A writer friend, whose work I like and respect, decided to compile an anthology dealing with a specific nonfiction subject. Chapters would be contributed by writers and non-writers alike, and she would edit the work and get it published. Since I had personal experience with the focus subject, she asked me to supply a chapter. I was happy to do so.
I sent her the requested material and signed and returned a permission form.Then I waited two years for the book to be published. I assumed she would get an agent and a publisher, but she decided to self-publish.
The book came out last spring and she announced it on Facebook. When I looked it up on amazon.com my chapter wasn’t included in the Look Inside feature so I skimmed the Table of Contents. Imagine my chagrin when I saw that my first name was misspelled. I realize that typos happen to the best-intentioned, but I was unhappy and contacted her about it. She apologized and had it corrected right away.
That should have been a warning flag. When she sent me my complementary copy and I eagerly settled in to read it, I found it littered with typos, incorrect punctuation, repetition, and general bad writing. While I was aware from the beginning that much of the content was to be created by non-writers, I expected it to be properly edited as promised. Perhaps I misunderstand the role of an editor.
Fast-forward to the present, and I am in the process of querying my first novel to agents. From your blog I’ve learned that agents routinely Google prospective clients’ names and examine any previous writing they can find. I’m horrified to think that an agent might stumble upon this anthology. Honestly, I’m embarrassed to have my name associated with it. So far, it doesn’t appear that it will get widespread notoriety, but I can’t predict the future. I’m even considering using a pen name for future works, in order to avoid guilt by association.
Should I be concerned?
An agent would have to be digging very deep to find a chapter in a self-published anthology and even if s/he did find it, we're all woefully familiar with the uneven quality of anthologies and their editing, or lack thereof.
So, rest easy.
However, should you do this kind of thing again, and I think you should, cause anthologies can be terrific for your career, here are a couple things to remember:
1. Send nothing until there's a signed contract. Not permission, not content, nada. You agree to be in the anthology if it's published, and agree the editor can use your name in the proposal.
2. If by some chance you're the big name author being used to secure the deal, be clear that your participation is contingent upon the publisher and the contract. Do not assume there will be a contract.
3. You stay on top of the editor as far as publication goes. Don't just send and forget.
4. You have a contributor's agreement with the editor. You don't just hand over content without a contract, even if there isn't any money involved.
5. Don't agree to anything until you know who the other contributors are, or who is being asked. The success of an anthology is often linked to how big a name the lead author is. You want to be in anthologies where you're in the small print. In other words, you want to be grouped with the folks you're trying to be, not the folks who are trying to be you.
Think of it in Army terms: if you're a lieutenant, you want to be in anthology heavy on generals, majors, and captains. You don't want to be in an anthology with mostly corporals and privates.
6. Research the editor's credentials. There are some terrific anthology editors out there who do great work, but if this is the editor's first anthology, be eagle-eyed. Everyone makes mistakes as they learn to do things; the trick for you here is to minimize that when your work is involved.
This won't hurt your career, and you got a good lesson at almost no cost. That's a win even if the anthology is a loser.
And no, you did not misunderstand the role of an editor at all.