Monday, 29 December 2014

Why I don't, as a rule, do anthologies anymore (aka, the death of the anthology)

Since my last post, I got food poisoning, so this is the first day I feel mostly clear, though my stomach is still delicate (read: I'm clutching inoffensive teas like peppermint and other herbal stuff). I'm hoping to venture out today to post some paper contracts and pick up a parcel from the post office.

Elsewhere, somebody asked why there were fewer anthology calls. And yeah, some of the most prolific/inventive anthology callers among publishers have closed their doors, gone inactive or stopped doing them. I think it's a good question, and shows the effect of several changes in the current market.

Publishing in the age of tighter budgets

Personally, I think many publishers have realised that you can't make a decent profit from an anthology. All anthologies I was involved in sold abysmally (exception is Another Place In Time, which is a charity anthology and arguably an "all-stars line-up" and "invitation-only" - more about those further down). But generally, the economics just don't work out.

To produce an anthology costs at least as much as producing a full-sized novel, but sales are usually much lower. So many publishers used to offset that with lowering their costs - say, authors don't get paid at all and only receive contributor copies. I never got paid for my contribution to "Illustrated Men", for example, and we only got actual paper copies after personal intervention of the artist. That experience told me that I'm never again working for free.

Mind you, some publishers pay a token amount rather than royalties (because doing, say, 12 royalty payments for one book is work intensive and generally a pain), so may will pay something like $25 or so for a short story.

In this market, short stories are valuable

Now, paying token amounts used to work, because it was common knowledge that short stories "have no market" or "have no value." In a world of easy self-publishing and the overall resurgence of the short form (novellas and shorts do sell, if less than novels), this is no longer the case. Authors quickly realised that you can now make a LOT more than $25 off a short story. (Even my weakest shorts have made me $250 a piece - and I've had short stories that made me much, much more than that over a couple years.) 

Against that background, the established authors tend to no longer sub to anthology calls - it makes no financial sense. Therefore, you tend to end up with a) authors who can't sell their work on their own, b) complete newbies, or c) authors who haven't crunched the numbers. The first two won't do anything to up sales, and the third group is thankfully getting rare.

All work, no gain

As somebody who's compiled multiple anthologies over the last 15 years or so, if you do an open call, you get maybe 2 good stories, 2 mediocre ones, and 2 shitty ones you can polish up enough to be publishable. This is out of up to 200 submissions, which all need reading, email confirmation, email rejection, etc. Of course, getting 200 submissions is a brilliant success - in about half the times I was involved in anthologies behind the scenes, you don't get any submissions, so you start begging your friends and family and run with whatever they give you. With all the drumming up of interest and just dealing with submissions/acceptances/rejections, I'd estimate an anthology is roughly 5-10 times the work you'd have to put into processing a novel or novella submission. And it'll likely make less money.

Considering how reality is stacked against anthologies, why are they still happening?

A way to try out a publisher

If you do submit a short story to an anthology call, negotiate either a royalty payment (no token payment!) or non-exclusive rights. By which I mean standard royalty (split among authors) or the right to keep using the story and self-publish it. (Some anthology publishers will accept only signing "rights as a part of a compilation", which leaves you single-release ebooks, for example. Many out there accept "print-only" rights, which is cool, too. I've recently done an exclusive deal, but it's only exclusive for 6 months, after which it turns non-exclusive. The very day that exclusivity period ends, that short story it hitting the market on its own. 

Always negotiate your rights. It's good practice with a short story - it'll help you so much when you negotiate terms for a novel. 

DO NOT submit anything to unpaid anthologies. You might be giving away hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars over the lifetime of that story. I was in a position once where I was desperate for exposure, so I gave publishers short work for basically free, and I've signed some shitty contracts. In hindsight, those did nothing for my career, and I've regretted practically all of them. Do get paid for your work. Always.

