An Open Letter to Science Fiction Anthologists

Dear Science Fiction Anthologist,

I’ll keep this brief as I know you are very busy reading story submissions.

I enjoy reading short stories and love reading anthologies (keep ‘em coming!) so I am going to freely give you 2 killer annual anthology themes:

  1. All Nebula Award nominees for that year.
  2. All Hugo Award nominees for that year.

It surprises me that there is no anthology that does this (that I am aware of, anyway). True, there are other award-based anthologies like the Nebula Awards Showcase series, but oddly, it does not offer all of the nominees and even throws in non-fiction and other DVD-extra content (which is fine). However, I’ve been noticing that some websites, including SF Signal, have been undertaking award-nominated fiction reading projects. Wouldn’t be handy to have all the short fiction printed in one place? If we’re doing it, others must be.

Admittedly, I know relatively little about the publishing industry and even I could come up with reasons to not do this: obtaining rights; hitting the optimum selling window; book length; stories (especially these past couple of years) already freely available online. I’m hoping there is sufficient economic reason to do it anyway, like maybe people prefer a book over digital format; or maybe people want to own the best-of-the-best; or booksplitting the nominees to make it profitable.

A single editor’s “best of” picks are nice. So, too, would the shortlists that are chosen by multiple award voters.

Regards,

John DeNardo

18 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Science Fiction Anthologists”

  1. Those would be pretty big books — the Hugo and Nebulas each have three short-fiction categories, with generally at least five nominees in each category. Say five 25,000-word novellas, five 12,000-word novelettes and five 5000-word short stories, for a total book length of at least 210,000 words — that’s nearly as big as the annual Dozois bug-crushers, which would mean only trade paperback and/or hardcover publication. (And some years it could be worse — like 2003, when there were six novellas on the Hugo ballot, and two of them were long enough to be originally published as books.)

    Authors generally want to be paid for their work, as well, and stating up front that a book is going to have all of the nominated stories makes the author of every single nominated story a potential spoiler (since any one of them could kill the book by refusing to sell or demanding an unreasonable payment).

    Also, editors usually like to think they’re bringing something to a project, and, in this case, that would only be elbow grease. A project like this would bring no glory to its editor, since the stories are pre-selected.

    All in all, it is a nice idea, but I don’t know if it would be practical. It’s not impossible, but it looks like a vast number of headaches for very little reward.

  2. Despite Andrew Wheeler’s valid points above, I wonder if an anthology of selected nominees from the past few years might not be a bad idea. After all, it’s been a while since we’ve had an anthology of the Hugo winners, let alone the nominees…

  3. I’m kind of surprised at the lack of Hugo anthologies myself. Asimov’s collection is a classic and was a mainstay of the SFBC for years (might still be, for all I know). I know that Connie Willis did a couple of collections of Hugo winners, but after that, nothing.

    I used to get the Nebula winner and Damon Knight’s Orbit anthology out of the library whenever a new volume appeared. Ditto Donald Wollheim’s annual through the SFBC. Sure, we’ve got the Hartwell/Cramer and the Dozois and others, but I miss those three annuals.

    :(

  4. Andrew, good points all. But I’m not entirely convinced that these are showstoppers.

    Isn’t the length problem solved by booksplitting? Strahan’s SFBC anthologies contain 6 novellas. Another similarly-sized volume could hold the novelettes and short stories. But then again, that doubles the cost to the publisher and customer so maybe it becomes less appealing cost-wise.

    As to the author/payment bottleneck, isn’t this the issue with all anthologies?

    Yes, I can see how editors want some creative control, but how much creativity did the the authors of the Hugo Winners anthologies have? Same idea there, no? At the very least, some newbie editor could get his feet wet with the publishing process.

    I don’t know, I guess I still see some value in it. But I’m looking at it from a reader’s perspective. Your bang-for-the-buck comment may spot-on, but I still think there is some value in collecting the stories that were nominated. Many perceive those stories as the best-of-the-best and not subject to the taste of a single person/editor.

    Of course, if it truly is impractical, I’ll settle for Michael’s idea of the selected nominees. Sort of a best-of-the-best-of-the-best.

  5. I think part of the problem is the time horizon involved.

    I am not in the book publishing industry, but it seems to me that by the time the nominees are known (Nebula or Hugo) and the book can go to press, the awards have already been handed out. The advantage of, say, the Dozois anthology, even if it doesn’t include all of the nominees is that it at least comes out before the Hugos.

    OTOH, I do like Michael Burstein’s idea of a compliation of Hugo and/or Nebula award winners of the past few years.

  6. I’m holding out for a non-drmed epaper bookreader and reasonably priced short story downloads (not paying a few bucks for 10,000 words of DRM crippled text file) myself.

  7. Paul, a compilation of the Hugo or Nebula winners from the past few years isn’t exactly my own idea, but thank you. :-)

    Back in the 1960s, I think, Doubleday decided to start publishing anthologies of the Hugo winners, and they tapped Isaac Asimov to put them together. Most recently, Connie Willis and then Greg Benford “edited” Hugo winner collections, which Baen Books published…but the last one I can find is from 1997, collecting the winners from 1992-1994.

    In other words, we now have ten years worth of Hugo winners that have not been collected in book form.

    The Nebulas are a little easier to get. Every year, someone publishes an official SFWA anthology, which includes the year’s winners and other ancillary material, including some of the nominees. But there’s no collection that only has the Nebula winners, and nothing else.

