As I previously mentioned, I’m delighted to find myself on the table of contents for the upcoming anthology World’s Collider, edited by the splendid Mr Richard Salter. The book is pitched as a novel in many voices, with each story contributing to an overall narrative of the world’s decline (caused by an explosion at the Large Hadron Collider, which rips a hole in reality and lets… things… in). It’s all systems go on this project at the moment, as plans are devised and authors begin a tentative delve into the first draft of their stories, so I thought it would be good jump back in time a few months and find out how I got there.
As is the case with many shared world projects, the submission guidelines asked not for a completed story, but instead for a short ‘pitch’ of a couple of hundred words, a thumbnail sketch of the imagined story, showing the beginning, middle, and end. There are lots of reasons to put an anthology together in this way, and one of the biggest is that nobody wants to waste anybody else’s time. The guidelines about the event Mr Salter wants to chronicle were necessarily specific to the book he’s putting together. For an author, this means that any story written is going to be extremely difficult to try to sell elsewhere, if they were to be rejected from this book. By asking for pitches instead, the editor saves us the agony of having to write something that might never be seen anywhere else.
In addition, with the accepted stories not yet written, it affords the greatest opportunity for the writers to cross-pollinate each other’s work with references back and forward, to try to give that sought after ‘one story, lots of writers’ feel. It makes a lot of sense, then, for the stories to be written after everyone has been introduced, and a proper conversation is begun.
Historically, pitching ideas is not my strength. I struggle enormously to compress a 5000 word story into a couple of hundred, and come up with a snappy compressed version that makes editors want to read the whole thing. Richard Salter is one of the first editors to buy a story from me based on a pitch – it was a few years ago, when he was putting together the (now extremely coveted and hard to find – good luck!) Doctor Who anthology Short Trips: Transmissions. Having been invited to pitch, and having had an idea that I thought might be interesting (hey, what if the whole adventure takes place in an Internet chat room?), every attempt I made to render the story as a readable pitch made me want to weep at how bad it sounded.
So I cheated, wrote the whole story, crossed my fingers, and sent it in. A big risk, because nobody else had a licence to publish Doctor Who fiction at the time, and the story wouldn’t work if I took the Doctor out. Could’ve have been time spent writing something I could never show anybody. It’s a good thing Richard liked the story, then.
However, it’s not an approach I’d recommend. At some point, unless writing thousands and thousands of words you can never sell appeals, you need to knuckle down and work pitches out. I’ve had opportunity now to pitch for a few more things, including the Iris Wildthyme books from Obverse and World’s Collider. My success rate is on the up, as my bibliography clearly shows, but I can’t claim to hit the mark every time.
On this occasion, I did. It helps that I know the editor from previous experience (and have also been published alongside him). That doesn’t predispose him to buy my story (he’s a well connected sort, and many of his submissions came from excellent writers that he asked to pitch, and many were rejected), but it gives me a small advantage in interpreting what he was trying to do with the book. I had an idea that the successful tales might be ones that held the most opportunities for being customised to a story arc. Not easy, as I had no idea what the arc might actually be, so I made sure the story was both a self-contained thing, and that it contained some very flexible writing devices that would let me back reference and drop clues when I knew what the other authors were up to.
Tricky balancing act, but on this occasion, I clearly got something right. To be honest, I haven’t asked Richard whether it was the self-contained story, the flexible elements, or a bit of both that got it over the line in the face of stiff competition. I probably don’t want to know, until the story is finished.
With the pitch submitted, it was the usual waiting game, until the announcement on 3rd of October this year. I was in. And boy, was I in good company…
It was at this point that the conversation began. But that’s another blog post. Stick around, and I’ll let you eavesdrop.
And in the meantime, the book has its own Facebook page. You really should go and like it.