Friday, October 12, 2007

Anthologies

Jeff VanderMeer has a blog post about closed vs. open anthologies in response to Jay Lake's post on the same topic. (Ellen Datlow joins in the discussion at Jay's livejournal, as do some others whose names might be familiar.)

Now, as I'm at a stage where I'm not getting invited to closed anthologies, obviously I like open submissions...but that's simply selfish reasoning and should be taken with its own grain of salt. I do like Jeff's reasoning--including his caveats of when it does make sense to keep in antho closed.

There's one thing that I wonder if it needs to be thrown into the discussion, and that's the question of whether having an open submission increases awareness of the antho and therefore sales. A question is all it is at this point--I'm not saying that it does. But I know a number of aspiring and beginning writers get most or all their market knowledge from two places--hearing about it from another writer at a similar stage as themselves, and Ralan's. I try to be a bit more aware, with Nightshade forums and some author and editor blogs, but I have to admit that's where I get a lot of my info too. So if an anthology never appears on Ralan's, it seriously decreases the chances I'll learn about it.

This same things applies to magazines and ezines--I'm much more likely to pay attention to Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld (and soon, Fantasy) than to Subterranean Online--and that is actually what got me thinking about this question. I do try to remember to check out the new issues of Subterranean, and the fact that it's only quarterly hurts it in that respect, I think. Though it does mean that when I remember, I probably haven't missed an entire issue or anything. But I tend to only remember to check it when I see a link from someone's blog that they have a story there or if a fellow writer recommends a story from it, whereas Strange Horizons is always one of the first things I look at Monday morning.

So, I'm positive that having an open anthology increases awareness among certain groups of aspiring writers (and that pool of aspiring writers is very large). What I don't know is if that really translates into any difference in sales, or are the majority of those aspiring writers not likely to have the money to buy the anthology anyway? Are aspiring writers, as I've seen someone argue on a certain forum, too tight-fisted and miserly to bother attracting? There may be a slight risk that someone who's been rejected gets bitter and doesn't want to buy the product...but I'd think (again, just a hunch with no evidence to back it up) that it's more than countered by the much greater awareness.

Jeff's post focuses on the artistic benefit and whole-field benefit of open anthologies. This is more on the business side to add to the pro/con tally when considering the question from that perspective. It may not fully counter-balance the question of time required to read slush for a given anthology, but it at least can possibly mitigate it somewhat, maybe enough that the other questions from an artistic standpoint can take over.

Any thoughts?

4 comments:

Beth said...

I understand the practice, but something seems lazy and exploitative about it. Unless you've "discovered" all the closed anthology contributors while reading slush in the past, you're profiting off of other editors' work.

Fred said...

In theory, then, aren't you profiting off of other editors' work when you move a submission out of the slush pile because its author has had stories appear elsewhere? I think it's much more that you're recognizing that an author has produced quality work before and will likely do so again. That's why you move them out of the slush pile, or select them for an anthology.

An open anthology would be interesting, and would certainly lead to some interesting and unexpected finds, but it's not at all surprising that closed anthologies are more the norm. There's the potential narrowness of focus or theme to consider, as well as the very real and understandable desire to have known, bankable names to put on the cover to sell copies. Opening the anthology up to the slush pile would unearth a lot of great stories, but it would unearth even more that were terrible, or just completely wrong for the anthology.

And an editor certainly can't be faulted for wanting to work again with authors he or she knows, who have proven themselves reliable, able to supply a story under a deadline.

I don't know that an open submission policy would lead to increased awareness either -- most anthologies do have the marketing power of a publisher behind them anyway -- or that increased awareness would necessarily lead to higher sales. What I think sells anthologies primarily is a recognizable list of author and/or editor names. Second to that, maybe, the theme or type of stories included in the anthology. But are ten stories from ten unknowns going to out-sell the same number of stories from ten established authors? I have my doubts.

An open submission policy has its place, and can lead to some wonderful finds. Heaven knows, my own zine would not exist without one. But with anthologies, by and large, I think closed just makes much more practical sense.

Daniel Ausema said...

Good things to consider--as I said, I have no strong opinions that can't be explained away as primarily selfish...but I do think Jeff has some very valid points that go beyond that.

To throw a couple more examples out there...would I be at all aware of the Field Guide to Surreal Botany, which Beth has a story in, if I hadn't seen it on Ralan's? Probably not. And while I haven't decided if I'll buy it, it's such an intriguing concept, that I'll certainly be considering it (when does it come out, anyway?). Though on the other hand, that could seem to fit with what Jeff says about the Diseases antho--what am I supposed to do with my delightful botanical inventions that weren't accepted? =)

And for a bigger name (editor, publisher, writers) antho that was closed--I wouldn't be at all aware of Datlow's Coyote Tales (or whatever it was called) if I hadn't come across it Ellen's forum on Nightshade. Maybe I'm not typical--likely others spend a lot more time in bookstores (and not playing with the in-store Thomas the Tank Engine set or trying to appease a young child in other parts of the store) than I do. But it just seems a strong source of publicity from my perspective.

Fred said...

Well, I was aware of Coyote Road mainly from Jeff Ford's posting about it on his Livejournal. So clearly there's still some free promotion, even it's not from an open call for submissions.

I think the objections to an open submission policy are mostly practical: reading slush takes time (which the editor or publisher of an anthology may not have), and it may not produce the quality or marketability that they're looking for, much less the type of story they need to fit a particular theme.

I can only imagine how long it would take to put together an issue of my zine if I started giving every issue a theme...

An open anthology could be great. I think it would just take longer, be more difficult to produce, and not sell as many copies.