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[process] Closed anthologies - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2007-10-10 05:12
Subject: [process] Closed anthologies
Security: Public
Location:Nuevo Rancho Lake
Mood:half awake
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Tags:editing, process, writing
Several people recently asked about my passing comments on closed anthologies. That's a touchy subject for writers both new and established.

From the editor's perspective, a closed anthology simplifies the workload immensely. Editors are first and foremost in the business of producing their markets. Easier workload means getting the book/magazine/what have you out the door with less effort expended. If you have ten slots, you invite twelve or fourteen writers and hope eight or nine of them make deadline. Then you go hunting for "savers" at the last minute as needed.

This also gives you a lot of advance control over the content. There are many writers, BNAs, midlisters and Young Turks alike, who can be relied on to turn in certain kinds of stories. You can make a fairly good effort a pre-balancing your anthology simply by being familiar with the work of authors you invite.

How those invitations get made is where a lot of the sensitivity comes into play. Who the editor has worked with before, whose work they like, who they can trust to make deadline, who can provide "cover pull" for the book — these all factor in to the process. Each of these factors also stands in the way of a newer writer, who hasn't earned trust, whose work may not be familiar, who doesn't have cover pull or an established relationship with an editor. It's not a matter of friendship — when I'm editing, I could stock a 1,000 page volume with stories by friends and still leave well more than half of them in the cold. I've rejected people I consider close friends, even when they've written on invitation, and I've bought stories from people I don't much care for, because they had written the right story for my project.

That's what a closed list is about — who the editor thinks can write the right story. It feels intensely unfair to writers who aren't on the closed list, even more so to writers who don't usually (or ever) get invited to closed lists. The point isn't fairness, or lack of fairness, it's getting the job done. If I (as an editor) can read 15 stories to buy 10, or I can read 500 stories to buy 10, and I can achieve roughly the same quality of product either way, why should I do all that extra work?

Sometimes I have done so, for example working with mme_publisher on her Polyphony anthology series. We were committed to open reading, and to making an extra effort to discover newer, and sometimes brand-new, writers. But that was an explicit commitment that translated to dozens and dozens and dozens of hours of extra reading. Every editor, every project by the same editor, has different budgets, priorities and timelines.

How do you get on closed lists? The same way you get anything else done in this field. By doing it. Sell to open markets. Anthologies, periodicals, Web site, whatever. Write more. Submit more. If your work is good, if it strikes a chord, you'll get noticed. Getting noticed eventually means you meet one or more of those editorial criteria I described above.

It's an imperfect system, but it does work.
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Patrick Nielsen Hayden
User: pnh
Date: 2007-10-10 12:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Editors are first and foremost in the business of producing their markets."

And secondarily, noting when words left out.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-10-10 12:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
:: laughing ::

One of these days I'm going to have to write a post about the different kinds of editors and editing, but I'm almost sure to screw that up.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-10-10 12:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Fantastic post.

I have the privilege of being on a few closed lists for a few Doctor Who short story collections. Mostly because I knew the editor, but also because - as you state - I could be relied on to produce a story to deadline.

At the same time, while the invite list was closed, the editors I've worked with have been open to recommendations of others writers from the people they've invited. In some cases that might mean putting your own spot in the anthology in jeopardy as the person you've recommended comes up with a better story idea than yours and takes your spot.
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mondyboy
User: mondyboy
Date: 2007-10-10 12:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sorry - for some reason this was posted twice. Apologies.
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Brian Dolton
User: tchernabyelo
Date: 2007-10-10 12:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've always figured that being invited to sub to an anthology is another of those many, many milestones that a writer can use as a marker on the road to being a "real" writer.
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mondyboy
User: mondyboy
Date: 2007-10-10 12:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Fantastic post.

I have the privilege of being on a few closed lists for a few Doctor Who short story collections. Mostly because I knew the editor, but also because - as you state - I could be relied on to produce a story to deadline.

