First let me start by saying this is not a definitive guide to how to get published in anthologies, but a highly subjective guide based on my editing over 60 anthologies, and now being the Best Women’s Erotica of the Year series editor for Cleis Press, and having my own work published in over 100 of them. Why am I sharing this on Lady Smut? Because writing erotic short stories for anthologies is how I got my start, and how many in the erotica and erotic romance genre have broken in. It’s not for everybody, especially if you think only in novel length plots, but what anthology writing credits can do is give your work visibility and gain you new readers, boost morale, connect you with other writers (and editors and agents, who may be reading and looking for their next big author) and earn you a little extra cash. My anthologies are on bookstore shelves across the country and a few around the world; several have been translated into German. That means that your short story may be read by someone far, far away who, if they like it enough, may start following you online, eager to read every word that follows the end of your anthology tale.
Numerous erotica and romance novelists have gotten their start by publishing shorter fiction in anthologies. Delilah Night, whose work I published in my erotic romance anthology Irresistible, put out her first solo novel, Capturing the Moment, this year. She described getting her first acceptance letter for an anthology this way: “I actually found out that my story had been accepted into Irresistible because I was following Rachel Kramer Bussel on Twitter. She said that she had three stories with Jewish characters, and I thought *hmmmm.* An hour later I got the email. I screamed, grabbed my husband, and may have cried.” Jade A. Waters, whose novel The Assignment, the first in her erotic romance trilogy Lessons in Control, will be published in December by Carina Press, got her first byline in the genre in my anthology The Big Book of Orgasms. There are countless paths toward book deals, but having previous writing credits bolsters your visibility and can be impressive to publishers because they know your work is already “out there” and being read.
I also organize readings at bookstores, like our upcoming Best Women’s Erotica of the Year reading January 31, 2017 at Skylight Books in Los Angeles, for my anthologies, giving authors the opportunity to read their words aloud to a live audience, which I find an invaluable experience for finding out what truly connects with readers. Often, local bookstore patrons will attend, who may have never heard erotica read aloud before. You never know who will show up to a reading, and often your words will stick with audiences long after they’ve heard them.
Plus, it can often be easier and faster to get a short story published than a longer work. Generally, it takes about a year to a year and a half from submission to publication. It’s also exciting. I too cried when my first short story, “Monica and Me,” got published, and the thrill of seeing my name in a book has never gotten old. It’s also been a stepping stone to a career as an anthology editor I never imagined when I sat down to pen that first story.
So, with the caveat that short stories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, for those who are interested, I’m sharing my top five pieces of advice on how to better your chances of getting published in an anthology. Please keep in mind that an anthology editor may be inundated with hundreds of submissions and only able to select a very small percentage of them. This means that, simply based on the numbers, not everyone is going to get accepted. Don’t take it personally; if your story gets rejected, send it back out, or polish it and see if you can tweak or extend it. Whatever you do, don’t give up on it because you don’t know all the variables at play that went into an editor’s decision.
Right now, I’m aiming to get 500 submissions to my call for Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 3 (December 1 deadline), even though I only have room for between 20 and 30 stories, depending on length. Why? Because I want to publish as many authors I’ve never worked with as I can from around the world, and want to offer my readers as much novelty, variety and creativity as possible. The best way for me to do that is to draw from a wide pool. Please don’t let that discourage you, though; in the past, if I had too many wonderful stories that simply wouldn’t fit within my allotted work count for an anthology, I’ve taken the surplus and fashioned some of them into a new anthology idea based around a theme that’s cropped up. I’m also editing the flash fiction BDSM anthology The Big Book of Submission, Volume 2 (January 10 deadline), which will contain 69 stories, three times the usual number I have room for. You can find many more calls for submissions at the Erotica Readers & Writers Association Author Resources section, and also follow publisher Sexy Little Pages for their calls.
