Jennifer Brozek Guest Post–“The Anthology Balance”
Sitting down to write this article was a debate between expressing an observation and my willingness to be metaphorically punched in the nose if I didn’t express myself well enough. This is because diversity is a hot topic and there are vocal opinions on both sides. There are two looming concepts that I’m looking at: “How do you make an anthology that actually sells?” and “Making sure that the anthology reflects a diverse set of authors and stories.”
The first thing I want to get out there is that diversity does sell. It sells because there is a need to hear all of the voices of today’s SFF and because those who have been disregarded due to race, sexual orientation, and gender are also excellent authors with stories worth reading. Readers are clamoring for their fictional universes to be opened up to a more diverse world of science fiction and fantasy. The recent Hugo awards reflect this.
However, in the mainstream, diversity sells to a more limited extent. Reasons for this are vast and varied. In traditional publishing, a lot of it comes down to marketing and established authors. Going with what sells now, and has been selling for decades, is the safer bet for the publisher. It is a numbers game.
In traditional publishing, an anthology is required to have a certain number of “House” authors. These are the publisher’s moneymaker authors and the ones that bring in the book buyers. Most stories are set in established worlds and are known for quality. Money is key. Publishing is a business. And, truth be told, most anthologies don’t earn out their advances. Some do and those are gold. Thus, every anthology must be presented to the publisher as a means to sell more books—either the anthology itself or the novels attached to the stories within the anthology.
It is in the small press arena that the balance between selling and diversity evens out. With a smaller overhead, editors can take more chances and get lesser known voices into their anthologies with less risk. Popular short story authors, who may not have any novels out there, are not only acceptable, they are in demand. Topics that may be considered too fringe for the mainstream are welcome in the small press arena. These are the anthologies that sell because of their fringe, diverse nature.
I adore anthologies and anthology creation. It has introduced me to so many authors I might never have looked at before. I’ve opened my eyes to the need for diversity in authors and stories. I have more latitude in small press anthologies because smaller markets move faster. But, I’m pleased to say that with Shattered Shields, Bryan Thomas Schmidt and I made certain that there were diverse authors and stories. I’m even more pleased to state that this wasn’t ever a question between us. It was an expectation on both sides. We were in complete agreement on the final table of contents and story selection throughout.
Shattered Shields has seven female authors and ten male authors. The stories include all female military units, older characters, non-white characters, and LGBT characters. The stories don’t make a fuss of this diversity. It just is. One of the things Bryan and I looked for was a parity between fictional and real world mixed genders, races, and ages. I’m not saying the anthology is perfect—most of the PoC authors we invited were unavailable to contribute—but I’m saying we made a specific effort to be part of the changing market.
This is an effort we plan to continue going forward. Both of us believe that the changing marketplace can handle the expanded range of humanity in fictional worlds. We believe there is room, a need, and a want for diversity in genres that have not traditionally been diverse. It is an effort we believe that is worth the risk because the reward is great.
Though, this does mean work on our parts as editors. We need to closely monitor our author selection and story selection while appealing to the intended audiences of our publishers. It is a balancing act between known “named” authors and “up-and-coming” authors. I was once asked how many “named” authors needed to be attached to an anthology to sell it to a publisher. In my experience, five is the threshold. However, I have heard of other anthologies that required a roster of NYT Bestsellers and nothing less. Fortunately, I’ve never had that requirement.
What does this mean for diverse anthologies and the marketplace? It means we need to keep working at it. The changing marketplace is a moving target. Bryan and I creating one diverse anthology is not enough. We must continue our efforts. We need to be aware of who is invited to an anthology and the types of stories we want to read. It also means getting good stories out there for anthology readers to enjoy. To link them to the fictional universes that might have gone unnoticed and to be aware of any personal biases that could stand in the way of accepting stories that are uncomfortable because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age.
In the final story selection, we must choose the best stories, not a quota of authors. But, if we invite a diverse group of authors to start with, diverse results will naturally follow. That is exactly what we intend to do.
About the Author:
Jennifer Brozek is an award-winning editor, game designer, and author. She has been writing role-playing games and professionally publishing fiction since 2004. With the number of edited anthologies, fiction sales, RPG books, and nonfiction books under her belt, Jennifer is often considered a Renaissance woman, but she prefers to be known as a wordslinger and optimist. Read more about her at www.jenniferbrozek.com or follow her on Twitter: @JenniferBrozek.