“Writing for Themed Anthologies,” with Keith DeCandido, Randee Daw, and Michael A. Ventrella

REVIEW: “Writing for Themed Anthologies,” with Keith DeCandido, Randee Dawn, and Michael A. Ventrella 

A long time ago, an editor (who has since passed away), gave me a compliment–I wasn’t as much of a noob as a lot of writers who had only published a few things. That is, I tended to make less of an ass of myself than other writers who were relatively new at the game… Okay, that sounds rude, and I don’t mean it to be, but before I started trying to send out stories for rejection, I mean consideration, I did a lot of reading and searching Internet groups and articles aimed at writers. I made mistakes of course, as most writers do, but I never had to ask the question “Where do I start?” 

If you’re asking that question, “Writing for Themed Anthologies” might hold a few answers for you. The video first aired as a live stream on September 2, 2020. There’s little information in the video description, which would have been helpful. I’m not sure if the video is part of a larger panel, or just some sci-fi writers talking about their stuff. Channel and chat host Michael A. Ventrella (michaelaventrella.com)is an attorney and writer and in his bio he’s described as a “fixture at science fiction conventions.” His guests for the stream are Randee Dawn and Keith DeCandido. Mr. DeCandido (decandido.net) is a writer and editor with a large body of work including media tie-ins to a number of popular franchises, and seems partial to the Star Trek universe. Ms. Dawn (randeedawn.com ) is a journalist who has published short fiction and has a novel coming out in 2022. All three speakers have an extensive background in writing and publishing, although their main experience seems to be mostly science fiction or speculative work, especially media tie-ins, rather than horror. 

The video starts with a brief introduction, then a definition of what a “themed anthology” is, outside of the obvious. They then discuss some ways to find submission calls, including Facebook groups, social media, pages like Duotrope and Submission Grinder, and our very own Horror Tree. The panel also briefly discusses networking, with a nod to the changes in our social interactions after the events of 2020. Namely, writers can no longer network at conventions the way they used to, pre-COVID. 

The discussion then turns to advice about submitting to a themed anthology, and the main takeaways are: write a story, not just an idea. Don’t write your first idea, because chances are many others had the same thought. Don’t be afraid to submit, even if the competition looks fierce and the anthology features big name writers, because the editors are always looking for a good story. Don’t dash off something ahead of a deadline without going through a beta read and editing process, because the editors can tell. Don’t take a story you already have and try to force it to fit the theme. And most importantly, READ AND FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. 

After they touch on funding via Kickstarter, and how important the platform has become to being able to pay writers, the discussion turns to a mix of answering questions from the livestream audience and sharing anecdotes about the anthologies they have worked on as editors. Randee describes it as “What I learned about anthologies by working as an editor.” They also spend some time discussing the tried and true editorial process I can recognize: Yes/No/Maybe. It’s somewhat clear what they mean in context, but I think they could have explained this process a little better. Ms. Dawn also mentions the importance of carefully reviewing your contract.

I felt the discussion started to lose focus in the second half, because there are a number of topics that could and should be included in a video like this one. Because of this, I thought that some topics that should have been explored a bit more thoroughly felt rushed, and might have made their own interesting videos. 

Some main subjects for me that might make an interesting half hour video include: 

1) The actual process, from slush reading to rejection. Mr. DeCandido mentions being a “First Reader” without explaining how that works, or that many publishers have people who read and often reject work before an editor ever sees it. There is also mention that about 50% of submissions are rejected straight away, often because the writer didn’t follow the guidelines, and that good stories are often rejected because they just don’t fit a theme, but no mention of what might make a reader sit up and say “YES!” 

2) The subject of payment was passed over fairly quickly, other than stating they would like to pay writers ten cents a word but the reality is that they can’t, even with Kickstarter funding.. The writers seemed dismissive of token and semi-professional paying markets, and they had stories about royalty-paying anthologies from earlier in their careers they never saw pay out. While the discussion of payment comes up frequently in social media posts, it never hurts to look honestly at the economics of being a writer. 

3) Other than “never pay a publisher,” there is little discussion about red flags to watch for. Ms. Dawn mentions Writer Beware, without explaining what it is. It’s understandable that the guests want to keep the tone of things light, but many new writers have been burned by shady publishers. This is, of course, a whole topic in itself, although I think it’s a worthy one. 

Overall, my nitpicks aside, “Writing for Themed Anthologies” offers some solid tips from personable and pleasant guests. If you’re just starting out and are looking beyond The Horror Tree for some guidelines from industry professionals on where to start submitting your stories, give it a watch.

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