Trying to find new talent

Many publishers try to find new talent via anthologies. It's a time-honored way of especially smaller publishers that may or may not struggle to attract longer submissions (which is where the money is). Sometimes they can be hobby horses of an editor at a house, who'd really like to see "more X", and hence write up a call for "more X". The idea is simply - attract new authors, find talent, get to know them (always better to see how an author behaves in edits when it's just a short story), hopefully build a relationship, publish something longer that makes more money for all sides. It can be a win.

The problem: reader "meh"

From a reader's point of view, anthologies are unattractive. Very often, they know and like maybe one or two authors, but the rest are unknowns. Still, they are asked to pay the price of a novel for those one or two shorts. Why not buy a novel from the same author? It's a LOT more bang for your buck. I've had readers approach me and tell me that they'd really like to read my short story in anthology X, but weren't willing to pay $6 for it, as they didn't care for the other stories.

Reviews bear this out. There's one cliche phrase in reviews for anthologies - that it was "a mixed bag", which is a polite way of saying, "I enjoyed 1-2, found most kinda meh and several shorts were WFT". Going back over the anthologies I've read to completion (most I simply give up on or end up skim-reading), that's exactly my experience.


I don't do anthologies anymore unless I have a very, very good reasons. Even getting paid royalties isn't very attractive because overall sales are lower, and I might get paid only pennies per sold copy, with a lot less copies sold than I would hope/expect to sell on my own.

If I do do them, the reasons have to be compelling. I'd be happy to do single-author anthologies (which really count like normal releases, just bundling a number of shorts or novellas so readers get a better deal). A variation on that is bundling with 1-2 other authors who have very similar readerships/themes.

Charity is a big reason for me. Readers are fundamentally generous and if you raise money for a worthy cause (ideally one that's tied to the theme of the anthology in some way), readers will consider buying the anthology essentially a donation - getting one or two good stories out of it is a bonus, but the satisfaction for the reader is in "helping". Getting the book is just like the free pen you get when you donate blood - it's no longer really the point of the transaction, but it makes everybody feel better.

I've donated a story to the Another Place In Time anthology, and all proceeds go to, which organizes global campaigns to support GLBTQ rights. I've wanted to donate to them for a long time, but by donating a story, we raised several thousand dollars - which is vastly more than I could have raised, pro rata, on my own. I'd do charity anthologies again, and hope to donate more money next year to GLBTQ homeless charities.

Another way to overcome "reader meh" is the all-stars anthology - in other words, ensure that all stories are good and/or by established names. All of those anthologies are internal affairs, often driven inside a publishing house or a circle of writer friends. It eliminates the need to drum up submissions, deal with entries that are not up to par, and about 90% of the total workload. If it's invite-only, you can judge much better what you're getting.

But obviously those won't help you find talent, and new authors might struggle to get in there unless they know people or have somebody vouch for them.

It does look a lot like new authors getting screwed - there used to be plentiful calls and at least they got exposure, some argue, and many were hoping to get into an anthology with a "big name" or "headliner" who'd sell it, and maybe their readers will discover the new writer and turn into a fan that way. 

I think that's possibly still true, but has moved from anthologies to boxed sets, which means bundling full novels and novellas rather than short stories, and these are often priced so cheaply (read: free or $0.99 for the whole lot) that tens of thousand of copies would get sold. I'm not sure how efficient they are - financially, they were more or less a bust, but they still used to be done to get every participant the coveted "New York Times Bestseller" bit before their names. But then the NYT changed its rules, so even selling a huge amount of copies doesn't guarantee anybody bestseller status these days.

I'd argue that the authors who could "headline" anthologies don't anymore, and in general, releasing a short story on its own makes more sense. I strongly doubt anybody can build or has ever built a career out of low- or non-paying anthologies, and exposure tends to happen over time, with more stories out.

There are many better ways to piggyback on established authors (network, people!) and make a bit of money from writing.

