Sunday, February 6, 2011

Editing and Writing Anthologies - Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Welcome Danielle Ackley-McPhail, anthology editor and fantasy author! 

Amber: Tell us about the difference between editing a book by one author compared to an anthology. 

Danielle: Well…first off I have to say that I’m not a copy editor, mostly I am a project editor combined with a critiquer. The main difference is that I know I am not perfect when it comes to grammar and such, but I generally have a good eye at how to polish and improve a story. All of the novel work I have done has been critiques for friends.

I would say the main difference between novels and anthologies is style and experience levels. Novels you work with one author—or perhaps a writing team—and the work is pretty much consistent throughout. With an anthology you are dealing with many authors with their own ways of doing things. The editor’s challenge is to clean everything up and meld the collection together so that things flow smoothly and logically from the beginning of the anthology to the end.

This is one of the reasons the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies are broken down into sections. When we did the first one we had a lot of variety, with the exception of three really good stories that were all written in the Noir detective style. Other than that the plots were completely different, but it was difficult at first to decide how to deal with them. We were afraid we were going to have to let one of them go when it occurred to me that there would be no problem having all three of them at all…if they were their own section so that it made sense to have a bunch of them. So, my co-editors and I looked at all of the stories and tried to find a pattern that would allow us to create five evenly divided section. We’ve been doing it ever since!

Another challenge is coming up with enough different material on a very focused topic so that each section…each anthology even, is unique and interesting. Our answer to that is two-fold: first, we have a secondary theme for each book. The first one didn’t have one…well…because it was the first one. The second one, however, was titled Just Plain Bad. The theme for that one was that all the villains had to be faeries, regardless of what other faeries were in the story that was a must. In the third anthology, In All Their Glory, all the stories had to have a combat/military theme. And in the next one, Bad-Ass Faeries 4: It’s Elemental, all of the authors must chose an existing type of elemental faerie and base the story (whatever it is) around that. We’ll see how successful that one is. It will definitely pose a challenge to the editorial team as it means that we have to judge stories by section (Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Spirit) rather than judging all the stories and then dividing them up afterward. Because of this we have opened up submissions for the first time ever for this series…we expect competition to be fierce. Anyone interested in details can go to

Amber: Any tips for writers to help get a story accepted into an anthology?
1)  First and foremost…read the guidelines thoroughly and make sure you follow them.
2)  Always be professional when communicating with the editor.
3)  Do not be difficult, if the editor wants changes and they are reasonable, work with them; don’t take it as an affront to your creative process.
4)  If the collection is a themed anthology, ask the editor if there is anything in particular they were looking for that was not submitted, and then do your best to provide a story matching what they were looking for.
5)  Think beyond. If it is an open call, the editor is going to see a lot of carbon-copy stories. Consider the theme and look for the most unique twist you can put on a story to fit that theme. Don’t just think of what would make a cool story, think what would make a distinctive one.
6)  Proofread. Proofread. Proofread! And then have someone else proofread for good measure. Authors are too close to their own work to catch every mistake because their mind automatically fills in the missing or incorrect details.

Amber: Is this a good path for a writer who wants to sell a longer work?
Danielle: I look at it this way: novels take a long time to write. Then they take a long time to revise. Then they—usually—take a long time to sell. And finally, they definitely take a long time to produce. With that in mind, even if you are a very prolific author there are going to be gaps in there where nothing new is coming out. This is, of course, assuming you already have your start. So, how do you keep your name out there while you are writing or waiting for the next novel to pub? Originally it was magazines, and to some extent it still is, though there is an awful lot of competition. Unfortunately, a lot of print magazines have not survived the electronic age. However, a lot of mainstream and small press publishers have turned to anthologies to increase their title list. With that in mind I think anthologies have great potential to both give the beginning author their start, as well as to keep the established author’s name in the public eye.

I myself have three novels published (Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, and The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale) but collectively they represent about five years of my life spent writing. The first two took two years to come out in print after they were accepted by publishers. The second took considerably less than that, but only because I am the production staff.

If I depended on the novels to make my name, I would be sorely disappointed, mostly because there is a lot of time invested there, and I am a small-press author so distribution and marketing are something of an issue. But since I am one of those authors that can write short or long, I have used anthologies—I am published in over thirty at this stage—to increase my visibility and ensure I always have something new coming out each year.

