Odd Beasts

In which I discuss anthologies from the perspective of a reader and a writer.

The Reader

Anthologies are are odd beast, aren’t they? A novel is a cohesive whole, and a short story collection by a single author has some continuity simply by virtue of being written by one person. But an anthology is a patchwork, made of contributions from any number of hands.

Often anthologies are composed with some theme in mind, to keep them from being thoroughly random. Of course, no two people will think about “zombies” in the same way — but that’s half the fun, isn’t it? Seeing how a bunch of different authors respond to a theme or idea.

I’ll admit to being somewhat wary of anthologies, in general. When choosing a book, I know what I like… and I can make a pretty good judgement from back cover copy and the first couple of pages. With an anthology, that’s pretty much impossible. There are bound to be stories I don’t like mixed in along stories I do.

The other reason that I tended to avoid them is simply my voracity. I read fast, and I read a lot, and I almost always want more meat than a short story can give me. I want to lose myself in a world, to luxuriate in it, and short fiction doesn’t really let me do that.

You might wonder, then, why I read anthologies at all. The truth is that I never pick up an anthology unless it’s for the sake of a specific story.

What do I mean? If there is an author that I am a fan of, and they have a short story that for whatever reason (usually because it’s part of the universe of a book series) I want to read, and that story is only available in an anthology… then I will get it from the library.

I don’t just read the story I want and skip all the rest, though — I read them all, unless there’s one that hits one of my immediate reject buttons. And sometimes that means I read some not-too-interesting stories. Sometimes I read some perfectly pleasant stories. And sometimes…sometimes I read fantastic stories that add a new author to my ever-growing list.

The Writer

From the point of view of the writer, anthologies are a lot of fun.

I should point out that I mean from the point of view of this author, because I haven’t made any sales yet and I’ve never been in a traditionally published anthology. But I have written a story for an anthology that was conceived, executed, and self-published by my writer’s group, Saucy Ink, which is currently available on Amazon.

All self-promotion aside…let me discuss the process a little bit.

The group voted on a theme (Water), brainstormed ideas and wrote their own stories, and then as a group we engaged in two rounds of critique. And that, for me, was the most fun — seeing the way that all these authors responded to the theme, and seeing the way that the stories developed in response to comments.

There’s another benefit to anthologies, as a writer — they are an easy (well, easier?) way to keep your name out there (and keep getting paid) in between larger projects. And they bump up your number of publications with minimal effort on the author’s part. Obviously I don’t mean minimal effort into the story, but it takes less time to write one story than it does to write a novel, but both are one publishing credit, so to speak.

This is of course only going to be true if you’re a traditionally published author, and one who is relatively well known, because you have to be asked to contribute to anthologies, after all. Sometimes you can find a contest, or some sort of open-submission anthology (BookSmugglers did one recently-ish, and Lightspeed has done a couple open-submission special issues), and that’s a great way to start building your trad-pub career. (Plus it looks good in query letters)

You

Dear readers, tell me: do you like to read anthologies? Pros and cons?

Have you ever submitted a story to an anthology? (I know at least one person who has 😉 ) What was the process like for you?

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