Monday Musings: Some Thoughts On Anthologies

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by Kathleen Valentine

OutShadowsThroughout my years as a writer I have been invited to participate in a number of anthologies and I try to take advantage whenever such an offer is made. In fact this week the latest anthology I participated in was released. This one is called Out of the Shadows and is available currently from Amazon, Kobo, and Scribd. It is a collection of nine short stories by an international group of nine women writers.

When I was asked to participate in this, I was told they were looking for short stories that were original and featured a strong female lead character. Of all my female characters probably the strongest is Vivienne Lang, the mixed-martial artist who is featured in three of my four Crazy Old Lady books. Viv is an accomplished fighter and does not hesitate to knock someone on their backside or punch them in the nose if necessary, but she also has a fragile side that I love. As I contemplated writing a short story about Viv, I decided to depart from my usual psychological horror in those stories and do something different. The title of the story is What Is the Group Noun for Crazy Old Ladies? I’m eager to see what people think of the story.

As I was reading this collection—which features stories by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar and Christine Nolfi, whose works I have read previously, and six stories by writers whose work I don’t know—I thought that anthologies are an interesting way for writers to cross-promote one another. But it is a good idea to have certain parameters on who is included in any collection.

Years ago, when I was new at this stuff, I contributed to an anthology that was doomed from the start. A bunch of us who participated in an early online writer’s group decided to do it. The end product was a mess because we had no guidelines for the collection. One story was romantic, one was comedy, one was paranormal, mine was a crime story. There was absolutely nothing cohesive about it except that all of us belonged to the same forum and how was the reader supposed to know that?

Later I was included in a few more that were better organized—three were all crime stories, two were women’s fiction, and one, Cooking With Our Characters, was a charming combination of excerpts with recipes. The idea of any anthology is that all the included authors will promote their books to their readers and, if the readers like a particular genre or style, they may find other stories in the collection that appeal to them as well. It’s a good way to expand readership.

I came across a very worthwhile blog post by Alex J. Cavanaugh called Anthologies: How They Can Advance Your Writing Career. I know Alex from the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge and he makes some excellent points in his post and offers good advice. One of the things he mentions is that when you decide to organize an anthology be very clear on the guidelines and requirements for submission. I think this is where a lot of anthologies fall flat—there is too much diversity of genre or style. I admit I, as a reader, am as guilty of this as anyone. There are genres I read and genres that I just skip. I refuse to read anything about zombies.

Length is also a factor for me. I tend to purchase anthologies of short stories but when it is a collection of full length works, I tend to skip it. I am not sure why. Maybe because I have more books than I can give my attention to as is, and I don’t want to download 10 full-length novels just to get 1 or 2.

All that being said, a well-planned and executed anthology can be a big boost for writers who want to cross-promote one another’s books. I can recommend a good example—why not try Out of the Shadows to start?

Thanks for reading.

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Do Readers Need Publishers?- by Scott Bury

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Bones Cover Last month, Forbes asserted that 25 percent of the top-selling books on Amazon, the world’s biggest book retailer, were from independent or self-published authors. The latest self-publishing phenom, Hugh Howey, sold just the print rights for Wool to St. Martin’s Press for six figures, but retained the e-publishing rights for himself, because his book was already a million-plus seller.

This story shows that there is a possibility for a new kind of relationship between the author and publisher. But it also raises a bigger question:

In an age where authors can reach millions of readers by themselves, is there a role for a  big commercial publisher?

When readers choose good books without the intermediation of a publisher, is there a market for the gigantic, multinational Big Six publishers?

Or is it the Big Five, now? Whatever, I suggest a short form: “Bix.”

E-books are the driving force of publishing these days. Amazon reported that more than half of its sales are of e-books. And David Gaughran estimates that 25 percent of the e-book market is by independent authors.

When the numbers of independent authors self-publishing e-books started climbing, the commercial publishers said that the self-published just weren’t good enough to get published by a commercial publisher.

The Bix claim that they provide an essential gatekeeping function. The story they tell goes like this:

  • Wannabe authors submit manuscripts into a “slush pile.” Most of them are terrible, but a very few might be turned into examples of great literature.
  • The Bix editors read through the slush pile and select the few gems.
  • They pay the author an advance on their royalties, which allows the author to live while working on turning that raw manuscript into something an audience will read.
  • The Bix subject the raw manuscript to rigourous development, involving several iterations or review, critique, re-writing by the author, close work with different editors and finally line-by-line, word-by-word editing.
  • During this process, the publisher and its editing staff do all the work, while (as we have seen in countless movies and TV shows), the author drags out the process, whiling away the days in substance abuse, sexual excess and drinking espresso in smoky cafés instead of working on the re-write.
  • Finally, the book comes out and the publisher pays for a big launch in the most prestigious bookstore in Manhattan, then a book launch tour across the country, and interviews on TV talk shows and readings in universities.

All those manuscripts that didn’t make it out of the slush pile? The publisher sent their authors polite rejection letters, saying not that the manuscript is crap, but that it “didn’t meet their needs at this time.”

Here’s the reality of the Bix “quality gatekeeping” function which I’ve learned in my years in the publishing industry:

·         Acquisitions editors and agents choose manuscripts to publish based on sellability, not quality. Because they cannot tell the future any better than you or me, they look at whether an author has been published before, or whether the story is like a current best-seller from another publisher, to make decisions. Getting selected from the slush pile is due either to blind luck or connections within the industry.

·         The quality of editing varies widely. Most copy-editors and proofreaders are right out of university and so badly underpaid that most seek more rewarding employment.

·         Authors work very hard. Most have other jobs, and I don’t know any who spend endless hours drinking espresso in cafés. And thankfully, you cannot smoke in most cafés, anymore.

