirelessly and with tremendous passion on it and I got to come along for the ride.
How did you publicize a call for submissions? Did you contact any particular authors?
Erin: Once we developed our concept idea and our submission guidelines, we we reached out to Jack McDevitt and Nancy Holder to invite them to contribute stories to Futuredaze. We released our submission guidelines by posting them on online in various places and emailing them to various writing groups. Our goal was to receive the widest number of submissions as possible.
What exactly are the “standards” for young adult fiction?
Erin: The number one standard that had to be met for our stories was that they had to be well-written, engaging tales. The next hurdle for authors to meet was having a protagonist that was in his or her teens. After that, we narrowed down the selection process by picking pieces that added something special to the anthology such as diversity, interesting characters, compelling plots, etc.
Hannah: I think the standard is solid writing that tells the truth. YA writers like Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone) and Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) get and deserve legions of fans because they have believable secondary worlds and believable, unsentimental characters who say something true about being young (and often imperiled!). I currently worship at the altar of Bardugo because, even with the (quite hot) gothic romance and fantastical creatures in her work the story is grounded by realistically portrayed protagonists who have relatable insecurities and genuinely funny inside jokes. So, as with any good writing, speculative YA needs that combination of great imagination, technical prowess, and emotional believability.
Did you do any editing of the stories you accepted?
Erin: Absolutely. We edited every story that we accepted. Some pieces required more editing than others to fit the overall standards and themes within the anthology. However, our goal was to produce the best set of science fiction short stories and poems that we could publish. That said, I think there were a couple of poems that we didn’t edit.
How did you go about ordering the stories?
Erin: I think Hannah can speak more to this than I, but our goal was to match up themes, characters, tones, etc. so that if a person were to read from beginning to end, the flow would build toward emotional peaks and valleys to keep things feeling interesting and new.
Hannah: I tried to string the stories together in a way that would allow them to set each other off but also find some common ground so that the transitions felt natural and not jarring. For example, “The Stars Beneath Our Feet” by Sandra McDonald and Stephen D. Covey and “Out of the Silent Sea” by Dale Lucas are both stories where characters end up floating in the middle of space, but they are so tonally different, even as both incorporate themes of love and being lost, that they end up sort of communicating with one another with what I thought was a striking effect. I also enjoyed finding the right poem to set off a pair or group of stories. The poems often “told” me how to group everything—they’re like emotional guideposts that both tell a story in and of themselves and connect with the themes or tone in the attendant pieces.
The cover is stunning – did you design it?
Erin: The cover was one of our fun collaborative ventures. We hired Deena Warner Designs to help with the cover, which really made life so much easier. Deena was a gem! We found the image of the tree and licensed it for production and then had Deena ad the text and a few additional images to really solidify the science fiction look. We’re so glad you like it! We really tried to develop a cover that would appear to both boys and girls. I think this cover does a good job of that.
How did Kickstarter work for funding your anthology?
Erin: To be blunt, without Kickstarter, there would not have been an anthology and Futuredaze would never have existed since the funds raised there did two things: 1) it gave me confidence that there were readers out there who wanted to read young adult science fiction short stories, and 2) it allowed me to generate enough funds to pay for the minimum costs associated with the project while I raised the rest of the money on my own.
The key to holding a successful Kickstarter is to set a goal that represents the minimum amount to produce the project because if you don’t reach that goal, you don’t collect the funds. I’ve seen several people who started great projects that didn’t get funded because their goal was higher than the bare minimum to complete the project. When we hit our minimum goal, we created stretch goals that allowed us to expand the scope of the project, which was really nice. You also need to have a fairly active social network since that seems to be one of the best venues for promoting your Kickstarter project. One word of advice, be sure to factor in realistic shipping charges for each of your prizes because it might only cost $5 to print a book, but it can cost up to $15 or more to pack and ship books internationally… and Kickstarter does attract international backers.
Do you have an idea of which has been more successful in sales, Kindle or paperback?
Erin: Actually, I just looked this up since I am putting together a proposal for a new anthology. Paperback sales are about twice as high as Kindle sales.
Who put together this marvelous trailer for the book?
Erin: The trailer was a lot of fun. I used Circle of Seven to build the video and take care of all the tech related stuff. However, I really wanted to be involved with the script, the music, and with the images used. So, they were very generous in letting me take an active hand in all of these areas. I designed the bulk of what you see, but they were offering guidance, advice and suggestions all along the way. They also have one heck of a producer who knows how to add the little special touches and effects to turn it into a great book trailer.
Are you working on a Futuredaze II?
Erin: Yes and no. I’m putting together some ideas for potential new young adult science fiction anthologies, but I don’t know if they’ll be part of the Futuredaze series or not. I really need to take a close look at the ideas that I have written out and decide which of these I might want to take to another press and which I might want to publish through Underwords. One of the most interesting discoveries for me with Futuredaze was that when you hold open submissions, you get some truly inventive and interesting work from writers who are new to publishing or who are up-and-coming stars. Some examples of this include “Not With You, But With You”, “The Stars Beneath Their Feet”, “Me and My Army of Me”, and “The Myriad Dangers.” Plus, with the inclusion of poetry within the anthology, we were able to expose readers to another side of science fiction that they may not have seen previously.
Hannah: I know I would love to work on more stuff with Erin, Futuredaze-related or otherwise. This is the second anthology we’ve done together and I think we keep upping our game in a really satisfying way. It’s rewarding to read the work of so many new authors and help them get out into the world—and it’s also nice to be taken seriously by the pro-authors who have submitted to us out of the blue. Plus, fall is coming—and what better way to spend those cool, misty hours than sorting through a batch of 200 stories? Ready when you are, Erin!
Erin M. Underwood, founder & publisher: Erin Underwood is a writer, editor and publisher. She is also the founder of Underwords Press, a small press that specializes in young adult science fiction, which is a spinoff of her popular fiction blog, Underwords. In February 2013, Underwords Press will release its first anthology–Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction. Her MFA is from The University of Southern Maine. In addition to her Underwords blog, you can find Erin online on Facebook and Twitter
Hannah Strom-Martin, co-editor: Hannah’s fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy Magazine, OnSpec, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and the anthology Amazons: Sexy Tales of Strong Women. Her non-fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons Online and Fantasy Magazine, among others. Her MFA is from The University of Southern Maine.