To launch the “Anatomy of an Anthology” series, I’ll start with a look at the hows and whys of putting together Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World.
Your Anthology’s Name
Here We Are is a scrapbook-style teen guide to understanding what it really means to be a feminist. It’s packed with essays, lists, poems, comics, and illustrations from a diverse range of voices, including TV, film, and pop-culture celebrities and public figures such as ballet dancer Michaela DePrince and her sister Mia, politician Wendy Davis, as well as popular YA authors like Nova Ren Suma, Malinda Lo, Brandy Colbert, Courtney Summers, and many more. Altogether, the book features more than forty-four pieces, with an eight-page insert of full-color illustrations.
Here We Are is a response to lively discussions about the true meaning of feminism on social media and across popular culture and is an invitation to one of the most important, life-changing, and exciting parties around.
How did you get your idea/what was the initial spark?
My spark for the anthology came after years of feminism discussion online, both through blogs and social media. I’d had this idea simmering for a long time, but had no idea how or where to begin with it.
Where did you begin researching your idea and/or developing the idea into a more clear, focused concept?
I’d thrown out two tweets a few months apart about my dream project being an anthology of essays about feminism for teen readers. During the second tweet, one of my editors saw it, and she asked some of her current authors to be in touch with me and tell me to reach out to her.
I talked with both her and my other editor on the phone not long after that, where we talked about what such a project could look like. I put together a lengthy proposal based on my ideas and what we’d discussed in the call.
What steps did you take from idea to proposal?
My process for this anthology was completely nontraditional, which is interesting to think about since my second anthology’s process has been so different (but that’s another post for another day!). Once I got on the phone with my editors, we talked about tone, about the presentation and design, and about how we could make this much bigger than a book form of a Twitter echo chamber. That involved thinking beyond YA writers and including “big names” and celebrity pieces into the collection.
Step one was the idea. Step two was the phone call. Step three was a lot of thinking and outlining — I definitely spent a few weeks really thinking hard, which sometimes looked like doing “nothing,” though it was a lot of online and offline research. Step four was a formal proposal.
What was included in your proposal to your publisher?
My proposal included a proposed title (which changed!), an estimated word count, a quick summary and framing idea (that feminism is a party you want to join). From there, I wrote an introduction for the anthology, which eventually got scrapped, and then I put together a general outline for the collection. I included a huge list of potential people to reach out to and possible topics they might cover. But I’ve said this over and over: those were my ideas for them, and I left the topic they wrote about 100% up to them. My ideas were for if they became stuck, and it was brilliant that none of them needed help. They had ideas and they ran with them.
Also included in my proposal, and something I cannot recommend highly enough, was the letter I drafted for those I wanted to reach out to for contributions. It allowed me to think about the anthology from the writer’s perspective, rather than the editor’s perspective, and it made reaching out go so much faster. It was a formatted letter, but it left me plenty of room for personalizing because I did reach out to each contributor for very specific reasons: their voice, their POV, the sorts of things they’ve said or thought about that would add depth to the collection.
Did you use an agent? If you didn’t use an agent, how did you find a publisher?
Not for Here We Are. My editors found me!
How did you find your writers?
This was part of my “research” and “proposal” work. I did a lot of reading and researching online and off. I found voices I loved and perspectives I thought might challenge myself as an editor and challenge readers of the collection. Some were people I knew well and who I felt might be pretty certain to say they wanted in. Others were people I’d dreamed of working with but had never talked to.
The key was being familiar with each person’s work. That took time and energy and it was absolutely worth it. That helped me gain a stronger editorial eye and think about how to frame the collection.
How did writers pick their story or essay topic ideas? What process did you as editor use to vet them?
Writers all selected their own topic. This was crucial to me. I loathe the idea that someone is in a collection because they fit somewhere on a diversity checkbox. People are way more than the labels they take for themselves. But no matter what it is they write, those identities are impossible to pull out of their perspective. One of the criticisms I’ve seen of Here We Are is that there’s no asexual representation. This is actually untrue: there’s more than one asexual writer, but those writers chose NOT to write about that. As an editor, it wasn’t my job to tell them to write about that nor was it my job to either force them to put it in their biography or for me to out them when that criticism appeared. I know what I know, and my writers know what they know. There’s a big trust factor that goes into it, and I trust both sides here to do what’s best.
For vetting, I asked my writers to get me a general idea of the topic they wanted to tackle, and then they sent me a 2-3 sentence pitch. I looked to make sure there wasn’t overlap, and in one instance, a topic had a lot of interest. I asked a couple writers to think bigger or think about other potential angles, and the results were fabulous.
As an editor, were you responsible for contracts between you and your writers? Did your publisher or agent handle the administrative/legal side of things?
I had a contract between myself and my publisher. I was responsible for having and coordinating contracts between myself and the writers. These contracts covered their legal rights, as well as what they were delivering and the payment they’d receive. This part of the process was very, very challenging, since I knew so little about contracts and couldn’t answer a lot of the questions that came to me. I relied a lot on my editors to help me through the process, which….I was lucky they were there to help, since they didn’t have to be and because, just as is a matter of course, they play for the house, rather than the author. It was mentioned to me during this process I should consider getting an agent since an agent plays for my best interests. I was lucky to get an excellent agent shortly after that.
