Monday, July 2, 2012

Why I Wonder About the Future of Short Story Anthologies...

Why I wonder about the future of short story anthologies has nothing to do with my own personal opinions about them. I love writing for anthologies and I love being part of them. But I'm not sure they are a viable product anymore...if they ever were, at least in my lifetime.

What made me think about this happened last week. I was lurking around on absolutewrite reading comments in a forum by authors who were discussing royalties and payments with regard to anthologies. For those who don't know, is a place for authors to read about what's happening, and to leave comments in forums. The authors on the particular forum I stumbled across were discussing (trashing) one e-publisher in particular, complaining they weren't getting paid royalties. And, like some forums on absolutewrite, this one was dead wrong and the so-called authors did not know what they were talking about.

The publisher they were discussing is a publisher I've worked with in the past. I've had full length novels published with them and I've had short stories published with them. I have always been paid on time, with both advances and royalties, I have always received detailed statements on time, and I've never had to worry about getting paid royalties for the novels I've had published with them. They have been as professional and honest as any publisher I've ever worked with in the past. I have no reason to lie about this.

Now, I haven't been paid royalties for any of the short stories I've submitted to this publisher. And here's why, huzzah: in all the years I've been published in short story anthologies I have never made any money in royalties because short story anthologies don't sell as well as individual short stories or full length novels. And I have been published in anthologies by all the small LGBT presses...including a few in Europe. In almost every single case this is how payment has always worked: author gets a flat fee (usually 60.00) and one or two free copies of the book. Period. And this is how it's always worked with these small presses for as far back as I can remember. I've never seen a dime in royalties, in both print or digital. And I *never* expected to see royalties either. The reason why I've contributed to these short story anthologies is because I love doing it. I love the editors. I love the publishers. Plain and simple.

A few years ago, when I started to submit short stories to an e-publisher for anthologies, the terms were slightly different than what I'd seen in the past. It was written in the contract that I would get paid a flat fee of $10.00 and I would also have a chance to get royalties. This was new. I'd never seen this before. So I gave it a shot thinking maybe I would see royalties for once from an anthology. And once again, I didn't see any money in royalties (and still haven't) because the anthologies didn't sell enough copies to warrant a royalty payment. So when I read these ridiculous complaints in the absolutewrite forum I simply concluced the authors are either newbies and don't know anything or they are living in a dream world. 

I even made the mistake of accepting an offer to do a short story anthology with my own short stories titled, "Field of Dreams." When I was approached to do this I put it off for a year because I really didn't want to do it. I pretended I didn't see e-mails; I played dumb until I couldn't any longer. The publisher was excited about me doing this and I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings (I like them). But it was a mistake on my part from a business POV. I tied up those short stories in an anothology when I could have released them individually and made more money in the long term than with a full anthology. I think readers perfer to read one digital short at a that they have a chance to do this...instead of buying an entire anthology filled with authors (or stories) they may or may not like. But I did the anthology with my own stories and I chalked that one up to live and learn. When another publisher suggested I do this recently, I politely declined.

I recently saw an ad for a Kindle e-reader on the back of the TIME MAGAZINE cover for $79.00. And in this full page impressive ad it's promoting Kindle as an e-reader for everything, from newpapers to magazines. It's also promoting the Kindle as a device where readers can now read individual short stories and essays. And this only confirmed my opinions about the future of the short story anthology. I've been releasing short digital e-books for almost seven years now, most of which are concentrated with I post about them here when they are released and I've always been honest about the fact that my favorite medium is the short story. In every single case, whenever I've released a digital short story alone, I've made more in royalties than I ever dreamed of making in an anthology.

Let me be clear: I'm not talking about six figures in royalties. But it's been far better than what I would have made had I submitted these short stories to publishers for anthologies where I would have been paid nothing more than a flat fee. In one case, about four years ago, I actually received an e-mail from an LGBT publisher that stated he was reducing the flat author fee from $50.00 to $25.00...without a chance to earn royalties. In this particular case, I stopped submitting all work to this particular publisher completley. I not only thought that was a shabby way to treat authors, but also a painful reminder that anthologies don't make money for the author.

So I can't help but wonder about the future of anthologies, especially as more and more authors start to self-publish their short digital stories. I still plan on being in a few anthologies in the future with editors I love and publishers I love. For me, as I said, it's something that I love to do. But I never do it with the intention of making more than the flat fee and the free copy. And I'm speaking from experience, not from what I read from all those geniuses on an forum.


Erica Pike said...

Very interesting. I haven't written for an anthology yet. I've been wondering if I should, but since I'm not very fond of reading anthologies, I've been hesitant.

ryan field said...

The best thing about writing for anthologies is that is gives you practice and it gives you publishing credits. I've never made much money doing it, but in the same respect I've always loved doing it. It's more of a personal thing for me. It's like a comfort zone.