There’s a bit of a trend right now for single author collections of mostly, if not all, original fiction. Now the collection of originals isn’t a new thing by any means: it’s been around for a number of years in YA especially where there aren’t necessarily the same short fiction markets.
When I started doing collections, the idea, and the expectation, was to collect a bunch of reprints, and then get one or maybe two original stories, something new to offer the fans. And that original story was a feature, a selling point, a point of difference.
Over the last couple of years, there seems to be a different expectation, that a stand-out collection is full of original stories, with maybe one or two reprints. Some of this may be awards-driven, based on feedback from last year’s Aurealis Awards Collection panel, who felt that the amount of original work was a significant criteria.
I should add that Ticonderoga published the winning collection, Lisa L. Hannett’s Bluegrass Symphony, and it did only have one
original [EDIT: should have said “reprint”] reprint story in the contents.
So why am I concerned?
I’m not sure that this current trend is good for the writer. There was, afterall, a good reason for collecting reprints. From all I’ve seen, the average fee a writer gets for a collection is less than a novel, in a lot of cases because the average collection sells less than a novel. That makes sense. Allowing the writer to sell the stories individually, as original and unpublished, to any number of markets, allows the writer to make more money off each story.
An example: soon to be published from TP is Volume 1 of Steven Utley’s Silurian Tales, The 400-Million-Year Itch. These stories have all (but one) been published in a bunch of paying markets over the last 15 years. Then Steven gets to bundle all these up and sell them again, and it all helps him pay the bills.
Had Steven put together a collection of original stories, he wouldn’t be banking anywhere near the same amount, probably missing out on over a dozen decent-sized cheques (and I’ll be honest, most of the stories would have paid more than he’s getting for the collection unless it does really well).
I don’t want to take anything away from the number of fantastic, mostly original collections out there. There is a certain joy to reading books like this, especially when there’s a thematic tie between the stories like Bluegrass Symphony, or Angela Slatter’s Sourdough and Other Stories. But is my reading pleasure tainted with guilt that the writer could be earning more?
I also don’t want to come across as being against every collection that is mostly original work. I think there is a place for these, especially when there is either a thematic link or a publisher with deep pockets.
I’m not sure that I’d want this collection expectation to become the dominant trend, if it means disadvantaging writers. To me a collection is a bonus payment, not necessarily the primary income source for shorter works.