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A collaborative blog by Locus editors, contributors, and other invited guests. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine or Locus Online.




Alvaro Zinos-Amaro


Alan Beatts
Terry Bisson
Marie Brennan
Karen Burnham
Siobhan Carroll
John Clute
F. Brett Cox
Ellen Datlow
Paul Di Filippo
Michael Dirda
Gardner Dozois
Andy Duncan
Stefan Dziemianowicz
Brian Evenson
Jeffrey Ford
Karen Joy Fowler
Kathleen Ann Goonan
Theodora Goss
Elizabeth Hand
Cecelia Holland
Rich Horton
Guy Gavriel Kay
James Patrick Kelly
Mark R. Kelly
Ellen Klages
Russell Letson
Karen Lord
Brit Mandelo
Adrienne Martini
Tim Pratt
Cat Rambo
Paul Graham Raven
Graham Sleight
Maureen Kincaid Speller
Peter Straub
Rachel Swirsky
Paul Witcover
Gary K. Wolfe
E. Lily Yu

Damien Angelica Walters Guest Post–“An Orchestra of Scars”

Truth: I’ve been sitting for two hours in front of this blank page, unsure where to start or what to write about. There may have been a few side trips to Facebook and Twitter during that time, but I was wracking my brain trying to come up with a subject as opposed to just talking about my short fiction collection.

Non-fiction doesn’t come easy to me, and every topic I thought of discussing (likeable versus unlikeable characters, the resurgence of the horror genre, the difference in reviews of work written by women as opposed to that by men) has already been discussed and by those far more learned than me, so I’ll write about what I know, which is trauma.

It’s okay if that made you roll your eyes; I’ll confess to rolling my eyes as I typed it. I know people love to slow down when they drive past the scene of a wreck, but don’t worry, I’m not going to peel back my layers and reveal an inner victim here. I’m referring to trauma in fictional characters, trauma as it relates to horror and dark fantasy.

Take scars, for instance. Some are fascinating, others horrific; some draw the eye, others repel it. Regardless of our initial, visceral reaction, every scar has a story. Every scar is a story.

I had major surgery when I was three and have a fairly large scar on my neck as a result. As far as scars go, it’s an interesting one and resembles a burn more than something surgery would leave behind, but my memories are far more interesting: the smell of the hospital, the feel of the hospital crib with its metal bars, the sense of being so very small beneath the bright white lights, the rasp of my fingers against the bandage nurses put on my stuffed rabbit to match mine. As for the story: I was born with a large hemangioma (a benign tumor) on my neck that continued to grow, and the removal required something like two hundred stitches. I found out later that my surgeon went into reconstructive plastic surgery because of it.

Fast forward to me in my teenage years, when I accidentally put my arm through a window. I’ve quite a few scars from that, too. My memories consist of the bit of skin I left behind on the glass, the blood draining from my friend’s face when she saw the wounds, the snow outside, the doctor’s eyes as he stitched me back together. And the story? It involves me taking out the trash and coming back in, my friend and I started goofing about with opening and closing the kitchen door. It was cold, I was in my school uniform, and it was funny until I moved my arm forward when I should’ve moved it back.

Both of those memories, those stories, are as clear now as they were five, ten, even fifteen years ago.

But the scars that don’t show on people usually have the strongest stories, even if they’re the stories people won’t or can’t tell. No scabs to peel, no stitches to break, but the wounds run even deeper than the physical. This is the horror I’m drawn to.

Life does its best to break us in ways small and large, and many of my stories, regardless of how fantastical they seem, have their roots in the real. “Sing Me Your Scars,” the title story of my collection, owes its birth, in part, to my frustration with the endless onslaught of memes about what real women look like. Although they’re completely different stories, both “Melancholia in Bloom” and “Glass Boxes and Clockwork Gods” share the common thread of loss of memory and loss of self. I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s, and another family member is in the middle stages of the disease right now. I can’t help but use it in my fiction as a way to help make sense of things, to help cope.

But the trauma that seeds my work is not always my own, and the real horror in the world is that it’s everywhere you look. The world sings it scars every day. I could never read the news again and still have enough story seeds to grow a lifetime’s worth of stories. This is what makes my heart hurt. This is why I write of such things.