    I like John DeNardo’s idea a lot of having anthologies of the nominees, and I’m not just saying that because I’d be in them. I think the collections would be valuable in and of their own right. But if we can’t get a publisher to publish an anthology of Hugo winners from the last ten years, what are the chances we’ll find a publisher to put together a nominees anthology?

    (Perhaps in e-book format this will work. One Worldcon did a CD-ROM of all the Hugo nominees its year…)

  8. Great snakes in the morning? Michael A. BURSTEIN? Author of “Paying It Forward”? That Michael A. Burstein?

    Recently posted a review of “Paying” on my site. See my short stories a day posting (listed in left-hand column) a link to the review.

    Darn good story.

    :-P

  9. The big difference between a all-the-nominees anthology and a “regular” best of the year is that, in a “regular” best of the year, if one author wants too much money (and this does happen occasionally), you can drop that story and substitute another one from your “maybe” list. That’s impossible if the book has to contain all of the nominees, and so those authors have more leverage.

    There have, as Michael Burstein and others have pointed out, been pre-determined anthologies before: the Hugo Winners books (which did die out, a decade ago, possibly due to low sales) and the similar later books of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame series, which collected Nebula winners and died out even earlier.

    (The fact that both series died out may indicate there isn’t a market for books like this — or, at least, that the market for them seemed too small when they died out.)

    As I recall, the Hall of Fame books were for the benefit of SFWA, so none of the authors got anything but glory. The Hugo books were for-profit, though, so those anthologists (probably someone like Marty Greenberg on the back end; Asimov just “presented” the stories) might have had to do some arm-twisting to get all of the winners to agree to get the reprint rights. (And that’s another reason the series might have died: perhaps someone wanted too much money for a story for what would have been the next volume, or refused to sell at all.)

    I would like to see an anthology of the nominees, but, honestly, for maximum impact it would need to come out between the nominees list and the announcement of the winners — and that’s usually only a couple of months. It takes longer than that just to get the contracts signed, most of the time. If an anthologist made tentative contacts with all of the authors likely to be on the final ballot, and had electronic files of all of those stories ahead of time, the book might just be able to be published in six to eight weeks on a crash schedule. But any publisher capable of crashing a book like that would probably have overhead too high to justify doing a book like this that way.

  10. For most publishers, anthologies are not lead titles. Therefore, they receive very small advances, particularly if they are annuals. Most of the advance goes to pay for the stories, and the cover credited editor gets a token sum. These books also receive the last slot on the release list, and the minimum (often non-existent) promotion that goes along with that slot.

    Roc has done a terrific job with the Nebual Awards Showcase volumes the last five years. However, I can’t see anyone at PenguinPutnam wanting to go to the expense of trying to obtain all of the nominated works. As noted above, page count, format and cover price would make such a volume impossible for a publisher to make work on his P&L (Profit & Loss statement).

    Secondarily, remember that the Hugos and Nebulas are trademarks, owned by the World Science Fiction Society and the SFWA, respectively. No one can use those names on a book without permission. I can’t speak for the WSFS, but SFWA has enough difficulty organizing and promoting the few anthologies it already produces that I can’t see them wanting to dive into a complete nominee volume.

  11. A more interesting question – how much would you be willing to pay for such a book? Would you pre-order it? Buy the hardback version or wait for a trade paperback? Or would you wait for an overstocked version at a half-priced book store? Or hope the local library carried it?

    I suspect the reason they don’t publish these anthologies has more to do with the economics involved than anything else, but that’s just a guess.

  12. Scott, hardcover, $25.00 or so. Paperback, $8.00 or so. Trade, $15.00 or so.

    For example, I just laid out $15.00 (less member’s discount) for the new Baen collection “The World Turned Upside Down”. I had bought it as an eBook, but have found it so good that I wanted the “dead tree”. In the past few weeks, I’ve bought a Nebula collection, two Hartwell annual best collections (missed buying last year’s for some reason!). In the next few weeks, I’ll get the Harwell space opera collection and the Dozois annual collection (when is that due?).

    As for the Hugo collections, Connie Willis did a couple in the 1990’s or later, did she not?

    I think the reason the Hugo collections died out are partially due to the “travelling show” nature of the Hugo event, changing management, etc. The Nebula awards are from the same organization, so there is a consistent push.

    Maybe the move of the SFBC away from anthologies and more into media tie-ins has as much or more to do with the “death” of some of these anthologies?

  13. Late to the party here — but you do know you can roll your own Hugo/Nebula anthol these days? — since virtually all of the short-fiction nominees are posted online these days.

    Forex, the 2007 Hugo nominees are very close, at

    http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/004923.html

    One caution: many of the stories are only online for a short time. You snooze, you loose ;-)

    Happy reading–

    Pete Tillman

  14. Good points, Peter! For reasons stated above, including your own, this might be impractical. I still think it would be valuable from a historical perspective, but historical doesn’t pay the bills, eh?

  15. Why has there never been an anthology series that collects the Hugo and Nebula winners together? Never mind the nominees, just the winners. It should be a book of just the right size. If there is a freaky year with three double winners, you could puff out the book with some nominees.

    I’ll answer my own question.

    Firstly, because it’s so obviously a brilliant idea that everyone will crowd forward with reasons not to do it.

    Secondly, it will not be seen as a hot seller, because of the obvious literary brilliance of the contents.

    Thirdly, readers don’t care about short fiction. They just can’t handle ideas coming at them that fast. They’d rather have a single idea, milked for a five volume set of fat potboilers.

    All this makes me very sad.

Comments are closed.