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The Ghoulish Times | 12/05/21
Let's Talk About Anthologies
Hello and welcome to the 11th issue of The Ghoulish Times. This week, I want to talk a little bit about anthologies, because—surprise—my latest anthology, Lost Contact, was released last Tuesday.
Lost Contact is the ninth anthology I’ve edited in my mostly-unsuccessful career as an anthologist. Next year I’ll release my tenth (and probably final—at least for a long time) anthology, titled The Mercy Seat: Stories From Death Row, which I’m currently in the middle of reading slush for. But I’ll talk more about The Mercy Seat closer to its release date (late-2022). Today I want to focus on not only Lost Contact, but the eight anthologies that preceded it. A couple weeks back I went into great detail on every book I’ve written. Now it makes sense to do something similar with the anthologies I’ve edited (and, in many cases, co-edited).
So, let’s begin…
Zombie Jesus and Other True Stories (2012)
My first anthology! This was for Dark Moon Books, which was at the time owned by Stan Swanson. By then, I was an intern editor for his magazine, Dark Moon Digest1, and we’d talked about branching out into letting me help edit a couple anthologies. An alternate horror history book eventually won over our other ideas and thus Zombie Jesus and Other True Stories was born (I think I wanted Robot Jesus not Zombie Jesus but I might’ve lost that argument; or maybe it was the other way around? this was a decade ago and my brain is jelly). I had zero idea what I was doing, but I certainly had fun. Nobody read the anthology, which is true for most anthologies, especially when they’re edited by inexperienced 19-year-olds and published by a press without any real marketing strength. My favorite thing about this anthology, looking back now, is April Guadiana’s amazing cover art. Those colors pop. You know, April and I haven’t worked together for a while now, and I have no idea why I haven’t hired her more lately. She rules.
Anyway, Zombie Jesus is thankfully out of print.
Zombies Need Love, Too (2013)
I included both the front and back covers here because oh my god I forgot how amazing April’s back cover artwork is for this anthology. I no longer remember how Zombies Need Love, Too originated, but I do remember it having a shaky time getting published. This was a long time ago, let me remind you, so the details are a little fuzzy now, but I recall issues with the publisher’s budget on this one. I don’t think Stan actually wanted to release this but maybe I talked him into doing it, anyway? (This was another Dark Moon Books anthology.) Regardless, ZNLT was so unpopular it doesn’t even have a single rating on Goodreads, and it came out in 2013. Here’s the cover synopsis I came up with for marketing the book:
Who said love was only for the living? In this anthology, the authors have proven that your sex drive does not die once you've been buried six feet in the earth. With a brilliant mix of humor and horror, Zombies Need Love, Too will turn you on and make you vomit at the same time. Consider reading it aloud with a spouse to rekindle a dying relationship, and take solace in the fact that " 'til death do us part " is no longer relevant.
It will forever remain a mystery why nobody ever read it.
Anyway, they’ll continue not buying it, because it’s no longer in print.
So it Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut (2013)
This was the first anthology we (Lori Michelle and myself) published through our small press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. (Every anthology mentioned going forward will be a PMMP anthology.) We’d launched PMMP the previous summer, but we didn’t start releasing material until 2013. I stand by every story I published in this anthology. A great collection of authors. That said, it’s now out of print. Go read the real Kurt Vonnegut if for some reason you haven’t. He’s one of the best.
Long Distance Drunks: A Tribute to Charles Bukowski (2014)
I have a complicated relationship with Bukowski. When I was younger, I was in love with him, but as I’ve grown a little older he tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth. That said, “Bluebird” remains one of my favorite poems. This was the second volume in an ongoing series I planned, but decided to abandon for more interesting ideas not tied down to being a “tribute” to someone else. We were actually in the middle of an Elmore Leonard tribute anthology titled Stay Cool when I decided to hit the brakes on these. Apologies to anybody who submitted to that anthology. I hope you managed to find homes for them elsewhere!
I’m also embarrassed of this anthology and the Vonnegut one when I look back at them, since neither anthology paid anything up front as should be the standard. Instead we agreed to split royalties from book sales with the contributors. And, considering neither book sold much of anything, they basically wrote these stories for free. It’s a mistake I deeply regret. I’ve grown since then, and know better now, but goddamn. I was pretty naive and in no way should have been editing anthologies (or, let’s be honest, co-running a small press).
Long Distance Drunks is no longer available.
