The Allure of Anthologies
Anthologies have always been attractive to both publishers and readers because of the sheer bang for the buck. Authors from Damon Runyon to Shirley Jackson to Harlan Ellison to Stephen King have benefitted from the shrewd repackaging of previously published stories into popular collections.
Collections of older work that is no longer subject to copyright – say, the stories of H.P. Lovecraft – prove lucrative to literary entrepreneurs cashing in on a lucrative legacy that would otherwise languish in the public domain.
Paying living authors (or the estates of the deceased) royalties for reprinting short stories can be less cost effective, depending on the embedded cachet of the byline.
But putting together an assemblage of all new stories can not only appeal to a very specific but sizable demographic, but also provide a platform for both novice and veteran voices. The eclectic nature of these collections increases their market value as well as their artistic worth.
For instance, Gutter Books, which has published two of my novels in the “Vic Valentine, Private Eye” series (Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, 2013; Hard-boiled Heart, 2015) is now primarily issuing anthologies of original stories inspired by popular singers, beginning with Bruce Springsteen and a collection called Trouble in the Heartland, edited by Joe Clifford. Gutter also just released a collection of stories inspired by the songs of The Replacements, called Waiting to Be Forgotten: Stories of Crime and Heartbreak., edited by Jay Stringer, with a tribute to Johnny Cash possibly in the wings.
The authors featured in these anthologies range from the up-and-coming to “establishment figures” like Dennis Lehane. To be included within the same covers as a famous author automatically gives the newcomer some well-needed “street cred.”
Small presses in particular may be more open to new and fresh talent that will not only broaden the horizons of their anthology, but also give them bragging rights as the publisher that “discovered” a particular writer that goes on to win accolades and awards for future work. In fact, many platforms offer awards for new authors published in anthologies from reputable presses of all sizes. More than in any other context, stories published in anthologies are judged more for their quality than the notoriety of their authors.
Genres like mystery, crime, erotica, fantasy, horror and science fiction are natural breeding grounds for anthologies, since many indie online sites still publish original fiction later compiled into both print and digital books to milk their value, so if you write in one of these fields, keep an eagle eye out for any chance to expand awareness of your work by pitching it to editors actively seeking new material, especially if they also regularly publish magazines.
As far as payment goes, most small presses and larger publishers alike will offer quarterly reports divvying up the profits (if any) amongst all the contributors, including the editors, publishers and distributor (which can be Amazon, in many cases, since they’re often POD,) each taking their tiny slice of a tiny pie. So making money is not really the main motivation for submitting a story when a publisher puts out the clarion call for submissions.
Basically it boils down to that old standby (excuse to be cheap): “exposure.” Generally when someone wants to publish your work gratis, with the only compensation being very minor “fame” as opposed to a miniscule fraction of a “fortune,” I suggest giving them a pass unless you’re that desperate simply to get into print.
Not that you should hold out for a better deal, financially speaking. I’m just pointing out that “exposure” only counts when the author’s work is actually reaching a target audience that may want to read his or her other works, based on the fact they found your work amongst that of a bunch of other writers that are already well respected in their field.
And also, it can just be plain fun.
Miami Slice of Life
I have three unique stories coming out in three completely different anthologies, but all fall within my “wheelhouse” of interests. The first is coming up soon: Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties Inspired Neo-Noir (Short Stack Books, November 1, 2016), edited by Michael Pool. I not only contributed a story (“Meantime”), but also wrote the foreword.
Next year I have a story called “A Hot Night at Hinky Dinks” featured in a collection of cocktail inspired flash fiction called Mixed Up!, edited by Nick Mamatas and Molly Tanzer, and another story called “Fish out of Water” to be included in a yet-to-be titled collection of 1950s-set “rockabilly” horror. As is the case with most anthologies, the publisher is selling the concept more than the individual contributions, which makes smart business sense.
All of these themes happen to directly appeal to my sensibilities, but sometimes you may come across a publisher soliciting stories for an anthology that is a bit outside your comfort zone. The fact that you’re competing for a severely restricted amount of space amid an unknown number of rivals is daunting enough, so you may want to think twice before taking a plunge into totally foreign waters (vis a vis your own experience and expertise), but then again, it may be the perfect opportunity to stretch your boundaries and test your talents.
In any case, it’s wise to carefully adhere to the editor’s guidelines. Remember, unless you’re self-publishing, you’re essentially an employer. Listen to your boss, or risk getting fired. Only after you’re established your name as one that sells books can you even consider balking at requested amendments or questioning editorial decisions.
But if your story is accepted, you’re already on one possible path to literary glory. One step at a time.
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