The nitty gritty details of the contracts: Algonquin gave me both a fresh contract and a contract for reprints to use with my writers. Those had to be revised a few times, but they were pretty standard and straightforward.
How did the editing process work between you and your writers?
I used varying processes depending on the writer. But the basic framework went like this: they wrote, then they sent me a draft, I’d read it a few times, then I’d read it with an editing eye. I’d put it away for a couple of days and revisit it with new eyes and add any further comments I had. The draft went back to them, they’d revise, and the process played itself out again.
Some writers wanted more input than others, and I worked with each of them at the level they wanted. I kind of loved having that ability: it was neat to see some writers who wanted no input from me turn in these beautiful drafts as much as it was neat to see a writer have a seed of an idea, seek my input, draft, come back for more input, draft some more, and then turn in something we could really mold into a beautiful piece.
I believe anyone with a great idea and voice can write an essay, which is why I was able to have such a wide range of contributors beyond professional writers. You can’t create the ideas or the voice, but you can work together to mold the writing itself. I like to think everyone was happy with their final pieces and that they enjoyed the experience. I know I loved seeing the end products of both those who needed little of my thoughts and those who sought a lot.
One of the biggest things in editing this anthology for me was asking questions. I am a commenter when I edit, highlighting what I loved and what I think could be strengthened or cut. But I’m also someone who doesn’t know everything and having to be humble and ask questions of my writers — the ones who were the experts in their own topics and experiences — made me better understand where they were coming from and better able, in the long run, to talk about their pieces. I found asking questions made the process much more seamless, since it allowed a dialog to open up, wherein I listened, rather than said what I thought was best.
Money talk: how did you get paid for your work?
Algonquin gave me a three-part advance: the first came upon signing, the second came upon my final contributor list, and the third came upon delivery and acceptance of the manuscript. The second and third, in this case, came at the same time.
How did your writers get paid?
I didn’t do this particularly well for Here We Are. I had people being paid a little bit of everything, with nearly everyone getting the same amount but some getting more because, contractually, they had a clause in there that allowed it to happen. Likewise, when I approached some for reprints, the cost to reprint was higher than what I’d been paying as a standard rate. But every single contributor got paid, and that’s a thing I’m really proud of.
As far as the how of it, I was responsible for paying my writers, not my publisher. That meant the second and third part of my advance? That all went to my writers.
In the interest of total transparency: I walked away with very little of my own advance money, since I paid so many to be part of this. I don’t regret it, though it taught me a lot about being smarter in future projects.
How did you communicate with your writers? What sort of information did you share with them and how?
Most communication was one-on-one, though I sent out periodic (about once a month) emails to all contributors with updates about where we were in the process. When it was closer to pub date, more communication happened, mostly to share the great reviews the book was receiving.
I used a private BCC method of emailing to keep everyone’s information separate. I did this for communicating that information to them, but also to solicit information from them (i.e., how they preferred to get paid or have copy edits handled).
Where and how did you decide to include your own work in the collection?
I had no intention of putting my own work in the anthology, but as the book was coming together, I realized I had something to add that hadn’t been addressed before. It only made sense to me to use the opportunity to write and share that. I don’t regret it at all, and I really am glad I could make it the last piece of the collection, since I think it captured a lot of the spirit of many other pieces.
Where and how did you come to “direct” the anthology? Did you have an idea of how you wanted pieces to progress early on or did you wait until all pieces were available to you to begin constructing the collection?
I had a rough idea of what sorts of topics I wanted to see covered, but since I let writers choose what they talked about, I couldn’t necessarily direct the organization nor flow early on. What I ended up choosing to do was waiting until I knew what the pieces were from each of the writers, and then I made up index cards with the topics and authors and made a lot of outlines with them on the floor. It was nice to see how well a lot of topics fit with one another, though there were a number of pieces I had to think long and hard about in terms of where they’d shine best.
Something I’d read a long time ago — and I don’t think it’s true — is that anthologies often start with their strongest piece and hide weaker pieces in the middle. Here’s the thing: none of the pieces in this collection were weak, and it was really challenging to figure out where to put everything because everything had great value. So it took a long time to figure out where and how to start the collection and then how to let the story unfold in a way that made sense and allowed each piece its moment.
Back in college, my final capstone project for my English major was about anthologies. We talked deep about the politics of putting them together, and along with having to create one for a grade, we had to write a number of papers that explored the choices an editor had made in collections that were available. I used a lot of what I learned in that class to think about how a reader might look at Here We Are: will they see themselves? Will they see me as editor in there too much? What does it say when I include this piece in this particular category and another piece in a different one? How important is back matter to the collection (which was a conversation that my editors and I had more than once).
I knew early on I wanted my voice as minimal as possible. This is why the section introductions are so short, why there are simply “FAQ” sections throughout to explain some terminology, and why I chose to put simple back matter and my essay at the end of the collection. I was here to help other voices shine, not make mine the starring role.
