Last year, around this time, Joe Martin invited me to co-edit an anthology with him. It was to be a celebration of strong female characters, inspired by our desire at Ragnarok Publications to diversify our anthologies a bit more. Even when we have awesome women writing for us, so often the characters were still men. We wanted to have a spotlight on the ladies, to explore new themes, to flip some tropes on their heads, and above all, to have fun. But of course, no venture passes without a few learning experiences.
Editing an anthology is a lot like gardening.
I knew going into this project that anthologies were a lot of work. I’ve worked with authors for a long time, and I am one. I know the challenges of working with creative types. It’s like herding the most awesome cats ever, and I wouldn’t change anything about it. But there is an element of acceptance you have to have when you go into it. You have to accept that some authors might need more help than others. You have to accept that some will need deadline extensions, and you have to accept that some are used to working in a particular way, and no other way will work. As an editor, you have to let go of your ego a bit. You are the curator, the cultivator, but the authors are the creators. An anthology is an organic thing that grows and surprises and amazes. When you plant a garden, you can have a plan, you can plant the right seeds, and water it, fertilize it, make sure it gets enough sun. But the most fun and rewarding part of the garden, at least I think, is seeing how all the plants work together in full bloom to make a lovely whole. And as the gardener, you have to step back and watch it grow and bloom, because if you fiddle with it too much, if you try to control the outcome too much, you over-prune and things seem forced and the plants aren’t as strong. In an anthology, it’s amazing how the stories end up supporting each other in ways that were completely unplanned, but it makes the whole book come together. You have to step back and allow that to happen.
You can’t make everyone happy all the time.
Joe Martin and I did this anthology because we felt we wanted to have a collection showing all the ways women were awesome. We really loved what we were seeing out there as far as female characters, and wanted to see how we could contribute to that. We wanted to push the limits, explore the different ways strength could be shown, etc. We invited both men and women to contribute, because I am strongly of the opinion that a good writer can write from any character’s point of view. Women can write men, men can write women. And I’m pleased with the ratio we ended up having. We selected our authors very carefully to make sure the anthology represented what we wanted it to. When we announced the anthology, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Even when I invited authors to take part, and they couldn’t for whatever reason, they expressed great regret. But then, of course, once the Kickstarter started, we began to see comments like, “I wouldn’t touch that SJW garbage with a ten-foot pole!” and “God, another thing with these people trying to take over the genre.” “Here we go again, another anthology that sacrifices quality for their SJW agenda.” Now, these things didn’t hurt me at all. First of all, I was prepared for them. You can’t celebrate women, or any other minority, without attracting the ire of certain groups. And as far as sacrificing quality, I knew I had put the weeks of work into this book, getting authors like Seanan McGuire, William C. Dietz, Lian Hearn, Carol Berg, Delilah S. Dawson, and more, to make sure we had the top level stories people would expect from any Ragnarok anthology. And that’s the thing. Go into a project knowing that you put your all into it, go into it knowing why you are going into it, and your confidence will carry you through. If people have serious constructive questions, I think about them a lot, but I’m able to answer them nine time out of ten pretty easily because I did a lot of soul searching before anything about this project went public.
Speculative fiction is literature, too.
We’ve heard genre fiction called “the ghetto,” we’ve heard commercial fiction trashed because, *gasp* there is money involved. Lord forbid stories should be fun! And authors making money? How scandalous! It’s an age old thing that’s been going on since genre was invented. Now, I have always just dismissed this thing, but I will tell you, nothing more firmly cemented the fact that genre fiction is no less “literary” than so-called literary fiction faster than working on this anthology. Watching the process these authors went through to come up with their story ideas was both awesome and humbling. I actually get weepy when I look at some of these stories, not because of the content, but because of the work and thought the authors put into them. One could think, “Oh, a book centered on female protagonists. I’ll just have a woman save the world!” But I don’t think a single one of our authors had that thought. We have stories in there from folks experimenting with the ideas of different types of strength, different types of women. Can a story be fun while still having a message? Does a story NEED a message? Do strong women have to be young? Are women strong in a vacuum? The fact that all these questions were raised, yet all the stories in this book are amazing fun, moving, action-packed, and thrilling just really puts the argument of literary vs genre to rest for me. Words can’t express how awesome it’s been to work with these authors over the past few months.
Awesome talent doesn’t just live on the New York Times Bestseller list.
The NYT and USA Today Bestseller lists are good tools for seeing what folks are interested in reading. As a publicity and marketing person, when I was curating stories for Hath No Fury, I paid close attention to numbers. I mean, what’s the point in making a book if no one’s going to read it, right? I wanted to make sure we had some really strong names there to support us. But at the same time, it was really important to me that we had the best stories we could possibly collect, AND it was important that I gave new people a chance to be in the book. I knew, theoretically, that sales did not necessarily reflect quality. And after looking at the stories in this book, now I know it in practice, too. We have a lot of midlisters and a couple of pretty new authors in the contents as well, and their stories are all of equal quality to the bestsellers. So the lesson is, if you haven’t heard of an author, give them a chance anyway! Sure, you’ll come across some clunkers, but I find bad books on the NYT bestsellers list as well. There are some amazing stories out there waiting to be read.
Writing “Five Things” posts takes a lot of time.
My day job is as an author publicist. Authors and publishers hire me, in part, to find venues for them to talk about their work and books. And an inevitable part of any publicity campaign is the author calling me, sobbing, “OK, UNCLE, enough, I can’t write another blog post. I’m dying, plus I have another book to work on…” In response to which I usually laugh maniacally and say, “DRINK YOUR MEDICINE, IT’S GOOD FOR YOU!” Well, the shoe is on the other foot, now. I need to do a lot of publicity for the Hath No Fury campaign, while still editing the stories, and working on my own novel (I got a request from an agent the other day, so I’m scrambling to perfect the first twenty pages), AND doing day job stuff. It’s…a lot. You don’t want to just spew out posts left and right. You want the posts to represent the best of you so people will actually want to check out your work, rather than saying, “Who the hell is this quack?” So I have full sympathy for all my author clients…but at the same time, I know it’s necessary, and I actually love reaching out to readers in this way and engaging with them. So it’s all worth it in the end.
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Hell Hath No Fury: Kickstarter
BIO: Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy and science fiction stories where heroes don’t always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her work has been published in several magazines, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. Melanie is also a freelance author publicist and publicity/marketing coordinator for both Ragnarok Publications (where she is also associate publisher) and Mechanical Muse, an independent gaming company. She blogs regularly for The Once and Future Podcast and GeekMom. Her short story “A Whole-Hearted Halfling” is in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis, available now on Amazon. She is the co-editor of Hath No Fury, an anthology celebrating women in speculative fiction, which is currently on Kickstarter and includes stories from Seanan McGuire, Carol Berg, Elaine Cunningham, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Philippa Ballantine, Anton Strout, and more. Follow Melanie on Facebook and on Twitter as @MelanieRMeadors, and visit her website at melaniermeadors.com