Monday, 14 September 2009

'Shot Glass Stories' - Reflections on Editing an Anthology

As many of you will know, I belong to an online creative writing group over at About three years ago, the members started running a weekly challenge to write a story in no more than 200 words, inspired by a one-word prompt. The winner would then post and judge the next week's contest. The challenge has been a big success, and continues to run. It's a great way to nudge you into writing something if you've been a little lax, and there have been some great stories produced.

Last year, Skive Magazine's Matt Ward (one of our members) put together an anthology of stories from Critters Bar within 48 hours: Critters Bar Anthology 2009. Matt made a very smart looking publication, but because of the challenge of creating it within 48 hours, the copy wasn't edited, and there was no submission process. It was a case of the writers having to submit their best work. On reflection, many people thought that for future projects it might be better to edit the content, as writers kept spotting mistakes they wish they had caught before the anthology was printed. Of course, this meant a lot more work.

There was a lot of talk about creating an anthology for the 200-word challenge, but we couldn't reach a decision that everyone was happy with, so the idea was buried.

After finishing university, and after deciding that I wanted to crack the publishing industry, I thought it would be a good time to take on the project. I probably didn't handle it the way everyone wanted, but I guess you can't please everyone. I received a lot of support, which was great.

Selecting Stories

I decided that there should be a selection process in order to try and get the best content. However, I also decided that everyone who submitted to the project would be guaranteed at least one accepted story. After all, this was a non-profit community project that, on the most part, would serve as a nice souvenir to the members of the site.

Selecting stories was hard. I had wanted to get a small team together to help with the process, but I ran out of time to do this properly. Instead, I sought the opinion of one of the writers (Diete Nickens) if I was very unsure of something, which helped greatly. I didn't want the project to be too biased towards my preferences.

I accepted roughly 75% of the content, and asked the writers to change a couple of little things in some of them.


The next step, after reading through everything myself, was to send the document off to my proofreaders, Kate Louise and Amy Roskilly, another two members of the site. They did a great job of spotting things I had missed.

Cover Design & Title

While they were doing this, I designed the front and back cover. I had the members brainstorm titles, and we voted for 'Shot Glass Stories and Other Small Indulgences'. That gave me a good idea for the cover image. The back cover was harder to design; it seemed so simple, but was actually quite tricky!


While all this was going on, one of our other members, Rich Sampson, who had been away for a while due to becoming a dad for the second time, returned to the site. He posted some of his artwork, and I asked him to draw a few illustrations for the project. I let him choose the stories he wanted to illustrate, and he provided three great pictures for the project. By this point, I had realised that the project was very much catered towards adult readers!


During all this, I was trying to order the stories into a sequence that flowed well. I downloaded a Word template from Lulu to get the document size right, and started laying up the content. That was trickier than I thought it would be. Word is a little bit rubbish sometimes. I had to figure out things like section breaks, which I hadn't had to use before.

Once all the files were ready, and I'd put the illustrations in, created the content list and the prelims etc, I tried uploading it all to Lulu.

Using Lulu

I wasn't looking forward to this part. I'd never used Lulu before, and I didn't trust it one bit... Right away I ran into a problem. Even though I had downloaded the correct size Word document for the publication size I wanted, I was told that my document had been re-sized because it was wrong. Great. I had a peak, and it had mucked up the whole layout.

So I had to change the size of the product from 'pocket size' to 'standard US trade' size, as this required the minimal amount of change from the (seemingly) random sized document that Lulu gave me in the first place. That took an extra hour to format.

Next was the cover wizard. That took a long time to load, was quite fiddly, and I wasn't given the option to design the spine (it might have been too thin).

Hard Copy Proof

I made it a private project so that I could order myself a hard copy to make sure everything looked okay. I was pleased that it only cost me about £2.60, but was then hit was a stupidly expensive postage and packaging charge of nearly £5. Sickening.

Despite the postal strike, here, the book arrived within a week. Right away I noticed a terrible typo on one of the title pages that I hadn't spotted on screen! I also noticed a few spaces where there shouldn't be spaces. I felt that I had been looking at this text for so long that I had become blind to it. A good argument why having more than one person look at your text before publication is essential.

Final Product

I made the changes, uploaded the file again... I tried to choose the option for getting a free ISBN, but annoying Lulu only do this if you are in the US.

Then, because I made the file public, Lulu decided to add roughly another 50p onto the price for seemingly no reason. I made the item completely non-profit (I wanted to keep the cost down as much as possible and I didn't like the idea of Lulu getting 25% of any profit anyway), and I opted for a free download to be available.

And now it's live!