Another benefit of anthologies is filling out your list of publishing credits. In that manner they most definitely have the potential of increasing your chances of selling a longer work because publishers always look at previous publishing history…which means it’s awful good to have one to show them!

Also, if you are the type of author likely to sell your own works at conventions anthologies are a nice way to fill out your table space and make you more appealing to the customer. It is always difficult to sit there with just one title…because it means you either grab them, or you don’t. With multiple titles to offer you can always guide them toward something else if the first book isn’t to their interest.
Finally, anthologies let you reach markets you wouldn’t normally on your own because each author in the book—hopefully—has their own following, so you reach your fans and their fans.

Amber: What else to writers want to know?
Danielle: I am quite sure the main thing writers want to know is about the money. I can’t speak for the large publishers, other than to say I’m positive they pay better than small press.

I have a lot of experience with small presses. Enough to warn everyone that unless you are selling the books yourself (most publishers give an author discount that makes this feasible) you aren’t going to get rich on anthologies. Small presses have about three different ways they pay, in one combination or another:
1)  Comp copies and an author discount
2)  An equal share of X royalty per book sold
3)  A per-word advance/flat fee

If you do a lot of anthologies you can get a nice bit of change, but for the most part, this venue is for the exposure, the publishing credit, and the hope that maybe one of your stories will catch the eye of a Best of editor, or an award judge/nominator.

In a semi-related note, one of the benefits from the standpoint of an editor who is also an author, I get to work with some of the best authors in the industry. I not only pick things up from them, but I’ve formed friendships with them and have shown them what I am capable of when working on a project. That alone makes the experience priceless for me!

Award-winning author Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for over fifteen years. Her works include the urban fantasies, Yesterday's Dreams, Tomorrow's Memories, and The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale. She has edited the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series and No Longer Dreams, and has contributed to numerous other anthologies and collections, including Dark Furies, Breach the Hull, So It Begins, Space Pirates, Barbarians at the Jumpgate, and New Blood.

She is a member of The Garden State Horror Writers, the New Jersey Authors Network, and Broad Universe, a writer’s organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres.

Danielle lives somewhere in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail, mother-in-law Teresa, and three extremely spoiled cats. 

She can be found on LiveJournal (damcphail, badassfaeries, darkquestbooks, lit_handyman), Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail), and Twitter (DMcPhail). 

To learn more about Danielle's work, 


  1. Wonderful interview, ladies. It was nice to find out some information on anthologies. I've never thought to give one a try but now I know to keep my eyes open for such opportunities.

    Thanks so much for coming by Danielle.

  2. Very interesting interview! I'm eager to now go look into both reading and possibly contributing to Bad Ass Faeries.

  3. Very interesting Interview; I enjoyed learning more about the Pros for writing Shorts. Thanks for sharing this.

    Hugs, Kari Thomas,

  4. Wonderful interview. I've only been in one anthology, but it was an interesting experience. Thansk for sharing with us.

  5. Great interview, Danielle. :) I've had a lot of fun writing for you on anthologies, and I've learned a lot. In addition to all you've mentioned, hearing from a number of editors in an anthology makes for good writer development, as does taking advantage of discounted copies to sell - it's an effective way to learn about marketing. Thanks!

  6. Great interview! Keep up the good work, Danielle. =)

  7. Thanks, Everyone. Always glad to share what I know. Helps all of us represent better in the field :)

    For those of you who expressed an interest in BAF4, you can find out details at



  8. Our chapter published it's first set of anthologies on Amazon as a self published book. I hope it does well! We have some great authors in our group.
    I've been toying with the idea of adding to one...Just toying mind you.

  9. Good luck with it, Mary. It can be a daunting prospect, and definitely a LOT of work. But for me, worth it just for the satisfaction of taking a project from concept to completion. Such an awesome experience!

    Just remember, it will take a combined effort from all of the authors to make the book a success. Particularly with a self-published endeavor, it won't go far without everyone promoting it and generating awareness.



  10. Interesting post, Mary! I've always leaned toward the novel or short story, but you've made me think about going into the anthologies as well.

  11. Thanks Ilona,

    It is a nice way to get the name out there to people who wouldn't normally encounter your work. Fans of your fellow contributors, those who pick up books by a particular publisher, or those readers that are partial to whatever the theme of the anthology is.

    That is an important thing to note...themed anthologies are more effective than the catch-all variety, and easier to sell as well, if you go that route.