Assembling a Literary Anthology: A How-To
One of my favorite books to read each year is The Best American Short Stories, which is published in the fall and features 20 stories culled from North American literary magazines that appeared in the previous year.
This storied (er…) anthology has now been in existence for more than a century, and the series editor, Heidi Pitlor, works with a well known fiction writer to choose the stories included in each year’s edition.
I’ve always loved anthologies because of the variety of voices and styles they offer readers—they’re the literary equivalent of Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates (I won’t torment you by including the whole quote here). The O. Henry Prize Stories and Pushcart Prize anthologies are also annual notables, and along with The Best American Short Stories, they’re excellent for individual readers as well as for assigning to fiction workshop students who find stories in them that electrify and inspire their own work.
For a while I’ve been aware that commercially, most anthologies are labors of love—corporate presses are, on the whole, not keen to publish them, because a) they are a lot of work, and b) the majority of anthologies do not become big sellers (with the exception of The Best American Short Stories, which I’ve read is a bestseller each year. The other anthologies in the Best American series likely do well too—Best American Essays, Mystery & Suspense, Travel Writing, Non-Required Reading etc.)
A few years ago, based in part on the unprecedented success of Kristen Roupenian’s short story “Cat Person” which was published in December 2017 by The New Yorker and became a kind of bellwether for the Me Too and Time’s Up movements, I decided to put together a short fiction anthology that addressed these themes, Love in the Time of Time’s Up. It took some doing, but I’m very glad it exists & is finding readers. The contributors include Jenny Shank, Gina Frangello, Amina Gautier, Karen Bender, May-lee Chai, Melissa Fraterrigo, Lynn Freed, Cris Mazza, Joan Frank, Alison Umminger, Elizabeth Crane, Rachel Swearingen, Rebecca Entel, Victoria Patterson, Roberta Montgomery. I have a story in it too, which first appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review’s Mixtape.)
In this post, I’ve detailed the steps of how to create an anthology and seek a publisher for it.