The Bolthole Anthology (Part I)

A bit more than a month back, I mentioned something I jokingly called Project X. But anyone who has been reading the blogs of my fellow Bolthole writers would have noticed some of them talking and discussing an upcoming anthology.

It should come as no surprise that this is “project X” but the plot twist is, I’m managing it.

It’s true. Not only do we have a growing stack of stories completed, edited, reviewed and ready, but we’ve reached out to the talented Forjador to develop a cover which you can see here.

To nip any questions in the bud, this anthology is an original horror anthology, with twelve authors. Besides serving as a writer and editor, it has been my responsibility to answer questions, take care of legal agreements, arrange the online accounts for sales and assist with creative direction whenever an author asks.

I must expound that last point. In the pages of Valve Software’s handbook:

When you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value.

The distinction this kind of management takes from, say, the direction of being a student or that first job you had flipping burgers as a fast food joint is pretty profound. The major difference is that fact that you trust your colleagues to finish their assignments. This project is only possible because of a group of talent people who decided to cooperate rather than compete.

When I sat down and discussed the anthology with my fellow editors and one or two of the writers, I decided to try a few things different from most short story anthologies. Here’s a break down of our business approach so future editor/managers can learn from our mistakes and take from our ideas.

One critical difference we had compared to many regular publishing companies is that ours was primarily open to members of the Bolthole. This limited the pool of available writers. We also decided to allow only a certain number of writers in, reserving slots. The writers submitted plot synopsis of about 100 words, an idea we borrowed from the Black Library submissions.

“Sell me the plot like the back of a book, in 100 words or less,” I said.

It turned out to be a great idea. This approach let the writers swiftly plan the backbone of their story in a minimal amount of time.

However, we started transitioning away from the “reserved slots” anthology method, going back to the better known “submit and wait” approach just about every author and wannabe author knows. One reserved writer had to be dropped after being unresponsive for three weeks. Others had voiced concern about being able to find the time. So we announced the change and reopened our anthology for more people.

We’ve left plenty of time in our schedule for the transition. But anyone relying on a “reserved slot” approach is flirting with trouble.

Editing, I know/rediscovered, is a tremendous amount of work. From the get go, I knew it would be easy to be overrun with stories to edit. In response, I requested two editors to work alongside me. Two editors would review the first draft and return it with comments and corrections. The author would redraft and return the final version, which passed muster beneath the third editor.

There were pluses and minuses to this system. On the plus side, I feel that passing three sets of eyes increases the quality of the final product. Since this is the Bolthole’s flagship business project, I felt the need for strong quality control was paramount.

Another point is that we have limited available writers, so it’s necessary to demand their more quintessential work. Rather than pick and choose the best from hundreds of stories made available from the general public, we have little more than a dozen interested authors. This meant that instead of cherry picking the best quality stories from a large quantity, we have to squeeze the best elements from a small pool of talent.

There are also downsides to this approach. Three editors means up to three fold in lost time during editing. It also increases frustration upon authors when they face conflicting opinions about changes. There are very, very different qualities of editing.

Choosing the right editors is important: Once, almost a year ago, I asked for help from a guy who had performed professional editing. When I saw some of his changes though, I realized I made a mistake. The guy had been shortened and simplifying too much. Then I remembered that his experience came from writing political speeches, which focus more on writing for the sake of being spoken. Very different from fictional writing indeed.

The Future…
I’ll be talking more about the anthology’s development as time goes on. There are others things to discuss such as scheduling, but I want to see how well our methods work before I openly talk about them.

But recognize this. A huge part of learning is experimentation. Theories are not always going to work out. Some methods just work better than others. Sometimes you just got to dive in and find out the hard way.

In the words of Gandalf, “The burned hand teaches best.”

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