Guest blog: Lessons for writers from an anthology compilation project

Behind the shadows
Behind the shadows

OK folks. Lets try something new today. Like learn what the folks who were compiling an anthology that I am currently reading called Behind The Shadows had to go through to get to the end.

We all want to be published. We all want to see our name in print and don’t tell me otherwise. Facebook is full of people telling you whats on their mind. Over and over every day. Twitter accounts with 50,000 tweets and only 300 followers are not uncommon. We all want to show our written prowess. The thing is that writing is not for everyone. Only a few can collect their thoughts and put them in such a way that someone would be willing to give them money for it.

This lesson is shown when we look at a guest blog from Zukiswa Wanner one of the editors of Behind the Shadows and what they had to go through as they gave their project life with a focus on their writers;

And so it was that after a call out in March and a deadline of August 1st, my co-editor Rohini Chowdhury and I, found ourselves reading through hundreds of manuscripts to select our favourites. As we read through we each had four categories: Yes; Maybe; No; and…Hell No.

In the Yes category were the stories that kept to the word length (3000-5000 words), kept to our theme for the anthology – Outcast, and were well-written. There were some obvious winners. The title story, Behind the Shadows by Tasneem Basha, had both Rohini and I calling each other crying then laughing on the phone. Jill Morsbach’s The Hunted showed a society grappling with newfound democracy. Granny’s Parasychological Services by Himanjali Sankar was another obvious choice because of its playful tone and yet the ability to stick to the brief. So too was Jackee Batanda’s Thing That Ate Your Brain.

Our Maybes consisted of stories that resonated somewhat but failed to meet the word count or needed some clarification on a point in the plot. This may be where we separated the good writers from writers who take their craft seriously. The writers who take their work seriously – some of them established, took a look at the suggestions and reworked what needed to be done and returned it on time. The good writers – many of them quite known in literary circles on both continents did a ‘don’t- you- know- who- I- am? Google me,’ move, offended that we dared give feedback that was not a hundred percent in love with their work. From the experience, I learnt that Felix Cheong from Singapore is a great writer. And that what’s-her-name from Nigeria has an over inflated sense of self as a writer.

The Nos failed to adhere to both word count and plot. The Hell Nos not only had bad plot, failure to adhere to word count, but atrocious grammar. It was painful to read them and I am still looking at emails that Rohini and I sent each other.

The amusing thing about the Nos and the Hells Nos is that there were some persistent people in this group. I remember Rohini and I in a back and forth with some writers who initially enquired why we did not select their stories. We explained AGAIN (we had already done so in the ‘we regret’ emails). And then they emailed back again suggesting that they edit the scripts, and getting progressively obnoxious with each email. It was like those rejected ‘singers’ one sees on the first day of rehearsals on Pop Idols. You know those ones who always say they have been studying music since age three, are in the church choir or something and then when they starts singing it’s like a nail running along a chalkboard.

Interviewer: ‘So what happened in there, are you okay?’

Singer’(with false bravado): ‘Those judges don’t know what they are talking about. My mom says I am the best singer in my family. I am going to the studio on my own and sell more records than the stupid idol who wins. Watch me!’

After the feedbacks, we had a total of 30 stories. Some writers had published elsewhere so we had to remove them. Others fell through the cracks because they failed to submit their edits on time. The final work is these twenty one stories. “

The lesson here off course is that a) its not that simple to get published b) humility is your friend.

Behind the Shadows is available on Amazon

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