The Ugly Truth about Anthologies

AnthoIf you are an author with a Facebook profile, you will be able to picture this quite well.

You log in, you check out your timeline, and viola! You see banners promoting new anthology submissions. And despite the fact that nothing in that banner strikes a chord with you, you enlarge it, read through the details, and even think seriously of making submissions. And then you do!

The popularity of these anthology announcements on Facebook rivals that of vada pav sellers on a Mumbai street. Or dumplings on a Shanghai street. Or burritos on a Mexican street. Okay, you get the picture. But why is that? Do these submissions give you as much value as vada pavs or dumplings or burritos, if not more?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying submitting to anthologies is a bad thing. Not at all! I have done so in the past and I am very happy with wherever I have been featured. For me, it has always been a great experience. Maybe that’s because I keep an eye out for the following points, which could help you as well.

  1. Who is going to publish it? If it is a reputable house and is known for good work in the past, go ahead. Pro tip – stay away from all anthologies put up by self-publishing houses.
  2. Who is the author at the helm? Usually anthologies are woven around some famous authors. Does the anthology have a leading author who has some repute?
  3. Who are the other authors with you? You will not know this in advance, of course, but you might get an idea as to who your potential co-authors would be. You don’t want to be saddled with a coterie of middling authors that will only pull down your name.
  4. Will you have to pay anything? If the answer to this is even remotely a ‘yes’, you can safely delete the post from your timeline. No anthology that advertises itself solely on Facebook – I repeat, no anthology that advertises solely on Facebook – is worth paying for.
  5. Who is the selection panel? The selection panel should be a group of respectable names in the world of literature, bestselling or not. They should be known for their own writing. They should have good reviews themselves. Some anthologies will keep their judges secret, and that’s okay too, but the names is usually made public when the book is published. So check back issues of the anthology and see who they had on board at that time.
  6. How will the anthology be promoted? Some of these self-publishing houses who announce these anthologies cannot even sell Viagra at discount to a horny old man. Or they won’t sell. Whichever. And they won’t promote. Here’s the big secret – self-pubbing houses announce anthologies only because they want to piggyback on the authors’ names to promote their own name. So if you think the anthology is doing you any good, well, it’s a big NO. The publishers want you to promote their brand via the anthology.
  7. What royalties will you get? Be very careful here. Some of these points can be very misleading. Royalties can take various forms, and they need not be monetary. In fact, they are hardly ever monetary compensation for anthologies, which is fine. If it is a reputable brand and your name will be exposed to a new set of people, that’s good payback in itself. But if the anthology tells you to buy copies of the book, stay away. They should, in fact, send you complimentary copies.

I must make one more point here – if you are participating in an anthology, money should be the last thing on your mind. Even the people who put anthologies together do not think in monetary terms. A genuine anthology is all about giving a platform for authors to come together.

Now, if it’s an anthology from a new publishing house, we ought to look for the following things:-

  1. How earnest are the people in accepting their submissions?
  2. How well-defined are their themes, guidelines, submission requirements, etc.?
  3. Do they have a fixed timeline for all the processes involved?
  4. Who are the other people submitting?
  5. Are the promotions happening intelligently?
  6. Which is the publishing house?
  7. What is the reputation of the organizers in the literary world?

And, most importantly:

What will YOU get by submitting to this anthology? Will it be a good addition to your profile, provided you are selected?

Disclaimer – I do not wish to project this as an advice column. It is a list of my observations and experiences. Read them, and go make your own observations!

2 thoughts on “The Ugly Truth about Anthologies

  1. Neil, a very discerning and well-written piece! I agree with all your points. Having been published in a large number of anthologies, I think there were only two that I regretted having participated in. One was a seedy one with largely unknown writers, poor quality editing, and printed on terrible paper. The cover was horrendous too! The other one expected us to buy our own copies. Both these sank with ne’er a ripple! I guess I have been fortunate that I have been published in some wonderful anthologies as well. I would like like to share this piece of yours on my timeline, if I may! Thanks for the timely information!

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes, we do live and learn. I have been lucky with both my anthology journeys so far. And yes, do feel free to share it on your timeline. This post needs to reach out as much as it can.

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