BECOMING PART OF AN ANTHOLOGY is a great achievement for a writer. Along with the obvious joy of allowing you to keep fine company with the authors in the book, some of the other upsides to being in a fine collection might be less apparent. For instance, anthologies can be a home for a piece that simply does not fit anywhere else. For me, the joy is writing to a specific call for submissions. For these and other reasons, being part of an anthology should become one of your goals. To help you, I asked an editor of one of my new favorite anthologies to tell you how to get your pieces in one. Meet Linda Joy Myers, who helped shape and edit Times They Were A-Changing – Women Remember the ’60s & ’70s. You might know her as the founder and president of the National Association of Memoir Writers. Here she is explaining anthologies to you. Read on.
Get Published in an Anthology
by Linda Joy Myers
When the baby boomers of my generation were living through the 60s and 70s, we didn’t have a perspective on our experiences—life-altering events like the death of JFK, the Viet Nam war, the death of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, riots at the Democratic convention, students killed at Kent State, the demonstrations for civil rights, free speech, women’s rights, and mass marches to end the war. We knew we were tuned into something—shocked into growing up and finding our identity as women in the midst of huge social change. As a memoirist, I had to wonder how many people’s stories would illuminate our history and experiences.
The seeds for gathering stories for the anthology The Times They Were A’Changing were sown at the Story Circle Memoir Conference in 2012. My decades long curiosity about how other women lived the 60s and 70s linked with my memoir friends Kate Farrell and Amber Lea Starfire under a 700 year old oak tree in Austin Texas, where the wine, wind, and our reminiscences entwined to create the idea of inviting stories of our sisters from that era to grace the pages of an anthology. Amber, with techie talents, designed and created our website while Kate researched iconic photos of the era, and all of us decided on themes. We created a contest with prizes and invited submissions by advertising in literary magazines and through writing clubs.
With a pile of submissions in our laps, we were looking to be swept into another world and another time, always on the lookout for a magic ingredient that made the stories sing and reach beyond the words into our hearts. We created a rubric that included artistry as well as technique, voice and passion along with the ability to use craft elements of good story telling, grammar, tone, and sensual details. We read and scored the submissions many times, wanting to be fair, aware that besides the techniques of good story writing, there were elements that were harder to define—that je ne sais quoi of a story that made us tingle—and say yes to the story.
If you are considering submitting to an anthology, consider these tips.
- Be sure to follow the instructions about submissions! We felt sad when we had to disqualify someone because they sent too many words or didn’t follow our requirements. These things matter when you are competing with many other good writers who will follow instructions.
- Edit, edit, edit. We gave lower scores immediately when we found more than one typo or grammatical error—and if they were on the first page, we were wary of more. We figured the writer was not serious enough to edit carefully. Share your story with your friends, read your piece aloud, and/or hire a professional editor. You get one shot at being accepted!
- Be sure your piece addresses the theme of the anthology. Work to shape your piece around the theme and word count as you begin writing. Imagine your work divided into three sections—a beginning where the themes are laid out, a middle where your story develops layers of complexity, and an end where there’s the takeaway for the reader and an epiphany for the protagonist. In memoir—that’s you!
- Start with a scene that drops the reader into the world you are creating in your story. Use sensual details—colorful descriptions, textures, sounds, and smells that harken back to that time and place. Clothing styles, language, food, cars, and music all denote a certain era.
- Weave scene and reflection into a skillful rendering of theme and action—show more than tell. Of course, in memoir you do need to “tell” and reflect upon the meaning of the scene.
- Use both direct and indirect dialogue. Dialogue in a story is an approximation of a real conversation with the goal of showing character and action. It’s a real skill. Read great dialogue in fiction and memoir, and try your best.
- Make sure the title and theme of your piece weave threads that continue all the way through.
- What does your reader “take away” or learn from your story? A good story is more than “this happened and then that happened.”
- Know that each story you write offers you a chance to be creative and express yourself. You learn something new about how you think, remember, and write in each piece. Enjoy the process!
Times They Were A-Changing, an excerpt
In the Family Way
by Carol Derfner
At the time of our lunch, neither of the women worked outside the home so I knew they must have cobbled the money together somehow. When I asked why they had such compassion and generosity toward a girl they had never met, the sisters glanced at each other tenderly. First one, then the other, responded, with my aunt speaking first.
“Because it’s just plain wrong to have a baby when a girl’s too young and silly to take care of it.” She took a drag on her cigarette and blew the white smoke upward. “She’ll just resent it.” Aunt Alene snubbed the cigarette butt out in the half-filled ashtray without looking at us. “And that’s not a good thing for a kid. They can feel that, you know.”
I wasn’t sure what Mom would say. She had a habit of retreating into a well-hewn reticence whenever a conversation verged on something emotional. I half expected her to jump up and begin clearing away the dishes, so I was very surprised when she reached over the maple table and entwined her fingers with those of her older sister. Her voice was hesitant, thin and quiet.
“I think a woman should be able to live a life she really wants. Babies coming too soon and too often make that almost impossible.” She paused for a moment. “I wouldn’t want that for your friend.”
Mom had given birth to seven children by the time she was forty. The hint of dreams long gone from her own life hung in the air for what seemed forever before she twisted in her seat and looked at me with saddened eyes. “And no child should bear the burden of having been born an accident,” she said.
Abruptly Mom turned back to her sister, a flash of anger on her face. There was no mistaking the conviction in her voice as she declared, “Because no one, not a man or a woman—and certainly not a child—should be forced to get married. Or worse yet, have to stay married for years and years to the wrong person.” Mom was on fire!” All because of a tiny moment of wrong timing,” she snorted with derision. “That’s the real crime in my book!”
With that, Aunt Alene slapped the table hard with an open hand. “Damned right, little sister!” she cried out triumphantly. “Damned right!”
The women’s words sent a current of loving kinship through me with stunning force. In one split second, I understood that because believing motherhood and marriage were the forces that dominated their lives, my mother and her sister wanted Linda and me to have something more in ours. In their oblique way, as they handed over the tissue-thin envelope, they were empowering us to be our truest selves.
I can still picture how fierce and proud my mother and her sister looked. Never did I love these two women more than in that moment.
Carol Derfner’s writing career began with poetry in the mid-1970’s, but was interrupted by life until she retired in 2006. Currently she is writing full-time, producing short fiction and personal essays, as well as a long-form memoir related to her life in Alaska in the 1960s and 1970s.
Linda Joy Myers is president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, and has been a therapist for 33 years in Berkeley, CA. She’s the author of Gold Medal prize winning Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness, The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story, and Journey of Memoir. Linda co-edited the anthology The Times They Were A-Changing—Women Remember the 60s & 70s. Her first book Becoming Whole—Writing Your Healing Story was a finalist in the ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award. Her fiction, non-fiction, and memoir pieces have been published in literary journals and online. A blogger at Huffington Post, Linda co-teaches the program Write Your Memoir in Six Months. Linda is a speaker about memoir, healing, and the power of writing the truth, and offers editing, coaching, and manuscript evaluation for memoir, nonfiction, and fiction writers.
AND THE WINNER IS…
I hope you enjoy Writing Lessons. Featuring well-published writers of our favorite genre, each installment of the series will take on one short topic that addresses how to write memoir, and will include a great big book giveaway.
It’s my way of saying thanks for coming by.
The contest for this book is now closed. Please see the next installment of Writing Lessons.
The winner of the book is Judy Freedman. Congratulations, Judy! I’ll be in touch to send your book.