Today’s edition of “Anatomy of an Anthology” comes from YA author/editor/fanboy Eric Smith. His first anthology, Welcome Home, was published by Flux and hit shelves September 5.
Your Anthology’s Name: Welcome Home
Anthology Description: A YA short story collection centered around the theme of adoption.
How did you get your idea/what was the initial spark? My wife, really. She’d been trying to push me to write a little more seriously, focus on topics that were close to me. It always surprised her that I didn’t write about being an adoptee more, since it was something I talked about a lot and occasionally wrote an essay about. And as we discussed it more, it started to hit me how seldom I saw adopted characters in stories growing up.
Where did you begin researching your idea and/or developing the idea into a more clear, focused concept? I started looking at a lot of my favorite YA anthologies from the past few years, like Geektastic edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci, Stephanie Perkins’ excellent My True Love Gave To Me, and those short-stories-from-hell collections with Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, Melissa Marr, and Kristin Cast.
I asked myself lots of questions. What did these books do so well? How many contributors did each collection have? I found myself emailing a lot of people that had been in collections like these, to see how they came together.
What steps did you take from idea to proposal? I brainstormed with my agent a bit, and then sent over a potential outline after emailing a bundle of author friends that I thought might be interested. We talked about what their stories might be, and once I had five people that were absolutely confirmed and a whole bundle, close to two dozen or so, that were a solid maybe, we built the proposal.
What was included in your proposal to your publisher? It was a pretty hefty proposal. We had an overview of what the book would be and why we thought it needed to exist, that was sort of a mashup of jacket-copy-meets-query-letter. We had a few pages that detailed confirmed and potential contributors, as well as some pages that talked about comparative titles that would share shelf space, like the anthologies I mentioned earlier.
We also dove into the platform brought on board by the authors in the collection, and what we could potentially do. Events together, pre-order campaigns, and the like. Spent a bit of time name dropping, authors and media folks we thought might potentially boost the project.
And then, there was the sample material. We didn’t have much, just a few quick blips that talked about the stories in-progress, as well as the stories that were already finished. I was lucky enough to have finished shorts from Adi Alsaid, Lauren Gibaldi, and Mindy McGinnis going out.
Did you use an agent? If you didn’t use an agent, how did you find a publisher? I did.
How did you find your writers? I’m lucky enough to be connected with some wonderful writer folks thanks to the joys of Twitter. I sent plenty of awkward DMs and emails. I wanted the collection to have a lot of stories from authors who had a close connection to adoption. Adopted themselves, had adopted kids or foster children, etc. The problem is that not everyone is popular enough to have like, a Wikipedia page where you can find this out.
So, there were a lot of odd emails that were like “hey so… this book about adoption… do you have any ties…” because you can’t just message someone and say “hey are you adopted?” Cause that’s just inappropriate. God knows people asked me that way too many times growing up, and I got in way too many fights as a result.
Eventually, I found a lot of my contributors as a result of people recommended other people and sending introductions.
How did writers pick their story or essay topic ideas? What process did you as editor use to vet them? I just asked them to pitch and write whatever they wanted, in whatever genre they wanted. I wanted the collection to talk about as many facets of the adoptee experience as possible, and there are a LOT of them. So I was careful to nudge people in this direction or that, so we didn’t get too many of the same story again and again.
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? Luckily my agent and editor handled the contracts stuff. I talked a bit with the authors about things they wanted, and it was all really nice and open, and then my agent and editor handled the actual paperwork. When you have nearly 30 contributors… well, it’s a lot. I’m really thankful for them.
How did the editing process work between you and your writers? It was simple really. I just gave notes, line-edits and the like. In the end, my editor at Flux (hi McKelle!) gave the most detailed edits, really digging in and polishing the stories up. I did run into some challenges here on the editing end that made me extra grateful to have her in my corner. Because I’m really a fan first, and an editor second.
Like, how am I supposed to give editorial notes to authors I love so terribly?! EVERYTHING YOU HAVE DONE IS PERFECT, I want to scream. So thankfully McKelle could lend a more objective hand.
Money talk: how did you get paid for your work? I didn’t. There wasn’t an advance on my particular anthology, and when it comes to the royalties, we are planning to donate them to non-profits that support adoptees and foster youth. I’m excited for that first check and to see what good we can do.
What role did you take on as editor of the anthology? Were you hands on? Hands off? I was pretty hands-on. But once it went off to my editor at Flux, I just let them do their thing. I did a bunch of reading and re-reading once we had the digital files and ARCs, of course, and sent notes over when I had them.
How did you communicate with your writers? What sort of information did you share with them and how? Lots of emails. Probably to a fault. I hope they didn’t (and don’t) find me too annoying, but I definitely send out big ol’ BCC emails about postcards, events, and the like to everyone. They get all the details.
Where and how did you decide to include your own work in the collection? Pretty early on. I knew I wanted to tell an adoption story as an adoptee. Thing is, I’m not great at writing short stories and I know it. I had a lot of input from my fellow contributors, and they are all just wonderful.
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 waited til we had some more pieces in. As they were coming in, I was able to ask myself what I was missing.
For example, at one point I realized I didn’t have any pieces about a teen parent and their adopted child. What is it like on that end of the story? Luckily, writers like Sangu Mandanna and Lauren Morrill penned stories along those lines, and they were so lovely.
How involved was your editor/publisher throughout the creation process, prior to turning in a manuscript? Very! They gave lots of notes on the stories I’d sent in initially, and bounced ideas back and forth. When some contributors couldn’t quite commit to a story anymore, due to deadlines on their other work, we talked about potential other people to reach out to. They were great.
When the manuscript was a complete draft, what was the process when you passed it on to your editor/publisher? I sent it on over almost immediately? I shared stories with the contributors and had some beta readers, but it pretty much went right there.
How did you communicate changes and/or concerns between writer and your editor/publisher? Just via email. They were really easy to work with.
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? Welcome Home actually had an entirely different cover before we moved over from Jolly Fish to Flux. It was one that I really adored, so I was a little bummed when they had to change direction. But the resulting cover, with its simplicity and just really clean look, was one I took to right away. We had a few other designs along the way that I was a little on the fence about, and they were very supportive when it came to changes and updates. The contributors weren’t involved, but I did bounce some of the covers off them when I could.
What was your favorite part of the anthology creation process? As cheesy as this might sound, finding more adoptees? People with links to adoption? Growing up I didn’t know many kids like me, and finding adults who I could finally talk to about this stuff felt so great. And reading the kind of stories I wanted so desperately as a kid… well, it filled my heart, that’s for sure.
What was your least favorite part? Saying no? I had a lot of people email to be in the collection, and I couldn’t say yes to everyone. That part was really rough.
What were some of the biggest successes? Seeing some of the trade reviews float in. My goodness, that has blown me away. And I’m hoping that this book will encourage more people to write stories of adoption.
If you aren’t already working on another anthology, would you do another one? Why/why not? It would have to be the right thing. This was something really close to me, and I’m hard pressed to think of another topic I’d so desperately want to cover. But maybe it’s out there. I’d certainly contribute to another anthology though, hint-hint-nudge-nudge to anyone who might be reading this that’s an author.