How involved was your editor/publisher throughout the creation process, prior to turning in a manuscript?
There was a lot of help through the contract stages, but less through the process. I kept them aware of where I was in my editing, but until they had the manuscript in hand, I didn’t reach out for much beyond “how do I answer this contract question?” I also asked a lot of questions about how images and color would work, since I had art to include and had no idea how that would work.
I sent them an excited email with the draft, and then I waited to hear their comments. The editorial letter I got was pretty short, with just a couple of “big picture” things to think about and work with. That was super helpful, and it really helped guide my next round of edits with writers.
Not all of the edits I agreed with nor did my writers agree with. This was where my role as editor of the anthology really came to play. I heard and listened to both sides, and then helped a resolution come. In some instances, it meant saying that something wasn’t going to change or it meant helping a writer reframe a piece a little bit.
How did you communicate changes and/or concerns between writer and your editor/publisher?
I was open on both sides and served as an intermediary. I had a couple writers concerned about edits they’d received — both in big picture edits and in copyedits — and I did my best to resolve those on both sides. I think it helped a lot that I’d been open and available throughout the entire editorial process, so they knew they could express something to me and see it resolved in a satisfactory way.
To be honest, there were very few big edits, though, that required communication or solving. Part of being a writer is standing up for your choices and part of being an editor is suggesting places to make a piece of writing better. When you have an open line of communication, it’s easy to see what choices might make the work strongest without either ego getting too big or hurt. And sometimes, it was a matter of me hearing a writer say “nah, I’m not doing that” and accepting they know best.
When it came to the package of your anthology, how much say did you have in the cover or design? How much were contributors involved in that part of the process?
I knew it would be highly designed and when I saw the cover and the concept, I loved both. I believe I said “holy shit” to my editors upon seeing them.
I was very uninvolved and I liked being able to trust my publishing team knew best. They did!
Contributors weren’t involved at all in that part of the process.
What was your favorite part of the anthology creation process?
I loved seeing pieces go from seed to full fledged beautiful tree. Some of those pieces we worked on for a long time and the way they came out was so satisfying.
What was your least favorite part?
What were some of the biggest lessons you as an editor learned in creating an anthology?
I learned better management of money for the second anthology, as well as learned a bit more about how to manage a huge project. I feel like my second anthology was actually harder, but again, another post for another day. Here We Are taught me a lot about how books are made, how decisions are made, and how to create something out of nothing. Cliche, but true.
I was in New York City for Book Riot Live last November and had just gotten lunch with one of my editors. Immediately after that lunch, I walked to The Strand to do some browsing. My phone rang and it was a NYC area code, which is one of the few things I’ll pick up an unknown number for. It was the editor I’d just had lunch with, and she had news for me. It was the first trade review, from Kirkus, and it was a star. She read it to me while I hid out in the paper/stationary area of The Strand and tears streamed down my face. It was an incredible moment, and I ended up leaving The Strand pretty much immediately, getting a cab back to my hotel, and then emailing all the contributors with the news, since so many of their pieces were praised.
I loved doing the book tour, too, and getting to sit on a number of panels with contributors.
Perhaps the thing that sticks out most, though, was getting to do a 3 hour (!!) school visit at a high school in Milwaukee with Mikki Kendall, where we heard all kinds of questions from kids who were just so eager to talk, to be heard, and to learn about feminism. Not only did that feel good, but I learned an unbelievable amount from both Mikki and those kids. It changed how I chose to talk about the anthology and gave me a lot to chew on in terms of my own feminism.
What, if any, anthologies did you read while putting together your own? What anthologies had you looked at to help you on your own work?
I actually avoided reading any anthologies. I read a few essay collections, which ended up being helpful to me for finding new voices to consider. Alida Nugent’s You Don’t Have To Like Me led me to reach out to her and have a fabulous experience with a new-to-me writer.
In terms of other anthologies I looked at: I didn’t. There are very few nonfiction anthologies for YA readers, and the one I knew about, Amber J. Keyser’s The V Word, I had been a contributor to, and thus, knew a bit about. Fiction anthologies are an entirely different beast, so I read them for me, rather than for inspiration.
If you are working on another anthology, what made you want to try your hand at it again? What, if any, parts of the process are/were different in the next project?
I knew when I was reading through Anne Theriault’s essay in Here We Are that an entire anthology around mental health was something that I wanted to consider as a next project. Her piece really moved me, and it made me think a lot about my own mental health journey. Had I a resource as a teen, I wonder how much different my own experiences with my mental health would have been. It was from there I decided it was worth a shot!
As far as what’s different: there is a much heavier emotional weight to bear for this one. That wasn’t something I expected, even though I should have. The pieces are outstanding, and they’re going to be powerful for young readers. But as an editor, it has been so hard to look at the raw emotions of a piece and separate them from the craft itself. It took a lot of false starts to get into a solid groove, and I had to be patient with myself, allowing space where necessary.