Ever hear the expression, ‘herding cats?’
I’ll tell you something: All anthologists know it!
I know it now too. I am the editor for Unfettered, a fantasy short story anthology that features some of the best writers working in the field. It is newly released as an eBook and a hardcover, the proceeds from sales going to alleviate medical debt I accrued after treating Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011.
In that regard, it is a special book. At least it is to me. I lacked health insurance due to a pre-existing condition and racked up one helluva medical bill. I could have easily taken the medical bankruptcy route and become another statistic. No one would have begrudged me that course. I decided to take a different path though. And in so doing, be free of the crushing debt that increased day by day by day…
To start, I had lunch with Terry Brooks, author of the bestselling Shannara series. I have been Terry’s webmaster for thirteen years and we are close friends. I asked him to donate a short story to my cause, the proceeds to go against that debt. He agreed. But he added more advice, advice that led to Unfettered:
‘Shawn, you should ask your other writer friends for the same thing,’ Terry said.
He had a good idea. But would it work? The relationships I’ve built via The Signed Page and Suvudu over the years are professional in nature. Could I go to these author giants of the field and ask them for help? Would I be hurting my professional relationships in the process? Was I committing career suicide in my time of need?
I had to take the risk. I’ve never been one to shirk a dare and, by daring myself, I removed all doubt. I wrote ten writers in all at first. I waited. And after only thirty minutes, I got my first response.
The first came from Patrick Rothfuss. It led to many more. My worries were put to rest. And soon I had a full anthology line-up, filled with more than just professionals—filled with friends who had no problem coming to my aid.
But then what?
I had to learn how to herd cats.
I am not a editor. I am barely a writer. My debut novel, The Dark Thorn, published in February 2013 and, while reviewed well, is still a debut novel. I still have a lot to learn. And being an editor is an entirely different role, requiring skill sets that perhaps I didn’t possess.
The pressure was on. And as my writers began delivering their stories, I had to learn on the job.
I had to learn how to herd cats.
Now, to be fair, my contributors were amazing. I rarely had to nudge them for anything. When I did, they were on it, communicating every step of the way. I didn’t have to herd them. Not in the way you would imagine. Even when the schedule got condensed due to my own ineptitude, they rose to the occasion and delivered every single time.
The cats I had to learn how to herd were the steps of the publishing process. Getting the small press set up legally. Getting contracts signed. Getting the organization prepared for short story acceptance, editing, copyediting, proofing, and final publishing. One does not realize the amount of work that goes into an anthology—not just the book itself but the design of the book too. I had a steep learning curve.
Thankfully, artist Todd Lockwood and my copyeditor Rachelle Mcghee put up with my eccentric form of perfectionism. They helped me herd the cats. Todd worked with me closely on the art and was a constant sounding board for ideas. Rachelle helped copyedit and design the book. I learned more about Photoshop and InDesign than I ever thought I would.
They buoyed me and allowed me to focus on the individual stories and the business side of Grim Oak Press.
All in all, I learned a great deal. The result? An anthology I am proud of having
I hope you will buy it. I hope you will read every story. Maybe find a few new favorite writers. I hope you can see the hard work that went into every page.
Because if you do, I’ve done my job as editor.
And herded the cats.