Anthologies: Why and How

 

Garland and Rooney
Young love…

 

So you remember the old movie where Judy and Mickey got the gang together and put on a show in the barn? Working on an anthology can feel a little bit like that. You’re hanging out of Facebook, minding your own business, and someone says something and the next thing you know, you’ve got a deadline in four months and a whole bunch of new friends.

Or at least that’s kind of how the Naughty Nine came about.

My friend and wonderful author Margaret Madigan hosted a Facebook party to celebrate the release of her hot contemporary romance Hunter (Caine Brothers Book 1), and in the post-party wow we all had the best time discussion, someone – pretty sure it was LeTeisha – suggested putting together an anthology.

Didn’t take long for us to have a theme, a schedule, and a title. NOLA’S Naughty Nine won’t be available until the middle of August, so this isn’t really a promo post. Instead, I thought I’d give some thought to the reasons an author might want to take part in an anthology, and some ideas for how to make them work.

Why?

In addition to the classic “put on a show in the barn” approach (see above), anthologies come about in a variety of ways. I know of a couple bloggers – Susan at BoysInOurBooks.com and Judith at BingeOnBooks.com – who’ve coordinated anthologies, lining up the authors and spearheading the promo. Also, one of my publishers, Crimson Romance, puts together discounted bundles from their backlist. These aren’t true anthologies, but they sure are popular.

(Here’s a link to Holiday Fling, a collection of 10 vacation romances for only $0.72!)

Groups of authors will sometimes come together to raise money for a specific cause. For example, last fall Alexis Hall, Amy Jo Cousins, and a bunch of other great authors published How We Began. Their collection of sweet romances is raising money for The Trevor Project, a group that works for suicide prevention amoung LGBT teens.

Submitting to an anthology can also be a good way to get your foot in the door with your dream publisher. Last week a bunch of my friends were all abuzz over the recent Carina anthology call. I don’t know about you, but I suspect my next project may involve a werewolf…

I asked some of the other Naughty Nine authors their thoughts about participating in anthologies, and our ringleader LeTeisha Newton came up with a really good answer…

Being a part of an anthology is about knowing your limits, and what your goal is. Are you there to promote a new series? Going for exposure and getting to know new readers? Or just to have some fun with a new book. Once you know the WHY, then you can figure out the HOW and stick to it. When everyone is on the same page for the why and how, then things roll much smoother, and it provides the readers with a much better experience!

For me, the main reason to take part in a anthology is to put my work in front of peoeple who otherwise might not see it. My story – currently titled Change of Heart, though it’s not published yet so that could change – is linked to a bigger project my friend Irene Preston and I will be publishing this fall. I’m hoping people who read Heart will be interested in checking out Vespers, our gothic m/m vampire story. We’ll see…

How?

To an extent, how an anthology gets published depends in large part on the way it came together in the first place. If you’re self-publishing a project with a group of other authors, the key is to remember what you learned in kindergarten. Like LeTeisha says, the project will go better when everyone’s on the same page, and reliability is one of the most important things you can bring to the party.

Make the group’s deadlines. Adhere to the theme you’ve agreed upon. Follow through on your share of the promotion.

(Yep, I know. Everyone hates promotion, but we all just need to put on our big people panties and deal.)

Beyond the fun parts – writing and making teasers and hanging out on-line – there are some serious implications to working on a cooperative venture like an anthology. The WritersInTheStorm blog has done a series of posts on the business side of things, and rather than regurgitate their info, I’m just going to post the links here.

There’s some good information in those posts, so I hope you check them out. If you’re an author, have you been involved in any anthology projects? Were they a good experience? And if you’re a reader, do you like anthologies? What makes them work for you?

I’d love to see your ideas in the comments here! Thanks!

 

Change of Heart teaser1
Can’t share the cover art yet, but here’s a little teaser…
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Creativity as Therapy

The last month has kicked my butt. If I’m honest, this year has kicked my butt: it’s been a roller coaster of good and bad, with few breaks between the ups and the downs and the deeper-downs. But May has been the worst, and my husband and I have been mourning the loss of a beloved pet.

Grief is a bear. With it come sadness and depression, and depression comes hand-in-hand with a whole host of fun little friends like fatigue, social disconnection, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and loss of interest in hobbies and other day-to-day pursuits. For creative types like myself and a lot of you reading this blog post, this can translate to a loss of creative passion. When you’re exhausted and can’t concentrate and don’t want to see anyone or do anything and simply getting through the day is a struggle, writing (or sewing or painting or whatever it is that you do regularly) becomes an impossibility. In short, depression dries up the well.

May is, coincidentally, Mental Health Awareness Month, and a lot of smart people have been writing about this year’s theme, “Life With a Mental Illness.” I’ve lived with depression and anxiety, and I’ve written about that struggle elsewhere. This year, I want to focus on creative acts as a treatment for the loss of creativity.

I was discussing my sadness and the complete creative drought that has accompanied it with my very wise friend Emmie Mears recently, and she suggested that I experiment with new-to-me creative endeavors as a method of exploring and releasing my grief. I could paint or draw, even abstractly, as a way to capture my emotions and memories, and then, later, I would have a visual record of how I felt during this time. The result would be a tribute to my pet and, just as importantly, a tribute to my own feelings.