I do hope to blog about those at some point, but generally, I'd argue that the standard open-call, commercial "mixed-bag" anthology is dead and hasn't served any real purpose for authors in years.


Friday, 26 December 2014

Bird book is done

Just now, I've sent the 88k polished first draft of the Bird book to my editor and a number of betas who'll be able to help me with some details. So,yeah, it's done. After nearly abandoning it three or four times, in the end I'm glad I didn't. I'm hoping it'll all come together in January and we'll look at a release date either in March or August.

I'm currently in that dazed zone where I can't quite believe it's done. The book's been with me in one shape or other from at least March 2011 onwards. Since then, I've changed jobs several times. I started it when we'd just moved into the house. In the meantime, I've written about ten other books and co-written about a dozen--which should reveal just how scared I've been to mess this up.

Now, I'm planning to grab breakfast, then go see a movie (current Hobbit part) and then clean up my research books and papers. There's outlines and notes I don't need anymore, and I don't believe there will be literary historians who'll terribly mind as I throw out all the paperwork I've amassed over those years. I'm also going to seriously triage my research books, only keeping a few of them, namely the ones I might read again. (My house is getting too small for all these books.)

Tomorrow, I'll start on finishing Suckerpunch, so I'll be re-reading Counterpunch and get all my boxing research books/materials into line. There's also other stuff I have to do (taxes, etc), so I'll be busy for the rest of the year. Ideally, I'll wrap Suckerpunch by end-January, and I'm not planning any further than that at the moment.

Whew. Done.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Novel bunny roll call

2014 draws to a close, and personally, I'm glad it does, because holy crap, it's been a story of ups and downs - whenever I thought I had settled in somewhat, something would happen that threw it all off its track. I'm a Taurus, I'm not keen on changes I can't control.

I still managed to finish the Memory of Scorpions trilogy, polish and release Return on Investment, co-write Lone Wolf and No Place That Far, and overall managed to wrap up some projects that have been with me for years. I also did some personal development (hypnosis, et al) and hope to do more of that in 2015.

As the year draws to a close (tonight is the Winter Solstice), I'm focusing on getting the Bird Book ready to go into edits. It's my one remaining "big ticket item" I want to close.

With finances what they are (and the Kindle Unlimited-induced 40% dip in my earnings),  I have to keep my eyes open for work in the conventional economy, and I'm in the running for a job that sounds like a clone of my favourite/best-paid day job ever. The second round is is early January. The idea is to pay off the house, put together some reserves, and keep writing and hoping for that break, while developing other skills. I'm at peace with all that.

Regardless of what will happen in January, I'm still planning to write 3-5 novels next year. (Ideally 5, but, well, day job.)

So, in terms of solo books, I'm looking at the following:

  • Suckerpunch - I have 20,000 words on that one and will hopefully wrap this even before the potential job offer.
  • Another WWII novel - this one spans from 1940 (Battle of Britain) to  post-WWII Germany. It's about 50% written, but the research is likely patchy, so it needs a LOT of work. I call it the "Medals books".
  • Franco's novel. This will complete Franco Spadaro's arch from Dark Soul. I have a plot for him and just need to sort out a way to do it--I can't do the same plot I've done for him back when I created him. It's way, way too problematic on all kinds of levels. This should be released close to LA Witt's official sequel to Dark Soul. Lots of Spadaros coming your way in 2015!
  • Question of Intent (QOI). This is a kinda-sorta prequel to Return on Investment. I have about 20,000 words written and it needs a serious upgrade. However, it's 100% written in Francis de Bracy's point of view. It's not a romance, more the history of romantic trainwrecks, but that's what you'd expect from him, right?
  • Yet another WWII novel. This one will be set in post-war Germany, and the bombing campaigns and civilian aftermath will be major themes. Not a feel-good novel. I'm planning to set it in my hometown - or a thinly veiled version of it. I'm still wrestling with the exact angle.