In reality, authors today do most of the work that publishers did 20 years ago: research, check facts, write, edit, copy-edit and proofread. Word processing programs automate most interior design or layout. Hugh Howey and any number of other authors concur that most authors published by big companies still have to do their own promotion. The days of book launch tours are long gone.

What about gatekeeping?

Some of the best-sellers today are from self-published authors. Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking and others making theirBones Cover livings selling books without the intermediation of a big company. Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler famously rejected commercial publishing offers.

On the other side of this argument are the truly awful books from the commercial publishers. Dan Brown’s latest novel is set to become the biggest book on the beaches this summer, and almost every critic has said it’s terrible. The Daily Telegraph even published the “Dan Brown’s Top 20 Worst Sentences.”

Like generals who fight the previous war, the Bix publish new versions of last year’s bestsellers. Rip-offs, in other words. How many sexy vampire series are there? Friendly zombies? Books about women who take long trips to eat good food, have great sex and find themselves?

Readers themselves are replacing the quality gatekeeper role of the publisher. Sites like Goodreads, the Kindle Book Review, Amazon’s discussion boards (although you need a thick skin to participate on these) — and of course, BestSelling Reads.

Every time communications technology reduces the cost of producing and distributing content, it brings content creators closer to audiences. That means there is less room and less of a role for intermediaries.

Do audiences need commercial publishers? There is still room for Bix. They have deep pockets (despite their protestations otherwise and despite the skimpy amounts they pay authors and their own employees), and have the infrastructure for distributing paper books.

But readers are by-passing them. If the Bix want to stay viable over the long term, they’re going to have to respond to what readers are telling the market — they’re paying for the greater variety in all books that the new, independent writers are producing today.

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Scott2011Scott Bury is a journalist and editor based in Ottawa, Canada. He is the author of The Bones of the Earth and One Shade of Red.

 

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Boost your reading experience with conventions! – by Jesi Lea Ryan

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image001For most of us, reading is a solitary activity–something we do to at the end of the day to unwind, or to pass the time waiting for the train.  If we want to be social with our reading, we might join a book club or go to a local book signing.  While all of these activities are wonderful, why not kick your reading enjoyment into high gear and attend a book convention?  Book cons take place year round and all over the world, and offer readers many benefits.

Meet your favorite authors and discover new ones

Conventions offer much more than a meet & greet with your favorite authors.  The fun, laid back atmosphere really let’s you get to know them as people.  Remember, writing is also a solitary activity, so for authors, cons give them an excellent opportunity to discuss their work directly with readers. While the big name authors might draw you in, sometimes the most exciting part is discovering new authors and books to read.

Whether it is in workshops, panels or through one-on-one conversations, these interactions will create memories.  After all, how many of you can say that you’ve played Apples to Apples with a bunch of erotic romance writers?  It’s also super cool to watch the authors interact with each other.

Tiffany Reisz and Andrew Schaffer - RT2013

Authors Tiffany Reisz and Andrew Shaffer – 2013 Romantic Times Booklovers Convention

 

Network with other readers 

The best way to find your next read is often from word of mouth.  Readers love to talk about the books and authors that excite them.  I first heard of Graceling by Kristin Cashore while at a sci-fi convention.  As soon as I got home, I ordered it, and boy was I glad.  Cashore is one of my favorite authors now. 

Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, conventions reward you for stepping outside of your comfort zone.  If you open yourself up and speak to other con attendees, you can not only get recommendations, but make new friends.  I recommend always wearing your name badge and carrying business cards to facilitate quick introductions.  People who recognize my name from Twitter will come up and hug me like we go way back.  (It just supports my belief that Twitter friends are real friends.)

Supplement your reading through learning

Panels and workshops are the heart of conventions.  Most cons offer a wide variety of programming to suit every interest.  I attended a workshop recently led by historic romance author Deeanne Gist on Victorian women’s clothing.  She started in her bloomers and ended up dressed for dinner out, explaining the history of the garments and how they are put on along the way.  It was both fascinating and exhausting to watch.  Later that same day, I went to a program on Scotland where we sampled whisky and haggis.  Yes, I choked down a bite.  It was gross, but now I can relate to the characters in my “hunky highlander” novels on a whole new level.

2013 RT haggis

Nasty haggis at 2013 Romantic Times Booklovers Convention

Free books!

I’m not going to lie, some conventions are pricey, but many of the smaller ones are very affordable.  Something that helps to offset the costs is all of the freebies!  Author swag, t-shirts and free books can be found in abundance.  In my experience, the larger the con, the more free books you get.  These are the free books I picked up last week at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention:

2013 RT books

This doesn’t include the several free ebook downloads I received as well.  The really cool thing is that most of these books are signed, and several are advanced reader copies, not even for sale in the bookstores yet. 

So which convention is right for you?  Well, that depends on what you like to read.  Below is a list with links to several of the large conventions in the United States, but if you are looking for something a little more local, you can always do a Google search or check with your local library/bookstore.

Romantic Times Booklovers Convention

 Book Expo America

 Bouchercon World Mystery Convention

 World Science Fiction Convention

 ComicCon

  World Horror Convention

  utopYA Con

 Authors After Dark

And if you happen to be in the Madison, WI area, feel free to come see me speak at WisCon (The World’s Leading Feminist Science Fiction Convention) on Memorial Day weekend. 

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Jesi

Jesi Lea Ryan grew up in the Mississippi River town of Dubuque, Iowa. She holds bachelor degrees in creative writing and literature and a masters degree in business. She considers herself a well-rounded nerd who can spend hours on the internet researching things like British history, anthropology of ancient people, geography of random parts of the world, bad tattoos and the paranormal. She currently lives in Madison, WI with her husband and two fat kitties. On Twitter? Feel free to say hi! @Jesilea

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