I thought this was a brilliant plan, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a great way to work through depression and anxiety, as well as grief*. One of the most important methods of self-care is acknowledging how we feel when we feel it: many people try to dismiss or ignore feelings of depression or anxiety, and that denial does nothing but compound our feelings of inadequacy or, worse, “craziness.” Self-stigmatizing only makes it easier for society as a whole to dismiss mental illness as self-indulgent or non-existent.

Exploring a new artistic pursuit, particularly in an improvisational or freeform way, may allow us to shut off the thinking/judging parts of our brain and simply allow free expression of emotion. When we don’t have standards of quality or accomplishment we feel we need to meet, we’re able to create without judgment. And for writers, in particular, when we stop trying to use our words and instead simply create, we’re forced to acknowledge our feelings for what they are, rather than trying to explain them away.

In the end, we’re left with a record of our feelings that we can and must acknowledge as something outside of ourselves.

There are lots of free, gently-guided ways to experiment with new forms of creativity. I’ve rounded up a few here that you can check out, and Google is awash in other classes, challenges, and how-to’s. Maybe one will speak to you!

Index-Card-a-Day Challenge: I’m intrigued by this one. The goal is to create a 3×5 piece of art every day for 61 days. You can draw, paint, doodle, make a collage, sew, whatever strikes your fancy, and you end up with a physical record of everything you did or tried to do. This might be a good way to try to work through a specific problem.

Year of Rock: If you’re a musical type, you can sign up for free classes to learn guitar. While this is less free-form, you might be able to explore a side of yourself you haven’t yet been able to express. Plus, for some, the chance to turn off anxiety and simply listen and learn might have added benefits.

Art Journaling: There are approximately one bajillion links on Google about art journaling, but this art is about as freeform as you can get. That Pinterest link to “How to Start Art Journaling” ought to give you a few thousand ideas.

Free Craftsy Classes: Craftsy offers a HUGE range of courses and subjects, and the free classes might allow you to explore new crafts in a commitment-free way. Unleash your inner cake decorator! 

Private Pinterest Boards: Since I mentioned Pinterest, I can personally vouch for the creation of private Pinterest boards as a method of portable collaging. Pin places and things that make you feel peaceful; pin images that inspire you; pin images of memories or dreams. Use your private boards as a mini-getaway.

How do creative endeavors help you to work through difficult times? Have you ever experimented with a new art as a way to work through a difficult time in your life?

*Yes, art therapy is a thing that already exists! However, therapy can be pricey and inaccessible for many individuals.

Been Searching for You Publication and Book Award News

So before I get into my actual post, I have happy news to share with everyone! Daughter of Destiny was named Book of the Year by Chanticleer Reviews and won a Gold Medal in the fantasy category of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards!

shocked

I know, right? That’s how I felt, too! (Here’s my blog post about it, in case you want the details.)

Been Searching for You eBook Cover LargeSo, back to Been Searching for You, which came out on May 10 . This was originally written for a guest post on another site, but captures my feelings so well, I’m going to use it again. Waste not, right?

I never thought I’d write a romance. I actually swore I’d never write romance because I really disliked romance books for a long time – until I realized what I really hated was certain types of romance, specifically the more traditional ones where the hero has a pronounced physical reaction every time he sees the heroine, if you get my drift. Those make me want to barf. Others are pretty darn good.

But I still had one pet peeve: most heroines, especially in romantic comedies, are under 30. If there’s a wedding involved, it’s “OMG, I’m going to be 30 and not married!” As a 36-year-old single girl, allow me to smack you. So, what did I do? I went and wrote my own love story, one for those of us who are over 30 *gasp*, still single and still romantics at heart. I wrote it because I wanted to write the happily ever after I haven’t yet experienced.

The book came to life because of the Civil Wars songs “To Whom it May Concern” and “Dust to Dust,” both of which my best friend introduced me to. They seem to be bookends to a love story to me, so I swore I’d write a book that began with the words “To Whom it May Concern” and ended with the words “Dust to Dust.” And I did.

But while Been Searching for You is a fun beach read that won’t set the world on fire, it’s also much more than “just a romance.” It’s about a woman’s struggle to overcome her past hurts, heal and learn to trust again. Even if the reader hasn’t been traumatized in the same way as Annabeth, chances are good there are a few scars he or she can’t let go of; such things are a consequence of dating.

It’s about the struggle to connect in a meaningful way in the modern world, which seems to value hookups more than relationships with actual lasting meaning. Throughout the book, Annabeth struggles with having old fashioned romantic tendencies in a society that wants her to be happy with getting laid. That dichotomy is part of the reason why I chose not to have graphic sex scenes in this book; I wanted to show that it’s possible to have romance while the sex takes place off the page.

