As you read this, I have just launched a new book – FLESH AND FIRE: Book 1 of The Vineart War, — and am about to head off to California for two weeks of readings, signings, and socializing, ending with the World Fantasy conference in San Jose over the Halloween weekend, where Phyllis, my fellow SHADOW CONSPIRACY editor, and I will sit down with a stack of manuscripts and – probably – a few glasses of something soothing.
Because, yes, all the stories are in, finally. (yayyyy!) A few are still waiting the final round of editorial polish, but they are in, and have been read, and found to be fan-farking-tastic. Soon, they will all be in the hands of our able Fact-Checking and Ass-Kicking Brigade, also known as The Proofreaders (Jennifer, Vonda, Nancy, Pati and Sue). No, they don’t have cool leather team jackets. They really should, though.
So is it over for Phyl and Laura Anne? Can we sit down at World Fantasy and breathe a sigh of relief? Not quite. There’s still one rather major, messy chore left to do: determining the Table of Contents, also known as “the lineup.”
If editing an anthology is both fun and a headache, then organizing an anthology is a headache that can be fun, for a certain level of geeky fun. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what order the stories are published in – you can pull titles from a jar, for all the importance it makes to the reader, who will merely dip into the collection and read stories at random. Sometimes, there’s an obvious theme – “funny vampire stories” will be in one section, and “scary vampire stories” will be in another, and then the next section is “cinematic vampires,” etc. In many cases, when there is no clear need for a particular story-order, the editor will put the “biggest” names in the front, and the strongest story in the back, and scatter the others in-between (for the editor’s opinion of the strongest story; readers often disagree, and I suspect Phyl and I would have a hard time picking a “strongest” from this group, because there are so many brilliant offerings).
But when you’re working with a shared-world anthology – and one that evolves along a definite timeline – you have to be more careful. There are some stories that build on something begun in another writer’s story: we have to make sure that they’re placed in order. There are stories that show a different side of events than another story. Do we put them next to each other, or separate them by several stories? And what about the ones that take place in different parts of the world, or have almost conflicting approaches to the same character? And what if a story falls into more than one “shared detail” category? How should we present these stories, so that they all build on each other, to present the best possible reading experience?
And now take that job, the thought and the consideration required, and double it by two editors, each with their own idea about what should do where….each already exhausted and slightly punchy…
If you happen to be at World Fantasy, and happen to see us sitting at a table, a pile of papers scattered around us, approach with caution. But don’t be afraid; we want you all to learn how to do this.. so we can rope you in as assistants, next time! *cue evil laugh*
Laura Anne Gilman is currently in the midst of promoting her alternate 14th Century fantasy FLESH AND FIRE (also known as “the wine-magic book”) while also writing both the next book in the trilogy and her next Cosa Nostradamus novel, and has to be reminded to do things like eat, sleep and call her mother.
You can find more on her bookshelf