Press Note: Selecting Work for an Anthology

In this series, editors of the Poetry International Chapbook Series and Poetry International staff will discuss the process of running a contemporary press and literary journal: from collaborating with fellow editors to navigating design technologies to promoting a new publication, and all the spaces in between.

Selecting Work for an Anthology
by Jessica Amos

Creating an anthology based on a specific topic is harder than it looks. There are a few factors that editors must consider in collecting works for the anthology book.

The first factor is the limits you put onto your book, as far as content. Is your focus too strict to where the editors won’t be able to find more than a few pieces fitting into that category? Or is the subject matter of the anthology too broad, to where the editor or editors will find too many bodies of work? This may not seem to make sense, since the source material will be trimmed anyway. In my publishing workshop, we only have a short amount of time to read and select the pieces we wanted in our chapbooks, so there is a such thing as too broad a subject and too many selections to choose from. The goal is to have a subject specific enough to weed out, for lack of a better word, generic poems, but broad enough to have a significant amount of material to choose from.

The second factor after this is how to determine your method of choosing work as an editor. Two factors go into this: quality and appropriateness. But which is more important? That is entirely up to the editor or editors. When we began the elimination process, some editors chose to go with quality, especially with strict anthology subjects. If the editors liked the piece or the piece was beautifully and expertly written, then it was selected to go to the next round. Other editors decided to stick within the subject matter entirely, preferring appropriateness slightly over quality. Though the poems and prose may still be of high quality, the number of pieces favored may be smaller number than the pieces picked by authors who focused on quality.

A third factor is the overall message the editors want the anthology to have. After the final lineup of pieces is set, the editors have to figure out what tones the anthology will set and choreograph the lineup to project that type of tone. Choreography is important in an anthology because the more in uniform the selected pieces are in, the more likable the book will be to readers who judge a book based on these nuances. Most general readers like a specific and somewhat obvious theme within the anthology because it seems more targeted toward a broader audience. Editors want to pick pieces that will draw in readers and sell. At the end of the day, the product needs to sell no matter how few physical copies are published.

In the next few weeks our group of editors will transition into this phase and consider the lineup of the final selected pieces before sending the book to be published. The process as a whole is tedious to say the least, but rewarding in experience and knowledge. Once the book is a finished product, all this work will definitely be worth it.

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