Thursday, December 9, 2010

That Strange Bird: The Anthology. Will It Become Extinct?

I have a confession to make.

I rarely read anthologies.

And yet, I have had short stories and essays published in more than 25 anthologies. One of the anthologies I was in won the Lambda Literary Award the year it was published. Another one won the Bram Stoker Award. I have gotten between the covers--book covers, mind you--with the likes of Harlan Ellison, Iggy Pop, James O'Barr, Ramsey Campbell, Douglas E. Winter, Henry Rollins, Andrew Vachss, and many, many other fine writers.

Yet I wonder, in the brave new digital age, if anthologies, especially print anthologies, will eventually fall by the wayside.

See, as a writer, it's getting harder and harder for me to see the upside of working hard on a short story only to have it published (usually for very little pay) and buried alongside the often very promising work of ten, twenty, or thirty other authors. I can't really claim the book as my own. Often, stories for an anthology get a one-time flat payment (pet peeve: those anthologies who pay by the word, as if having more words make a story more valuable! Ridiculous!) and I never see a royalty.

With the advent of e-books, I can now sell short stories and novella-length work to publishers as stand-alone fiction. I don't have to share the marquee with anyone else, no matter how talented or esteemed, so I succeed or fail all on my own. My story has a unique cover and can be bought all by itself and reviewed the same way. And...I usually make more money than I would ever hope to get from an anthology, because of the often-generous royalties e-books generate.

So why am I writing this blog? Go publish your e-books, then, and let someone else worry about making the cut for an anthology, you might say.

But I wonder how other writers feel about this? Would you rather, if given your druthers, sell a 12,000 word story, say, as a standalone e-book with your name alone on the cover? Or would you rather sell it to an anthology, where it might appear with the work of two dozen other writers? If you're a writer, I hope you'll let me know in the comments section below.

And if you're a reader, I'd love to know how you feel about multi-author anthologies. Do you buy them? Do you read them? Why or why not?

Back to my confession: for me, I seldom read anthologies, even the ones I'm in. It's not because I have no interest in the stories or the writers (just the opposite, in fact). But I just find it an embarrassment of riches, usually--too many stories, too many writers, all under one roof. I get overwhelmed. I like to take my writers one-on-one, in a novel or even a shorter work in electronic form.

I hope some of you will speak up regarding your feelings about anthologies.

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  1. As an author, especially a new author, I'd love to be included in an gets the name out there.
    That said; as an established author, I'd sell the 12K book as a standalone item.
    I think that ebooks are making a huge dent in all genres, not just this one. All of my sales are ebooks, not a single print!

    Overall, yes, I agree they're going away, but no, I don't think they'll ever entirely die off because they're great exposure for the newbies.

  2. Hi, Rick! So good to see you back around. :*

    As a reader, I have to see more than one name I know and love before I'll buy an anthology. Give me a bunch of authors I love and I'm definitely buying the anthology. However, if I only know one author and don't want to "risk" my cash on unknown-to-me's just yet, then I'd rather buy the story by itself.

    As an author... God, I'd squee the house down if I had the opportunity to be in an anthology as one of the unknown newbies. Not a problem at all that readers want to get yours and have to take mine too.

    I hope they don't go away any time soon. I've been reading some really great ones lately (Shifting Sands; His For The Holidays).

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  4. As a new author I cut my teeth on being published in anthologies, which lead to one of the publishers who put out one of those anthologies purchasing my first novel. I think as a writer it can definitely get you 'in' at a publishing house so they will consider bigger works by you.

    As far as once you're established, even writers like Stephen King lend their work to anthologies, often making that the big draw for people to buy. I rather like anthologies, but you're probably right about the e-market making them dwindle.

  5. I've personally found anthologies serve little in the way of promotion or exposure, while my stand-alone shorts and novellas don't sell as well as my full-length novels. I assumed readers would find short e-book stories to be a bargain, but as a few readers explained to me, if they're going to pay for a book, they'd rather pay for something longer that they can fully lose themselves in. Because of this, I'm writing less shorts, and then when I do, I'm posting them for free since I figure they're more likely to get read that way.

    I do enjoy writing shorts as they're a good practice in honing the craft. I also enjoy reading them and quite like intense, hyper-focused vignettes. I seem to be in the minority, however, as most readers I encounter prefer the bigger picture rather than a brief window into the characters' lives. It's interesting that my shorter works are generally well received by fellow authors and official reviewers, but given low marks or flat-out ignored by otherwise faithful readers.

