Anthologies, especially in genre fiction, cycle in and out of fashion. At the time when my coauthor and I started writing professionally, they were at the start of a boom phase – our first sale was to the YA anthology Werewolves, edited by Jane Yolen and Martin Greenberg, and we had other anthology sales afterward. As usually happens, though, there came a time when so many anthologies were being published that reader fatigue set in, and then for another decade or so hardly anybody edited original anthologies any more. Now anthologies are coming back in again, and once again we’re selling an occasional short story (we’re novelists; all our short stories are occasional) to those markets.
Setting aside reprint anthologies, which are a different creature, anthologies come in two basic flavors: general and themed. A general anthology is inclusive in its scope – its guidelines don’t get much more restrictive than, say, “original science fiction under 10,000 words.” A themed anthology can be as specific as the editor desires: “hard science fiction between 500-1000 words about broccoli,” or “fantasy novellas or long short stories on feminist themes with an emphasis on nontraditional magic systems.” Themed anthologies can, paradoxically, be a lot easier to write for and sell to than the more open-ended ones. Either you’re the sort of writer for whom 500 words of hard sf focusing on broccoli come naturally to mind, or you’re not – and if you’re not you already know better than to try.
The other two main flavors of anthology are the open anthologies and the closed, or invitational, anthologies. For an open anthology, the editor basically puts up a sign saying “SF Stories About Broccoli Wanted – Apply Within,” and then reads every manuscript that the mailman or the internet brings to him or her and rejects most of them. This is, not surprisingly, a lot of work, and rejecting that many stories can get depressing, so most anthologies are put together from a list of invited authors, or from market listings in a restricted number of venues.
How to get into such an anthology? Well, the usual way is to write a good enough story . . . but before you can do that, you have to know where to send it, and the trick to that is to be in the sort of places where word about such things gets spread about. This is one of the reasons for the existence of professional writers’ mailing lists and on-line forums, and also one of the reasons why writers go to parties at conventions, or hang out in the bar, or talk to other writers at signing sessions or in the dealer’s room. Because if you’re there, and you hear word of an anthology that’s opening up, then you’re in a position to write to the editor and say words to the effect of, “I understand that you’re going to be editing an anthology of hard sf flash fiction about broccoli, and I was wondering if I could submit a story to it.”
Maybe it won’t work; maybe you’ll get a polite brush-off along the lines of “I’d love to see something from you, but unfortunately all the slots are already filled.” But you’re just as likely to get a “Sure, why not?” – and at that point, you’ve just been invited to apply. And while a sale is never guaranteed, you’ll be part of a much much smaller slushpile than the ever-increasing paper and digital stacks of submitted manuscripts over at Rivetty SF.
The next step: working your way up from “and others” to a name on the cover.