At the same time, while the invite list was closed, the editors I've worked with have been open to recommendations of others writers from the people they've invited. In some cases that might mean putting your own spot in the anthology in jeopardy as the person you've recommended comes up with a better story idea than yours and takes your spot.
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ozarque
User: ozarque
Date: 2007-10-10 13:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for posting this. Useful. Informative. Sensible. And interesting.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-10-11 14:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You are most welcome. You might want to drop back in to the post and read the comment thread that opened up right after you posted -- it's fascinating, and rather funny.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-10-10 23:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't think it actually works, Jay. And I think it holds back new writers from reaching a wider readership, unfairly. And I think, oddly enough, it might be contributing to the dissatisfaction readers have been expressing with shortly fiction.

I think you can definitely expect a "pro" to turn in a serviceable, utterly publishable story, but then the goal is simply turning something that's good, not necessarily great. In general, editors should have at least limited open reading periods whenever possible. It's healthy for the field, and very, very necessary. Editors edit. And that should include open reading periods. Editors who never do that are, to my mind, more packagers than anything else. It is still a skill, but it is not the same skill. It's really easy to say "this is a decent story by a pro, I'm going to take it." It's a totally different matter to take something off the slushpile by an unknown and *pick the right stories*.

I feel like I can say this bluntly because you've edited both types of anthos, not just closed anthos, and because I've been in both your open and closed anthos. But I also do feel like you're making an art into a science or a product-thingee. And while I know that's partially how you like to organize things, it seems to leave out a lot of the artistry of putting together an anthology. It's not a matter of filling slots and creating a factory assembly line and then getting the thing out the door. Again, I don't think you mean to convey that, but it comes across that way.

JeffV
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ellen datlow
User: ellen_datlow
Date: 2007-10-11 02:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jay, thank you for explaining how and why non-open anthologies function the way they do.

Jeff,
You know I disagree with you. If an editor has a wide enough net (as I certainly do--cajoling writers from inside and out of various genres and the mainstream over the years) you're not going to get an assembly line. At any given time I have hundreds of writers I've worked with (or want to work with)--I pick and choose those writers who I believe are either interested in the subject I'm editing (if it's a theme anthology) or just whose work I enjoy reading (if it's a non-theme anthology. In addition, teaching writing workshops over the years has given me glimpses into, oh at least one hundred writers who were just breaking in (or trying to).

There's another good reason for a closed market that Jay didn't mention: for a theme anthology, editors would prefer not to produce a glut of rejected stories on the theme of their book.

If I had money to hire a slush reader perhaps I'd have totally open original anthologies. But I don't. And I don't have time to read 500 hundred submissions.
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Jay Lake: jay-author_boy
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-10-11 03:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:jay-author_boy
Thank you, both for the kind words and for the amplification.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-10-11 03:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Right--just like for the fake disease guide we didn't want a bunch of rejected fake diseases out there--not fair to the writers.

I don't believe the kind of approach you outline is good for the genre if it's the only approach, and I think you should have some open anthologies--at the very least I'd expect you to endorse the *idea*. I also know that open anthologies are good because writers can surprise you, and your (this is the general "you") assumptions about writers can be wrong. It is often very interesting to see what happens when a writer writes against type, against expectation. And you also discover a lot more new talent that way.

I agree that in editing a year's best you come into contact with a lot more writers than the average editor, and thus you have a much better idea than most about inviting writers. But my comment wasn't specifically directed at you, either.

I believe that, generally, open anthologies are good for the genre. I believe that fundamentally and completely. Yes, if you are trying to make most of your living from editing anthologies, it certainly is not to your advantage to spend the time going through a slushpile. I understand that. But I would think you would at least agree that, in theory, open anthologies are a good idea. Especially with most genre magazines failing so miserably at this point.

I guess I'm fated to be chained to you in the comments thread every time I raise this point. But when I raise the point, I am not specifically engaging you.

Jeff

JeffV
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
User: ellameena
Date: 2007-10-11 14:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Just throwing my two cents in on the subject...