You can get your copy for a very modest price of £3.10 (plus a nasty postage change, unfortunately - please write nasty letters to Lulu demanding this to be reduced) or you can download it for free, here:

Shot Glass Stories - various authors


It was definitely a learning experience for me. I learned that this sort of thing takes a lot more time and effort than I had first anticipated. And that it is essential that more than one (preferable more than two, three, four...) pair(s) of eyes looks at the copy before it goes to print.

Lastly, a BIG thank you to all those involved, and for all the support.

Everyone should at least go and download the free version as there are some great stories to be read :)


  1. Good article, Sophie :-)

    The pressure cook of creating a book is wonderful & frustrating, isn't it?

    Nice to see an edited book too, which of course, as you mentioned, wasn't the case with Critters Bar Anthology 2009.

    I would have loved to have edited it, and as you know I offered, and Rob offered, and I think BID offered, but getting people to pull their fingers out was frustrating. They would forget we were doing the book!, not want to use stories because they would be 'published' and thus not qualify to be used for writing comps, pull stories at the last minute etc.

    My aim was blitzkrieg, a lightning war that took the writers by surprise with a minimum of damage. They'd be published before they knew what hit them. They had to have stories ready to go. If they had typos, so be it :-) I told them to get a writing friend to read their stories.

    I also wanted to test myself to layout in 1 day, and get a new designed cover, a day to get it tweaked re: layout and up on Lulu, live on the first minute of the 3rd day, which I did.

    Of course people were happy, but others were embarrassed they had mistakes, that they wanted different stories. There are always authors who are unhappy with their writing; I get used to that. I just say I like the stories as they are; writers can either use that story or pull it - simple.

    Of course if you did it again you'd go about it differently.

    Laying our in Word is madness and I give you kudos for sticking with it. I laid out my first book in 1996 (yes, I'm old :-) It was a self-published poetry book. I went crazy when text was slipping up to other pages.

    If you don't know a layout program, do yourself a favour and learn one. Indesign is probably the way to go. It's cost effective and fairly user friendly. I use an older app called QuarkXpress, which I have been using for 15 years, and I don't intend to change because I know it so well.

    On Lulu and page size. I use 6" x 9". I distill the layout file to PDF & upload.

    Lulu's cover wizard is a pain. Last year I came across a cool way of sizing covers for Lulu. I create a page at Lulu's rival, CreateSpace, just so I can download the CreateSpace cover template. You don't have to make the CreateSpace page live - you can delete it if you like. CS asks you how many pages you have in your book (it has to be a multiple of 4 so you might have to add some blank pages), then it gives you a template to download.

    You open the full template in Photoshop and design your cover. All you have to do for Lulu is give the canvas less height (Lulu will tell you that when you get to that part of the process). You save as PDF, upload to Lulu.

    Typos happen anyway, even if you have several people reading. After a book is out I don't read it, because of this :-) I bet you've read a book from a big publisher and found typos, even on the 3rd printing.

    Anyway, have a rest now before your next project. The Critters appreciate your work & I can add Shot Glass Stories to my bio.




  2. Thank you, Matt. And thanks for elaborating on the 2009 Antho that you worked on. Of course, these projects both had different aims and objectives, for the reasons you outline above. I think you did a great job putting it together.

    As for Word vs InDesign, I have now downloaded InDesign, and have had the chance to use it while helping out in a small publishing house. It is indeed much better for the interior layout! I wish I had used it for the project, but at least I got there in the end with Word!

  3. Very informative, thanks both of you. Enough to turn anyone but the most committed (or demented) away from self-publishing!

    Cheers again Sophie, it was worth the effort, and we got a glowing review already.

  4. Hm, I'll have to beware of Lulu. It was great to follow you along this process, though it seemed exhausting ($5 postal fee?) I envy the reward of accomplishment you must have felt after. Please continue to update on whatever projects you have going. Cheers!

  5. Thanks, Angela, I'm glad you found it interesting :)

    Not $5 postage, but £5! Which is about $8 I believe!

    It might even be cheaper for me to buy a lulu product in bulk and re-distribute it from my own house. Only to the UK of course. Will probably save people a couple of quid on postage!

  6. I just came across this post, and I've downloaded the anthology. Thank you! I'm starting to enjoy the stories already. Your story, "Hidden" is quite chilling ~ with a drawing, too! Well done.
    Thank you for sharing this experience in publishing. Always interesting to know how these things work.
    I wanted to say hello ~ I also have a story included in the upcoming Hint Fiction Anthology.
    Best wishes,
    Kathleen A. Ryan

  7. Hi Kathleen, thanks for dropping by the blog.

    I'm really glad you are enjoying the download.

    I let the illustrator (Richard Samson) choose which stories he wanted to draw for, and I was very pleased with the image he created for my little piece!

    I look forward to reading your story in the Hint Fiction anthology.

    Your blog looks great - I'll add it to my blogroll!


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