A trend I’m not sure I’m comfortable with

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 Allowing the writer to sell the stories individually, as original and unpublished, to any number of markets, allows the writer to make more money off each story.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.

11 Replies to “A trend I’m not sure I’m comfortable with”

  1. Hi Russell – my first time visiting your blog site. Am glad I did.

    Your point is highly valid, and as a writer I certainly would prefer to follow the ‘two-step’ pattern you talk about. Perhaps there might be an exception here and there, where a theme just begs for me to submit to, and I am happy to comply, but these examples are outliers.

    There is one layer that I don’t think was covered by you – mainly focused on emerging writers. A new writer finds greater value in getting exposure than necessarily the money per se. Such a person wants to build up a collection of stories and get a name in the industry, and the high end magazine/ezine markets can be tough – sometimes it is better to squeeze into mid-level anthologies than the low/middling mags, to build the cv, the bibliography. I don’t cite this dimension as an undermining of your general point – it still stands well, but I think that the ‘cv-building’ process can’t be discounted.

    Thanks for a thoughtful blog entry.

    Gerry

    1. Thanks Gerry. I think we’re confusing each other here. I certainly think it is good for writers to get into mid-level anthologies to build their CV. It probably shouldn’t be the only way, and writers should be aiming as high as possible.

      I guess where I’m concerned is when a writer seeks to build a collection without any prior publications — I think this approach can deprive the writer of additional income.

  2. How does the ebook impact on this? I am thinking of how certain anthologies migh have gone out of print and that an author could resell his work in a reprint? With the possibility of the older anthology never going out of print does that cut into the earning potential of each particular story?

    1. I’d certainly hope that any anthology sale would have a limit to the length of exclusivity. This should mean that after 6 months to a year the story is available to sell as a reprint.

      I certainly don’t think that having a story available in one anthology would preclude selling that story to a single author collection — for me it’s often a good thing, allowing readers to discover the writer through a number of means.

      I guess if I was trying to be persuasive in this post, instead of just putting some thoughts down, I’d have talked about how a writer can only sell first world rights once, and making that count.

      1. Sorry Russ I am coming at it from the consumer angle. Meaning that I might have a choice of picking up old anthology versus new anthology and whether or not having an ebook in stock for ever affects the consumers decision to buy new anthology? (I am probably not being clear :))

        Once you might have gone “hey great new anthology with that story from that I missed when it was printed 10 years ago.

        1. I am a little confused at this. I think there might be some confusion over terms, when I talk about anthologies, I’m referring to multiple author works, where as a collection is the collected stories of a single writer.

  3. So… wtf was the point of doing Worker’s Paradise? Or Fantastic Wonder Stories? Or Beyond? Etc etc etc.

    How fundamentally is that different from a single author collection of original work?

    1. The fundamental difference is that a writer, say Kaaron Warren, can get paid once for her story “The Lipstick Minx”, as it appears in The Workers’ Paradise (an anthology that specified original stories, no reprints), and can then get paid again for that same story when it appeared in Dead Sea Fruit, a collection of her stories. That is two paycheques for the same story. Had Kaaron published that story first in The Grinding House, her earlier collection, it wouldn’t have been eligible for inclusion in The Workers’ Paradise, or any other anthology that was buying First publication rights.

      As to the point of publishing those anthologies, that’s really another topic for discussion at a later date.

    2. And again, I’ll also clarify that I don’t necessarily think that single author collections of original material is an overall bad thing, just that I’m not sure whether I’m in favour of this becoming an expectation on writers wanting to make a living at this gig.

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