Onto my writing advice:
Read the guidelines fully
This rule should go without saying, but with every single anthology I edit, I receive submissions outside the stated word count, not focused on the theme or otherwise outside the rules I’ve set down in the call. My calls tend to be very long (most by other editors are shorter), but that’s because over the twelve years I’ve been editing anthologies, I’ve honed in on the exact what I’m looking for (except for plot and content; with those, I want to be surprised!). What I try to do with my very detailed calls for submissions is save both authors and myself time. Will I read your story even if you submit it single spaced when I require it to be double spaced? Yes, but for every small adjustment I have to make to submissions, that’s time taken away from reading them. One major point: only submit your story once. Don’t consider your submission a rough draft, a suggestion or in any way unfinished. Yes, an editor will be editing it if it’s accepted, but it looks bad and is insulting to an editor’s time and professionalism to submit a piece, have it accepted and edited, then completely rewrite it and expect them to the do all that work over again. Submit the final, polished, amazing, proofread (see last item) story you’d want to see published with the byline you want to use. Following the guidelines shows you want to be taken seriously.
Make your writing stand out
Considering what I stated above, that editors may be facing hundreds of submissions, think about how to make yours stand out. For instance, when I edited Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, I received many more excellent submissions than I could include in the book. Since the theme was sex toys, I read many stories that focused on the same type of sex toy used in a similar way. That’s not to say those stories were bad, but simply that I couldn’t include more than one lest my readers get bored. Some of the stories that stood out as unique were ones like “A Tale of Two Toys” by Chris Komodo, about dueling remote control vibrators, “My Life as a Vibrator” by Livia Ellis, told from the point of view of a vibrator, from factory shelf to being used by lusty women, as well as stories that employed household objects as erotic aids, such as “Icy Bed” by J. Crichton. Obviously, you can’t know in advance what kinds of stories will be your competition, but you can think outside the box. Now, I’m not saying that you should set your story on Mars or some fictional planet if you hate sci fi just for the sake of standing out. I’m saying that if you have a brainstorm that’s off the beaten path, or know about a subculture that not many people do, use that to your advantage. For instance, I used my many years playing in chess tournaments as fodder for my story “Check, Mate” in Alison Tyler’s erotica anthology G Is for Games.
Grab the reader’s attention, but don’t give away too much immediately
When I’m reading story submissions for my anthologies, I especially look for stories that pull me in with an amazing first line and keep me frantically reading to find out what happens next. That’s not to say each story needs to have a fast pace; in fact, in addition to variety in terms of sex acts, sexual orientation, setting, tense, and age and race of characters, I look for stories with varying paces so readers get a wide range of types of stories. But I tend to prefer stories that keep me guessing just a little, not necessarily with a plot twist, but that are full of enough drama to make me keep reading. Sometimes people assume that “erotica” simply means “sex story,” and that’s not the case. A short story, erotic or not, still has to have a beginning, middle and end (no matter the chronology), and the ones I tend to select are intriguing from the start and stay intriguing.
Have fun with the theme
Not all anthologies have themes, but when they do, go ahead and mix things up a little. One of my favorite examples of this is from my anthology Flying High: Sexy Stories from the Mile High Club (originally titled The Mile High Club: Plane Sex Stories), where Cheyenne Blue took the sex on an airplane theme and ran with it (or rather, walked) with “Wing Walker.” In this case, I truly didn’t want every story to be about seat mates getting it on in the air, and she made sure her story spun in a direction I could never have imagined when I wrote the call for submissions. I’ve channeled my fear of driving and cars into a BDSM erotica story about a woman “forced” by her partner to drive as part of their kinky relationship. Once again, if you have insider details about a certain location or fetish or hobby, taking that and eroticizing it is a way to impress an editor, gloss on the theme and stand out from the pack.
Proofread and read your work out loud before submitting
This goes along with my first rule. We all make typos and other mistakes, and I’d say almost everyone will find something to tweak once they read their work aloud. It simply sounds different when you speak the words rather than read them on the page or screen, especially if you’ve already read them numerous times. This is an excellent way to give your work a final proofing before submitting it.
Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com.