I can't commit to co-written releases quite the same way, because life happens, but Lori and I have been talking about writing the following in 2015:

  • Rolex's story. We've made a start this month and have 20,000 words. It's looking like a long novella or a short novel at this point.
  • A short Nick & Spencer story, to catch up with the boys.
  • 2-3 more Market Garden titles of varying lengths, because they're fun and we didn't get much traction in 2014.
  • Finishing up our WWII novel that's 70% done.

All of this is very much subject to change. I've been entertaining all of them in my head and they're all talking (apart from Franco, who never talks, and the last solo WWII novel, which more swirls and has no main character yet), so chances are fair they'll happen.

Right now, the main problem I could see happening is that the new day job gets seriously in the way or that the WWII research eats me alive. I've found the Bird Book a formidable book to wrestle, so I'm quite ready to expect that all historical novels will take a LOT longer than is commercially sane and healthy (Bird Book : 3.5 years+). If a book only earns for three months, it's crazy to spend six months or longer on it, but that's one of the reasons why I'm ready to take on a day job - if that's what it takes to write those books, I'm ready to do it. That was one of those tough choices in 2014. I find myself incapable of writing the stuff that sells just so I can pay my mortgage, so I need alternative avenues for that. In the end, I have to follow where the energy is, and I fully intend to do that in 2015, too.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Red wire / green wire - choose wisely

Because it bears repeating - every so often, the whole "women writing m/m" thing pops up - thankfully, the discussion now seems pretty much decided along the lines of "authors can write whatever the hell they want", so we're making progress on that front. 

However, I do want to submit the following on the topic. When people describe m/m as "gay romance written by straight women for straight women, with a few gay male authors in there", they might do that with the best of intentions, but I think it's over-simplified to the point of uselessness. This does not sum up our genre, nor does it reflect where it's going, and I hope that that cliche dies a fiery death as soon as possible.

Personally, I don't feel attacked when/if people mis-gender me - I'm pretty much at peace with my identity, and it takes more than (often well-meaning) ignorance to shake me up. I've been called "tranny" behind my back by some cis-male gay authors in the genre, but I'm OK with that. It's their ignorance/malice rather than my identity. 

What is so much more important is that we really don't know the gender identities/sexual orientations of people in this genre. To my knowledge, there is no hard data that's truly representative. Also, the genre is changing.

I'm basing my observation largely on anecdote, and I understand that the plural of anecdote isn't "data", but it's the best I have after 6 years inside the genre. 

For example, I personally know at least 3 trans*/genderqueer people who'd look "straight & female" on their profiles or outward presentation, and at least about as many as that who are fluid in one way or other. I also know a number of bisexuals who appear "straight", but have or have had same-sex relationships and who haven't come out. Some don't because their families don't know, or because they rightly fear repercussions at the work place. Sometimes, it's safer to be and stay in the closet or communicate only to the people who have an actual stake in their orientation/gender identity - namely the people they live/sleep with.

Some of us don't communicate non-cis, non-straight identities because it's simply extremely private and people prefer to keep their innermost identities protected - not all of us enjoy our orientation/identity to spark off discussion/controversy on the internet; we're writers, not celebrities. Our performance is (ideally) our work, not who we sleep with or where we fall on the male/female spectrum. Basically, we're not Kanye West. We also don't have his bodyguards or his PR strategist who carefully times every mini-scandal to maximise album/ticket sales.

Lastly, I've done a (very informal) poll of readers/writers inside the genre during my keynote speech in Bristol mid-2014, and asked an audience of about 150 people directly whether they identify somewhere on the queer spectrum. Out of 150 people, 60% raised their hands, so in my book, m/m/queer romance is a genuinely queer genre, written and read by predominantly queer people of one shape or other, while straights/cis people are welcome. (And hopefully feel welcome.)

I'd be about as careful when talking about "straight cis-women writing/reading m/m" as I'd choose the red over the green wire when dis-arming a bomb. Wrong choices get people hurt.