Truth or Dare? (2014)
My first and only attempt at a shared-world anthology. Holy shit was this thing a nightmare. Like most projects, I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but even more so here as I attempted to juggle a shared world between a dozen or so authors. For a better idea of what I’m talking about, take a look at the back-cover synopsis:
Halloween night. The freaks are out and having the time of their lives. The kids of Greene Point High School have organized a massive bonfire out in the woods. One drunken teen suggests playing a game, a game called Truth or Dare. That's always a fun game. Always good for a laugh. By the end of this night, nobody will be laughing. Alcohol, sex, deadly secrets, and oceans of blood await them. Do you dare to play?
So, yeah, basically every story took place on this same night, in this same town, at this same bonfire. Every story was supposed to be another kid’s turn at “truth or dare”. The problem here is I failed to really establish the “world” these authors would be sharing, and instead attempted to connect the stories during my edits. It, uhh…was not the most successful. The stories themselves are great, I think—it’s just the “shared-world” aspect I screwed up a little. I do not foresee myself ever attempting one of these again. But hey! It was fun for the one time. Kind of.
Truth or Dare? is out of print.
Lost Signals (2016)
Hell yeah, baby. Now we’re getting to the really good stuff. The beginning of my technological horror trilogy. Out of everything I’ve ever written, edited, or published, these three anthologies are what I am most proud of being involved in. To be completely blunt, I fucking love these books. Lost Signals is the kind of anthology I had always wanted to read. Anybody who is a fan of weird radio transmissions and cursed media in general will love this book, I think. I certainly do. This was co-edited with my partner, Lori Michelle.
A bit more about Lost Signals:
What's that sound? Do you feel it? The signals are already inside you. You never even had a chance. A tome of horror fiction featuring radio waves, numbers stations, rogue transmissions, and other unimaginable sounds you only wish were fiction. Forget about what's hiding in the shadows, and start worrying about what's hiding in the dead air. With stories by Matthew M. Bartlett, T.E. Grau, Joseph Bouthiette Jr., Josh Malerman, David James Keaton, Tony Burgess, Michael Paul Gonzalez, George Cotronis, Betty Rocksteady, Christopher Slatsky, Amanda Hard, Gabino Iglesias, Dyer Wilk, Ashlee Scheuerman, Matt Andrew, H.F. Arnold, John C. Foster, Vince Darcangelo, Regina Solomond, Joshua Chaplinsky, Damien Angelica Walters, Paul Michael Anderson, and James Newman. Also includes an introduction from World Fantasy-award-winning author, Scott Nicolay.
Lost Signals remains available and can be purchased directly through our webstore.
Lost Films (2018)
The second volume in our technological horror trilogy. This time, instead of audio we focused on visual horror. Also co-edited with Lori Michelle.
From the editors of Lost Signals comes the new volume in technological horror. Nineteen authors, both respected and new to the genre, team up to deliver a collection of terrifying, eclectic stories guaranteed to unsettle its readers. In Lost Films, a deranged group of lunatics hold an annual film festival, the lost series finale of The Simpsons corrupts a young boy’s sanity, and a VCR threatens to destroy reality. All of that and much more, with fiction from Brian Evenson, Gemma Files, Kelby Losack, Bob Pastorella, Brian Asman, Leigh Harlen, Dustin Katz, Andrew Novak, Betty Rocksteady, John C. Foster, Ashlee Scheuerman, Eugenia Triantafyllou, Kev Harrison, Thomas Joyce, Jessica McHugh, Kristi DeMeester, Izzy Lee, Chad Stroup, and David James Keaton.
Lost Films is available in our webstore.
Tales from the Crust: An Anthology of Pizza Horror (2019)
Look. Many people have asked me why we published this book, and the answer has always remained the same: “I don’t know.” Regardless of the reasons (or lack of reasons), a couple years ago David James Keaton and I teamed up to edit the world’s first pizza horror anthology.
Whether you’re in the mood for a Chicago-style deep dish of darkness, or prefer a New York wide slice of thin-crusted carnage, or if you just have a hankering for the cheap, cheesy charms of cardboard-crusted, delivered-to-your-door devilry; we have just the slice for you.
It caused such a stir in the industry that other anthology/magazine open calls began banning “pizza horror” submissions in their guidelines. Acclaimed splatterpunk writer David J. Schow called our new book “a plague to the genre” on Facebook. Several people we rejected suggested publishing a spinoff anthology collecting the rejected stories called Leftovers. Keaton bought a pizza and punched his fist through it. I ate a lot of Little Caesars2. Things got…intense.
Sometimes I fear when I die this anthology will be the only thing people talk about. You can buy it in our webstore.