I have the opportunity every day to work as a professional writer of nonfiction for trade magazines and consumer publications. In that industry, which is much higher volume and higher pay than short genre fiction, it is the norm to assign stories to writers. The editor contacts you, says, "I need 1200 words on 2D protein electrophoresis by November 10, and I can pay a dollar a word," (to quote a recent assignment I received). Because you are a professional, you are able to deliver what the editor asks for in the time alotted. A closed theme anthology is no different, except maybe that the writers might still be writing on spec, whereas in the previous example the assignment letter is a binding contract and the editor pretty much obligated to pay for whatever I end up giving him. So why should a fiction anthology be any different? The editor knows what product he/she wants, contacts writers who can deliver it, and pays for the product. Inviting submissions from all is a nice idea, but it takes a lot of extra time, and readers really do want to see stories from their favorite authors, not necessarily Sally Newbie.

That said, I do think the whole theme anthology thing can be cliquey. Do editors always invite the people most qualified? Not necessarily. Of course they will invite submissions from their friends, because every editor has approximately a thousand friends who are writers--it's kind of hard not to. The problem, as I see it, is that in the small sf/f genre community, the friend factor often outweighs the professional factor.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-10-11 14:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Again, I can only speak from my own experience. Before you condemn editors to inviting 'only their friends' consider that the editor has invited LOTS of people and for some crazy reason, mostly the people who actually KNOW the editor are the ones who agree to write for the anthology.

So you may contact Michael Chabon, thinking he'd write a great story for you, only to, at best, get a no, or at worst, never hear back from him. Or, again speaking from my experience, someone like Gregory Maguire really would like to write something for the anthology, but can't fit it into his schedule.

I think that nearly 100% of the time, the reader has NO idea who the editor invited to an anthology, they only know who gets published in the anthology.

Conversely, try being the editor who has an anthology coming out and in addition from getting slagged from newbie writers for not having an open submission period, you also get slagged by friends who weren't invited.

John Klima
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User: ellameena
Date: 2007-10-11 14:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
If you reread my comment, you'll see that I have not condemned anyone. I'm not a newbie, and have seen the process unfold many, many times. There are editors I know who have done a great job of choosing the best writers for the job, and there are those that...haven't. I wrote a story for my friend Jim Hines. Jim has lots of friends. He didn't make the offer because I was his friend. He did it because he knows I have written and published the exact same type of story before and that I would be able to do it again. He also invited writers that he did not know, and got a number of stories from some of those writers. (And some of them turned him down.) I think the closed anthology concept is valid. Is it always used properly and correctly by every editor? No, not always. I have seen too many TOC's filled with people I have seen habitually sitting together in the hotel bar--and usually these operations start and remain small press, probably because the quality is compromised.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
User: david_de_beer
Date: 2007-10-11 17:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>and readers really do want to see stories from their favorite authors, not necessarily Sally Newbie.

true; but at some point Favourite Writer was Sally newbie. How else, if not given a chance to compete, can they become Favourite Sally?

Everyone has different takes here, I think, but personally what feels like a good idea to me is to reserve x number of slots for invites, those writers who can deliver and pull readers and ensure a definite standard, but also maybe reserve a few slots for an open read.
So, two birds with one stone - give readers their favourites, but also try to introduce them to an exciting new voice you found. Least, that makes sense to me. It may not to some others, and that is certainly their prerogative.
For a genre to remain strong, it needs output from the established names and writers who deliver the product; for it to continue to flourish, it needs injection of new blood.
An editor of anthologies does sit in a position where s/he can do both.
Course, names are dicey; some names pull me, others don't. Too many of the latter, and I lose interest in reading the antho.
Every single person who reads will be the same, of course, and no two may be alike in tastes. An advantage a no-name has, is the no name, a totally neutral reaction in me, as reader.

And as much as readers do want their favourites? they also have a constant hunger for new blood. I saw this time after time when I worked in a bookstore. Very often, readers would buy their favourites not so much because they want to but because they can't find anyone new.
I also very distinctly remember this specific type of readers' faces - not elation at the new Dean Koontz, but resignation at the new Stephen King. In the long run, that is the beginning of a very dangerous dissatisfaction.