It’s also about friendship and the ways we support or harm one another through our interactions, ulterior motives and positive and negative reactions to life. I have had a few frienemies in my life (friends whom you are aware are likely to stab you in the back when it is convenient) and I wanted to explore that odd dynamic, one that I’m finding from contest feedback is much more common among younger readers than older. It didn’t begin with Mean Girls but that movie certainly brought it to the fore of societal consciousness.

Finally, the book also has strong themes of the power of education (especially in literature and writing) to affect students and positively change the world. This is a topic I’m personally passionate about and I’m sure it shows in the novel. In a world fixated on wealth (the quicker the buck, the better) I wanted to show how less flashy, sexy career paths can have meaning. Chalk this one up to the book lover in me!

One element Been Searching for You lacks that most traditional romantic comedies employ is a deception of some sort. You know the storyline: the fake boyfriend/fiancée, the woman pretending to be rich when she’s not, the person with a lie that will have to come out in the end. I think reason for this is twofold: 1) I hate deception, especially when it is contrived, and when it’s obviously contrived its like nails on a chalkboard and 2) I never sat down with the intention of writing a romantic comedy. I was writing a love story, plain and simple. When it ended up being laugh-out-loud funny, I dubbed it a rom-com.

Whether you like it, love it or hate it, I hope Been Searching for You is a worthy contribution to the annals of contemporary romance, albeit on the sweet side (but it’s not totally sweet due to references to sex and a bit of adult language). It was intended to be a standalone novel, but my beta readers are begging for more, so if you want me to extend this into a series, I need you to let me know. Either way, I wish you happy reading and hope that Annabeth, Alex, Mia and Miles are good company into the summer vacation season for all of you.

Beta Readers Are Your Alpha Support System

Pretty much all my posts on the ol’ Spellbound Scribes have been about my writing journey or about what it means (for me at least) to be a writer. I’ve talked in the past about the importance of a good support group to help you along in the hard times (because good lord will there be a whole bunch of hard times)

Hard Times Gif

Today I want to talk about one particular support group, probably the most important of all – Beta Readers and Critique Partners.

I’m at the point in my current manuscript – THE MANY FOES OF AURORA OVERDARK – where I’ve sent it out to beta readers and am eagerly (fearfully?) awaiting their feedback. A few have given me some initial thoughts (which have been very positive and very affirming) and one has returned a full edit back to me (also super amazing – thanks Shauna!)

I’ve seen websites or Twitter mentions about matching up complete strangers as CPs and BRs and that idea has always made me kinda nervous. A stranger reading any early draft of my manuscript? How about no? I would have a hard time sending my work to someone I don’t know – mostly out of fear they would just hammer the hell out it, because I’m a stranger to them too, so why should they care? I’d generally prefer to send it to someone I already have a relationship with – that I trust – but also know will be honest with me. Trust and honesty are the most important part of the CP/BR relationship. 

Sometimes your stuff sucks.

You need to know if your stuff sucks.

CM Punk Gif

A good CP/BR will tell you if your stuff sucks and how to make it better, not just trash it without reason. Constructive criticism is the greatest gift your read can provide. When I was still trying to find readers, I thought I could trust and build a relationship with, I sent my first manuscript to someone I was somewhat friendly with on Twitter. About a month later she sent it back. She only read the first couple pages and tore them apart, littering them with pedantic and nitpick comments. Nothing constructive. Nothing of value.

That experience put me off to sending my work to a relative stranger. That hurt. I didn’t want to experience something like that again. Putting your stuff out there is terrifying, even to people you know and trust. But you have to. You have to be ready for them to tell you it’s not great. The first time I got beta feedback I was upset with a lot of the comments. I loved my book and thought it was perfect. I was wrong and after that initial sting of criticism, I realized that I was wrong and there was a lot I needed to fix. You can’t take negative feedback personally. Which is hard, because there is so much of YOU in that manuscript. But if you trust your CP/BR, you’ll know that pain is ultimately for your and your story’s betterment.

Over the years, I realized I needed to get over my fear of having strangers read my work. Sending my second manuscript in for Pitch Wars was a big step. The biggest. Getting into the contest was basically having your manuscript sent to CP who was a complete stranger (CS?). It was a pretty terrifying proposition, but it was probably the best chance I’ve taken with my writing. Now I have another amazing beta reader in my PW (lot of acronyms in this post, huh?) mentor Hayley! She gave some of the best feedback I’ve every received and completely changed the way I approach writing novels. It would have never happened if I held onto that fear.

Macho Nod Gif

This post has been kinda all over the place (as I feel like mine sometimes can be) but I guess the summation is you need people you trust and know will be honest with your work. That person might be someone you’ve known for years, but it also doesn’t hurt to try out your stuff on a complete stranger – who knows, maybe that person will be someone you can always trust in the future to give you the feedback you need.

As an aside, I feel weird sometimes deciding whether I should call the folks I send my work to “beat readers” or “critique partners”. CPs have a more serious feeling, like there’s some kind of reciprocal blood bond or something between you and the reader. BR feels more casual, but I’ve read the works of some of my beta readers and some not. What do you all think? 

What your experience with BRs/CPs, friends? How did you meet them? Nightmare experiences? Let me know!