search ABOUTAWORD. search links from ABOUTAWORD. search the web.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Colleen McKee, So You Want to Edit an Anthology?

When I took on the project of co-editing an anthology of personal narratives, Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America, I said yes because it sounded cool (after all, I do like women), and it was a dreary blistering summer, and I was underemployed. I have an MFA in Creative Writing, and I read the magazines writers are supposed to read, but it was only after I edited the book that I realized I had never read or heard any advice on editing an anthology. Yet it can be a more time-consuming, complicated process than writing one’s own book. For me, it was worth it—I have made terrific, smart friends across the country because of readings. And there is no greater pleasure than to hear an audience laugh uproariously at a black-humored essay, or have women tell me that the book has helped them feel supported as they navigate their own health care labyrinths. Still it is work, a lot of work. So here are some tips for anyone considering editing a creative writing anthology:

1. Make sure you have the time for this and you really want to do it. The creative, fun part--reading amazing essays or poems or stories, and doing readings in front of captivated, sexy audiences who all want to take you out for drinks afterwards—that is a very small part of the work. Unless you can afford an assistant or two, you will spend tons of time doing clerical and sometimes unpleasant things such as mailing off reject slips, updating lists of contributors’ addresses, sending out forms requesting reprint rights, etc. Between soliciting work, editing it, seeking a publisher, editing and proofing again and again, then promoting of the book, count on working hard at this for four or five years. If you’re a teacher, that’s like adding one or two classes to every semester for four or five years.

2. Don’t expect to make money at this. Maybe if your book has cross-over appeal as a textbook, and is published by a company who chooses to promote the bejesus out of you. Then again, my book is selling as a textbook, and my publisher is pretty supportive. My book did make a profit the first year, which is unusual. I made $75. What about an advance, you may say? Many small presses do not do advances, and if they do, you may have to choose between using it to pay your contributors and paying yourself. I think writers should get paid. I used the money to pay each writer a small fee.

3. Do not be shy about promoting your anthology. Carry your business cards and promotional postcards around (if your publisher won’t have them made, get them made yourself). Carry a copy of your book wherever you go and be prepared to talk about it to everyone. If you are a woman, this is probably going to feel really egotistical and weird. If you need to, tell yourself you’re not doing it for you; you’re doing it for your contributors. And remember that while bookstores are great, they are not your only friends. My contributors and I have read at universities (where we might actually get paid), an anarchist bakery, a synagogue, an acupuncturist clinic, an older women’s political action group, a women’s studies conference, bars, and even a few bookstores.

4. Travel cheap and travel wide on book tour. If you live in the Midwestern U.S., the Northeastern U.S. or Canada, or England, consider planning your tour around the Megabus schedule, the super-cheap yet comfortable, reliable bus. Don’t feel bad about asking contributors if you can crash on their couches. You can ask your publisher to pay for this, but she probably doesn’t have the money to pay for any of it. So make a low-budget adventure out of it, and have fun.

5. I could say a lot more, but blogs are supposed to be short. Have questions? Email me.


Colleen McKee is co-editor of Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America (Penultimate, 2008). She is also author of a collection of poetry about food and sex, My Hot Little Tomato (Cherry Pie, 2007). Her poems, essays, and fiction have appeared in publications such as Poetry Daily, Bellevue Literary Review, and Criminal Class Review. She will be reading memoir at the Meramec Writing Festival in St. Louis on Apr. 7th, and poetry at the Holiday Club in Chicago on Apr. 23rd. Colleen teaches English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. You may virtually visit her at or email her at