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How does an anthology choose it's stories?

How do gatekeepers choose which stories to include in a book? I can’t answer for any large companies, but I can share a little about we decided it for the current Toronto Comics book! I imagine that some of our filters are similar, and I hope it will be helpful to folks.

So, for Volume four, we received 115 pitches from 73 authors. That’s about 30% more than last year, which is great!

Step 1) Choosing our criteria

Before we started this volume, the editors and I built guidelines to make something we’d all be proud to put our names on. Since this is intended as a career launching book that may deal with sensitive issues, we wanted to be careful and positive.

Each of our three editors have very different tastes, and so if we all like a piece, we can safely assume it has a wide appeal.

  • Personally, I’m a sucker for any fun piece of slightly-absurd melodrama with a good visual hook. Throw me a wild image!

  • One editor is very interested in social justice and representation ( and the careful handling of those matters ). Talk about something that matters!

  • Another is most engaged with experimental stories that push the medium and leave the reader with questions. Show us something we’ve never seen before!

I am the lead editor, but our process is set up so that I cannot overrule them and just choose the stories I want. I’m working with these editors because I trust and value their judgement, and that means respecting their decisions, especially when we disagree.

Here’s the rough metric we came up with:

Major positive criteria

  • Pitch shows clear understanding of story.

  • Unusual genre.

  • Characters reflect Toronto’ diversity.

  • Creator has positive online reputation ( esp. successful kickstarters or signs of commercial success! )

Minor positive criteria

  • Tasteful product placement of Toronto landmarks.

  • Story is in the history genre.

  • Has human empathy, forgiveness, softness etc.

  • Creator is talented but unpublished.

  • We have a positive prior working experience with the creator.

  • Creator currently lives near Toronto.

Negative criteria

  • Edginess, overuse of profanity, sexuality, etc.

  • Modern personalities used in too-casual fashion, or anything that could be considered slanderous.

  • Too many capes stories will sideline the book into the superheroes genre.

Step 2) Accepting pitches

We asked writers to use a Google Form to submit their pitches, but we did get a number of emails from folks saying they couldn’t submit through it. I know some projects have had good results funnelling applications through, but it seemed like overklll for what we needed.

A number of folks also just emailed us directly instead, so I just appended their emails to the Google Docs spreadsheet that was generated by the submission form. If they included sample files, I emailed them to the other editors.

Step 3) Reviewing Pitches

Filter 1: Quality

Immediately after we closed submissions, every editor made their own copy of the spreadsheet, and read through every single entry. We each use our own rating system, but we roughly ranked our stories into ‘Must have’ ‘Pretty good’ and ‘Hard No.’ We made brief notes on every single pitch, just so we’d have a reference point later.

Having spent a few days making notes, we met up at a bar downtown, and sat down for unhealthy pub food and a solid four hours of pitch review.
We each read aloud our Must Haves and Pretty Goods, sharing our opinions as we went through, and then compiled a cross-references list. If we all liked it, it was immediately in, and if any of us was a Hard No it was thrown out. After some time, we whittled it down to about thirty stories.

Filter 2: Individuality

Then we looked at overlapping themes and elements. We had a large number of stories about the omnipresent condo gentrification in the city, quite a few about a Tunnel Monster, and a surprising number of historical Riots pieces. We added tags describing genre and theme to the top 30, and then chose the most distinct example of each that touched the most bases.

Filter 3: Page count

Finally, we looked at the page count of each of the stories. Each page represents a dollar figure, so much as we loved a lot of the stories, we simply can’t commit to them all. We agonized over choices, haggled a few pages off some of the pitches, and made difficult decisions.

We still ended up choosing more stories than our intended page count, so we may have to ask for more on our KS than originally planned. At the same time, it’s also likely that some stories will drop out over the course of development.

Step 4) Specific suggestions

  • Writers, for the love of god, don’t keep us in suspense about how your story ends. If you don’t tell us how it concludes, I assume you don’t know.

  • If you have prior writing experience, it’s a big plus! If you can send us some previously finished comics, that’s a huge deal.

  • Don’t send 10 page pitches.

  • Don’t send 10 word pitches.

  • Scan your pitch for typos and grammar.

  • When possible, run several pitches past friends or colleagues, and see which one they respond to best.

  • If your story includes an older guy creeping on a younger girl, no matter how it ends, think twice about submitting it.

I hope this helps folks! I share a lot of this stuff because comics anthology organization is still such a new field, and there’s not much information out there. If you’re an editor with a different perspective, or have feedback to offer, I’m always trying to listen and learn!

I welcome feedback and suggestions at @cardboardshark!