I understand Jay's (and your) reasonings, and am grateful he's always very open and honest about his experiences and thoughts, but I don't agree with them in this particular case.
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User: ellameena
Date: 2007-10-11 19:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Dozens of new writers break into the field every year, as evidenced by the perpetual list of Campbell-eligible authors. I've done it. Jay's done it. There is no shortage of new writers. Not every magazine or anthology needs to be a venue for new writers breaking in, and this is pretty time-intensive for editors. Although I totally understand the frustration you are expressing (and I have been there myself), the answer is to improve your craft and keep submitting wherever you can. If you keep at it, you'll get there.
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Eric Marin
User: ericmarin
Date: 2007-10-11 22:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for the interesting and informative post, Jay. As you know, I'm considering editing a themed speculative fiction anthology, but the issue of open vs. closed submissions had not really risen to conscious thought for me until I read this post and the comments. I just assumed I would follow my pattern for editing that I use with Lone Star Stories and have open submissions and also directly solicit work from authors whom I think would produce cool work. I do my own slushing for LSS, and I am likely to do the same for an anthology. (I read/decide rather quickly, so the slush pile never gets too large.) I think, after considering the points here, that I'll stick with open submissions, if I follow through on the anthology idea. However, what I really need to figure out is how to get the money to pay authors pro rates upon acceptance. :-)

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User: sarah_prineas
Date: 2007-10-12 03:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This has been mentioned, but I reiterate:

Anthology editors who are soliciting submissions for a closed anthology should be circumspect about it, because if they tell everyone they know about the invitations they are quite likely to create bad feelings toward themselves among writers they know, yet don't invite.
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User: leatherzebra
Date: 2007-10-12 05:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As a beginning writer I don't have a problem with closed anthologies (because they aren't all closed, and they make sense business wise). But I do have a problem when I see people advertising closed anthos in public forums. As in "I'm putting together anthology and I want you all to write something for me, but only the actual members of this community." on a public forum where the readers who didn't qualify to be accepted to the group accounted for at least 60% of the hits and comments. That bothered me because closed invites should be done in the privacy of email, not in a manner that can be taken as "I'm going to beg these people who are busy already to write something for me while also telling these other people, desperate for a break, that they aren't good enough to even get a glance."
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-10-12 06:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I wonder, if writers write in a different way for open anthologies than they will for ones where they know they have a slot--a preponderance of invitation only books might infact change the feel of short fiction in the genre, slowing the evolution, the struggle to innovate, to answer and push beyond past work.
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User: brendanconnell.wordpress.com
Date: 2007-10-12 06:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't know. I have been published in lots of places, a nice few of them pro. And I can only think of one editor who asks me to submit to closed anthologies. So, clearly I am in favour of open ones. I look at the closed ones and it is the same names over and over again.

As far as getting the job done. Well, I would think the job would be making the best possible book, rather than having the easiest time doing it.

Of course this is just another opinion.
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John R. Platt: Stunned
User: plattcave
Date: 2007-10-12 12:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Stunned
It feels intensely unfair to writers who aren't on the closed list

Not to me, and I've been at this for 15 years. Personally, I hate it when writers act all persecuted. "Oh, so-and-so editor won't give me a chance! Poor me! Poor me! That editor is a terrible person for not personally inviting me into their anthology!" There are thousands of writers out there, and just a few hundred anthology slots per year. We can't all get in a book (or six) every year.

(Of course, I only send out a dozen or so fiction submissions a year these days, so it's no surprise if I don't get invited to anything...)
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User: brendanconnell.wordpress.com
Date: 2007-10-12 16:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't feel persecuted. I just feel that the world of "genre" fiction is too inbred. Editors like to feel safe. That is why they go by these lists. Fiction should not be safe. When it is safe it is dead.
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nancyfulda
User: nancyfulda
Date: 2007-10-12 19:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>It feels intensely unfair to writers who aren't on the closed list, even more so to writers who don't usually (or ever) get invited to closed lists.

Good heavens, there are people who actually feel offended by this system? I really need to get out more.

From a business standpoint, closed anthologies make a lot of sense. In fact, this post has reminded me of how grateful I am to the many magazine and anthology editors who plow through the entire slush pile.
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