    That's my experience with shorts, anyway. I know other authors still find them worth the time and manage to find readers who like them.

  6. As a reader, yes, I still buy and read anthologies. Since I bought my Kindle, I find that I buy more anthologies than I did when I bought in print. Why? I have the Kindle app on my Blackberry, and when I am standing online in the supermarket or at a department store, I find that I quite often take it out and start reading. I won't get involved with the book in progress because I don't want to get caught up in the middle of things and have to put the book away just as things are getting good. I rarely read anthologies cover to cover. It may take me a month or two to get through one anthology, as I fit the stories in when I can.

    As a writer (I will be seeing my first piece published in February), I find anthologies are an ideal way of getting your name out there to people who won't invest in a full-length novel by somebody they aren't familiar with.

  7. I've only written a story that was close to 12,000 words for an anthology that I shared with three other women. It was nominated for an e-book award. Otherwise, my anthology stories are less than 5,000 words. I wrote one that was less than 1,000 words. It took me 45 minutes to write. It appeared in three anthologies. And I made a total of about $300 on it. I don't write short stories anymore because I'd rather write a 300 word article for $50. I make way more money in non-fiction. I am writing a short story for Zane, but she's paying $200 and it only has to be up to 3,000 words, I think.

  8. Over the years I've placed about 900 short stories in nearly every format imaginable, including several anthologies; I've edited five crime fiction anthologies; and I'm a frequent reader of anthologies. Why? I favor short stories over novels, both as a writer and as a reader.

    In general, I prefer to have my work appear in anthologies from reputable publishers rather than as stand-alones in electronic formats. There's a better chance that people unfamiliar with my work will see it, enjoy it, and seek out more of it.

    The money's a bit of a wash. The income from an anthology is usually presented as a lump sum and received prepublication (with some anthologies generating royalties down the line). The income from stand-alone eproducts generally drifts in a few dollars at a time over a long period of time.

    On the other hand, if you haven't sold all rights, what prevents you from repackaging the stories published in anthologies as stand-alone eproducts? Then you reap the best of both options.

  9. Michael, your last idea is a very, very good one. I am impressed by the dialogue my question has brought about. I hope people keep talking. I'm fascinated by the way the landscape of literature and publishing is changing these days.

  10. They seem to be on the decline, yes. But they could, and should, make a researgence. One of my personal faves is The New Uncanny. Awesome.

  11. As an author, I would relish the opportunity to see my work alongside other writers. It helps get my name out there to people who might not be familiar with my stories. As a reader, I love anthologies because it gives me a chance to find writers I might not normally try. I do see a shift more toward stand alone e-books. However, I don't believe that anthologies will disappear all together, just as I don't believe that print books will completely vanish.

    Royalties are a double-edged sword. Many times that lump sum from a reputable print publisher is more than what you'd make from e-book download. E-pubs out there offer a generous royalty sure, but what is 40% of three copies sold at $1.99. Not all e-pubs have their stuff available at Amazon or Borders, either.

  12. Rick this is a great discussion topic.

    I may be the lone voice in the wilderness but I actually like to read anthologies.

    First, I love the short story as a literary form and always have so even with a quickly changing landscape I'll continue reading anthologies if they're available whether in e-book or print format.

    Second, it's a way for me to discover new authors without having to buy/read an entire novel by them. I very much believe that it's a great vehicle for new author's to be published and read.

    Third, I second Mr. Bracken's suggstion "...if you haven't sold all rights, what prevents you from repackaging the stories published in anthologies as stand-alone eproducts?"

    I'll give an example of this which in fact involves your own works. I've been slowly making my way through your back list but when you recently published many of your novellas and shorter stories as a compilation On The Edge I jumped at the chance of having many of your "previously published elsewhere" stories in one book, immediately bought it and have slowly read most of the stories contained within. Incidentally, I've done this with other authors who've published compilations of their work previously available via anthologies or as stand alone stories.

    My $0.02 cents.


  13. As a reader, I adore anthologies. Though I will admit, a good editor makes all the difference, someone who knows what mix of stories to choose and the best way to order them.

    Short stories are an art form all their own, one I've loved since reading my first Poe story at age seven. (was that too early? did it warp my brain a bit? Probably.)

    I will write a short story now and then when it's appropriate to the story which has occurred to me. Novels and novellas are better for the pocketbook. Short stories are good for the writer's soul.

