Ask an Expert: A Conversation with YA Author Dahlia Adler on How to Edit an Anthology

Today we’re sitting down with Dahlia Adler, author of the YA novels Cool for the Summer and Home Field Advantage, a Buzzfeed books blogger, and editor of four anthologies that reimagine the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, and various fairy tales. Dahlia gives us an inside look at what it takes to edit an entire anthology, how to get involved in an anthology project, and what she loves best about YA.

1. You’re a YA author, Buzzfeed books writer, and the editor of four (!) anthologies. What is it about the YA genre that appeals to you, as both a reader, editor, and a writer?

I love how much life changes in those young adult years, how big the feelings are, how fascinating the transition is as you gain more independence and try to balance the increased responsibility you want with the increased responsibility you don’t. You can and do make massive mistakes that feel catastrophic but generally aren’t. It’s just such a fraught, exciting, marvelous time, with so many possibilities, and so many relationships to explore, and I love getting to live it again a thousand different ways. (Which is easier to say as an adult who knows that This Too Shall Pass.)

2. You’re the editor for the anthologies His Hideous Heart (a Junior Library Guild selection), That Way Madness Lies, and your newest release, At Midnight (Flatiron Books, 2022), plus the forthcoming Out of Our League (Feiwel & Friends, 2023) with Jennifer Iacopelli. How did you “get into” editing anthologies?

It was such a wild, whirlwind thing. I posed the question on Twitter “What would you choose if you could pair any author to retell any story?” and a teacher named Jaclyn (hence the dedication) came up with the idea of a Poe anthology. I tweeted about loving the idea but particularly loving it for two of my favorite psychological thriller authors, and before I knew it, I had an incredible lineup of authors tweeting at me that they wanted to join in. I filled in the rest of that lineup, and it felt so obvious to me after seeing the response to it that there needed to be another one, reimagining work by another author who was at least as widely read. And so on. As far as I can tell, anthologies are to me the way tattoos are to other people: so painful to undertake and yet as soon as you’re done, you want to do another one.

3. How are writers selected for an anthology? Who does the selecting — the editor, the publisher, or someone else?

The answer has varied a little bit for each one of mine. In the case of His Hideous Heart, since I put that together before having a publisher or even an agent, that lineup was completely selected by me. The next one was definitely more collaborative–we went out to lunch, discussed a long list of authors I’d provided plus some suggestions of hers, reached out to a bunch, and then kept drawing and redrawing the lineup as it filled in to make sure we had an even amount of tragedies and comedies in addition to diverse representation. At Midnight was similar to that, but it’s definitely the one with the biggest publisher input in the lineup; three of the authors already work with my editor, and she thought they’d be really great for this collection in particular. (She was correct!)

4. What advice would you give to authors who want to contribute to an anthology?

Be loud about your passions, and don’t be afraid to put out there that contributing to an anthology is something you want to do; I’ve found a whole bunch of contributors this way. If you don’t have any publishing credits, it’s going to be particularly challenging to be considered, but you can always be more proactive and do searches for anthology calls (I mean this literally–put it in your search bar on Twitter); they happen all the time. And if you are contributing, try to be responsive, hit deadlines, and promote the anthology; your editor is already wrangling so many people, and it makes such a big difference when your authors move things along smoothly and help with the publicity.

5. Should a writer already have an established platform (a book release, social media presence, etc) before seeking to contribute to an anthology, or can they contribute at any time, even as a relative unknown?

There definitely are collections that’ve featured relative unknowns, and some actively seek them! The two ways in which this generally happens are 1) someone involved in the anthology (editor, agent, publisher) is familiar with them and their writing, or 2) there’s a submission call, which is rarer for traditionally published anthologies but I’ve definitely seen happen at least once or twice a year these past couple of years. Since I don’t have time to go through submissions on top of the other stories, putting out a call isn’t part of my process, but it’s certainly worked for other anthologists! That said, it’s going to require more work on your part to do that (ordinarily, stories aren’t written for traditionally published anthologies before they sell), and you certainly can’t get “discovered” if you have literally no presence or network, so I do recommend at least a basic presence on the social media site(s) of your choice and a very basic website that showcases any writing/passions you may have and also makes clear how to contact you.

6. What kind of stories do you enjoy reading (either short stories or novels)?

I read all across the board, but I definitely have favorites, specifically contemporary romance, thrillers of all subgenres, and mysteries. His Hideous Heart was such a delight to put together because I was able to just tap most of my favorite authors of thrillers, horror, and dark fantasy, and since I’m such an avid reader of those genres, that took about two seconds. As you may have guessed, I also quite love retellings, especially if they’re taking on something I haven’t seen before. And I am a massive sucker for foodie books; if it’s about a cooking competition, I’ve already read it and loved it. In general, I love books where the protagonists are really, really nerdy about their passions, whether that’s cooking, sports, fandom, crafting, or what have you.

7. When you contribute a story to the anthology you’re editing, does someone else edit your contribution?

Always. I have a beta reader for each story before I turn it into my editor, and then she edits it as well. Of course, for Out of Our League, having a coeditor works out nicely, and Jen and I edit each other’s stories before sending them in.

Bonus: In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

Success is a tricky marker, because it’s easy to say something like “When you make enough at writing to go full time,” but first of all, people have different professional aspirations, and second of all, how much it takes to go full time is very different depending on where you live. Personally, I think that if you’re finding readers and enjoying what you’re doing, you’re doing A-OK.

Dahlia Adler is an editor of mathematics by day, a book blogger by night, and a Young Adult author at every spare moment in between. She is the editor of the anthologies His Hideous Heart (a Junior Library Guild selection), That Way Madness Lies, At Midnight (Flatiron Books, 2022), and Out of Our League with coeditor Jennifer Iacopelli (Feiwel & Friends, 2023). She is also the author of Cool for the Summer. She lives in New York with her family and an obscene number of books.