Lost Contact (2020)
Finally, we arrive on my latest anthology. Like the previous two installments of this trilogy, Lost Contact was also co-edited by Lori Michelle. Let’s take a look at what this one is about:
From the editors of Lost Signals and Lost Films comes the final installment in Perpetual Motion Machine’s technological horror trilogy. Nineteen authors in the genre team up to deliver a collection of spooky delights. In Lost Contact, stalkers, hackers, grieving families, social misfits, abandoned children, and other unhinged characters explore bizarre, unexpected horrors along creepy weather stations, playgrounds, rundown shopping malls, interstates, deserts, bogs, mountaintops, farms, and—of course—the deep, dark woods. Featuring Michael Paul Gonzalez, E.F. Schraeder, Jessica Leonard, Joshua Chaplinsky, Hailey Piper, Rebecca Jones-Howe, Muhammed Awal Ahmed, Betty Rocksteady, Michael Wehunt, Sofia Ajram, Jonathan Raab, Nicola Kapron, Nathan Carson, Anthony Wayne Hepp, Dustin Katz, Adam Franti, Douglas Wynne, Rachel Cassidy, and Victorya Chase.
To finally have this anthology out is an immense relief. I am thrilled with the way this one turned out (as I am with the previous volumes of the trilogy). Our authors in these anthologies really brought their absolute best to the table and we are proud to be the press to publish them.
I’d like to talk a little bit more about this specific anthology, and also my general thoughts on being an anthologist after editing nine of them over the last decade.
First, let’s talk about the negative aspects of editing anthologies.
To begin with, if you’re doing it right, these things are…not cheap. I already mentioned some of my early anthologies not paying well (or, in some cases, not at all). But to focus on Lost Contact, we offered pro rates3 of 5c per word plus a shared royalty split (meaning, once we earn out what we paid authors up front for the anthology, we will then begin splitting any profits with them as well).
For those interested in the realities of publishing an anthology, here is how much Lost Contact cost us up front:
This number does not include printing costs, contributor copies, marketing, shipping, etc. It only covers what we paid writers and artists for the anthology. I think it’s important to share this number to educate other writers, editors, and readers that putting together an anthology is not…cheap. It’s a significantly heavy expense that we so often do not break even on. Will Lost Contact break even? I sure hope so! (Help us break even by buying a copy?)
One of the reasons I believe I will stop publishing anthologies after The Mercy Seat has a lot to do with how expensive they are—but also, something that doesn’t get talked about a lot is how thankless of a job it is. Meaning editors and publishers dedicate a lot of time to these things, and so often nobody reads them. It’s very hard to get someone to care about an anthology, which is always bizarre to think about. We live in a time when people have the shortest attention spans in history. You’d think anthologies of short stories would be our bread and butter. Yet they’re not. At least, not the ones I seem to publish.
These books can take years to put together. From the reading slush, to choosing the final table of contents, to editing every story, to handling contracts, obtaining author bios, working with artists on interior illustrations, formatting, printing, marketing, begging anybody you see in the street to pick up a copy, etc.
Plus, holy shit, here’s something else anthologists never discuss: contributor copies tend to add up, especially when several authors in the book do not live in the United States—which is the case with Lost Contact. This is not a complaint. I love every author in this book. But it definitely adds up. Shipping to Canada? You might as well request a loan from the bank (which they will reject). The cost of shipping contributor copies is something a lot of new publishers and anthologists don’t consider until it’s time to mail them, and then they find themselves regretting every single decision leading up to this moment. I highly recommend including these costs in your budget from the very beginning of your planning stages, should you be someone currently debating publishing an anthology.
(Also, while we’re on the subject, I will be writing a lengthier “how to put together an anthology” essay soon for my new writing & publishing newsletter, Dog Ears, if you wish to subscribe ahead of time—which I hope you do! I just published my first essay for it a couple days ago about “settling for publication” and why maybe you shouldn’t do that.)
Okay, enough negative talk.
There are several reasons why I love anthologies. Reading stories first before anybody else is a huge part of it. Coming up with fun prompts and seeing how hundreds of different writers interpret them. Directly supporting other writers by giving them a paycheck and platform.
But probably the thing I love more than anything else is having the chance to publish someone’s first story. In Lost Contact, there are several first-time authors in our table of contents. Nothing feels greater than learning this. To be the person to say, “Hey, you’re amazing, and I would love to give your fiction a home.” Oh my god. What a treat. What a delight. What a goddamn dream.
Purchase Lost Contact directly through our webstore.
For those unaware, Stan no longer owns Dark Moon Digest. Lori Michelle and I took the magazine over several years ago and now publish it under our own company (PMMP).
Unrelated to the anthology.
According to the Horror Writers Association