  14. I've spent the last couple of weeks riding the bus to work because my car is in the shop. It would have been nice to have an anthology so I could read individual short stories and had them finished at the end of my ride. If I have friends published in an anthology, I am more apt to buy it than one published by complete unknowns, but some stories simply don't merit expansion to 40K+ words. If I'm going to spend $5-7 on a book, I want it to have enough pages to make it worth the price. An anthology works well for that.

  15. As I read the comments, I realized that they fell into two camps, Rick. Published, well known writers like you, and poor schmucks like me who is still trying to make my first sale.

    MY best chances, if you look at the "Calls for Submissions" at websites like the Erotic Readers and Writer's Association, and for all unpublished authors, is with anthologies. Many e-publishers clearly state they will not accept unsolicited manuscripts from unpublished writers. No anthology credit? Don't bother sending us that novelette. Or that idea for a trilogy of novels with a unique take on paranormal creatures!

    I have an editor considering a novelette for an anthology right now. He's had it over a week, and asked for the entire thing based on liking the first 5000 words. (I still find THAT a miracle) I wonder how many of you published writers remember how I'm feeling right now? (and have for the last few weeks)

    I know that I'm better than the average erotic writer: I have enough "fans' on NIFTY who have written to me about my character development and plots being superior to many of the other NIFTY writers. I posted two non-erotic gay romances, and they still loved them. I also know I am imaginative in writing sex scenes, and that I am a born romantic. Today my lover and I are celebrating 29 years of monogamy. (OK, 29 years together - we started as "an open relationship", but that didn't last too long.) even my rough sex stories end up in SOME sort of relationship, if not a conventional one.

    I agree that I want a number of stories in one e-book. I just got an e-book reader. (a Look Book - a cheap one from CVS) and have been reading the short stories I downloaded for free from some e-publishers to see what kind of material they buy. I often wish they were all in one book, because I get to the end, and have to go back to the "bookshelf" for the next one.

    Actually, I prefer longer stories and novels.

    Well, wish me luck, y'all.


    oldtimer25 on NIFTY

  16. As a reader, I immediately consume the work that inspired me to purchase the anthology, and then I set the book aside until I have absolutely nothing else to read. I confess that I have, at times, never gotten back to certain anthologies. Occasionally, when, in desperation, I do go back, I merely skim the other works.

    I'm not sure why I tend to be anti-anthology. Anthologies have introduced me to several authors that I never would have given a second glance to. Perhaps I read their story because it was the only thing that I had with me at the time; but, since then I have purchased, and loved, every one of their works that is currently available for purchase.

    If everything (that I purchased in anthology format) had also been published as a stand alone, I would have purchased the stand alone, never the anthology. Since almost all of the m/m books I purchase are purchased online, I would have to rely on discovering new authors by reading the excerpts available or by taking a risk on an author I "discover" through one of the author websites or blogs that I follow.

  17. Good grief - I'm able to post! (Sorry, computer and RL have made it tricksy).
    I have always bought anthologies. My criteria runs like this: "Know of and enjoy reading at least two of the contributing authors (or one auto-buy) ... I will be filling essential gaps in my collection and may stumble across a new (or new-to-me) future-favourite. Themed anthologies provide the perfect excu.. I mean reason, to indulge myself. I have always thought that publishers/editors select stories to appear together for a reason - and the chance that there will be something more than than the story that piqued my interest.

    Ebooks have meant that I buy more short stories than previously, but not really any less anthologies (I do hope that makes sense!), if my s/sheet of titles is correct, despite preferring novel-length tales.
    I have noticed that I have started to buy print collections of an author's work where I already have the individual ebooks. Mmmm, so perhaps collections are replacing anthologies for me after all.

  18. Rick, I hope you're feeling better!!

    I'm with you, i rarely read anthologies - i will if an author I love is in it, but I'm not a huge fan of short stories as a reader. i like to be able to really get into the plot and the story, and as a writer (like you said) it's a lot of work for not a lot of money or recognition.

    Because I am still at the beginning of my career I have considered submitting to anthologies as a way of getting my name out and/or my foot in the door, but it would seem that someone like you who is well known and established wouldn't really need to.

  19. To follow up on my earlier comment about releasing older works from anthologies as eproducts:

    Over the past several months I've uploaded for Kindle four previously published mysteries (three short stories and a novella) and one previously unpublished romance novella. One of the mysteries was first published in an anthology, one first appeared in an audiobook collection of my short stories, one in a magazine, and one on a website. So the reuse/repackaging doesn't have to be limited just to stories first published in anthologies.