In spite of what I write, I’m an optimist. The world might be ugly and people might be cruel, but there is beauty and kindness and hope, too. Sometimes it’s hard to find, but it’s there. My stories may not always come with happy endings, and when they do, the characters are usually left with more than their fair share of wounds, but damaged and scarred, I’d like to think they keep moving forward out of the shadows in search of that light.


About the Author

Damien Angelica Walters’ short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume One, Apex, Nightmare, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and others. “The Floating Girls: A Documentary,” originally published in Jamais Vu and reprinted in the Chinese literary journal ZUI Found, has been nominated for a 2014 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction.

Sing Me Your Scars, a collection of her short fiction, is available now from Apex Publications. Paper Tigers, a novel, is forthcoming from Dark House Press.

You can find her on Twitter @DamienAWalters or online at

Silvia Moreno-Garcia Guest Post–“Say No to Strong Female Characters”

I was not a fan of The Book of Life. I will not elaborate too much on this point except to mention that when I watched it I recalled a bit from an article by Sophia McDougall published in The New Statesman:

I remember watching Shrek with my mother.

“The Princess knew kung-fu! That was nice,” I said. And yet I had a vague sense of unease, a sense that I was saying it because it was what I was supposed to say.

She rolled her eyes. “All the princesses know kung-fu now.”

I thought the same thing about the heroine of The Book of Life. She knows kung-fu and she spews the kind of “feisty” attitude we must associate with heroines and she is therefore strong and everything is kosher.

In an effort to get a wider variety of women in movies and books, we have often heard the mantra that we need more strong female characters. However, as some commentators have noted ( “strong” has often become a code word for a very specific kind of character. The kind that must demonstrate her chops via feats of physical strength. So, for example, in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 the heroine Elizabeth Swann has now acquired fencing skills. This serves as a credential for her “strength” even though the character had demonstrated “strength” of another type already in the first movie: she was smart, even devious, managing to wriggle her way out of more than one situation.

Shana Mlawski did an interesting study of male and female characters a few years ago. The main question she wanted to answer was whether male characters are more immediately likeable than female characters ( Her conclusion:

All of the above data suggest to me that we (or at least the critics at EW) like a wide variety of male character types but prefer our women to be two-dimensionally “badass” and/or evil.

That means that badasses like Sarah Connor and villains like Catherine Trammell could be palatable to audiences. Male characters, however, were allowed to come in a wider range and still deemed likeable. Men, Mlwaski, writes, could be “passive” characters. Women? They could blow stuff up or kill people.

The result is sometimes a bit like this comic strip: bang bang, I’m strong.

One could argue that “strong” refers to a well-rounded character. However, in the words of McDougall:

Chuck Wendig argues here that we shouldn’t understand “strong” as meaning, well, “strong,” but rather as something like “well-written”…. But I simply don’t think it’s true that the majority of writers or readers are reading the term that way…. And even if this less limiting understanding of “strong female character” were the common reading, doesn’t it then become even sadder and even more incomprehensible that where the characterisation of half the world’s population is concerned, writing well is treated as a kind of impressive but unnecessary optional extra?

Maybe part of the problem is the desire for “likeability.” For niceness. ( Girls still have to be sugar and spice, or perhaps, kung-fu and a pretty face.

Since I have small children, I watch a bunch of animated movies every year and aside from The Book of Life I watched The Lego MovieThis had a character who can build all kinds of cool brick structures and can “kick ass.” How To Train Your Dragon also has a “strong” girlfriend for the hero. Yet it all felt like a MacDonalds burger: it looks like meat but I’m sure it ain’t meat.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago I watched the 1980s adaptation of Flash Gordon and was mildly delighted to see that Dale Arden was “strong” too! Despite the cheesiness and bubbly sexism Dale kicked ass! She was for the duration of the film most interested in exclaiming FLASH! but at one point she took off her heels and beat about half a dozen guards. Strong woman, indeed.

And that, I guess, is my point. We really haven’t gotten that far from Dale and her display of 1980s strength. What’s more, every few months I am distressed when I hear a call for more strong women like the ones we used to have in the 80s. Ripley and Sarah Connor, a breed that has apparently gone extinct. Only it didn’t go extinct. Alice has fought the Umbrella corporation for years and Selene is still battling vampires and werewolves in Underworldand a few years ago we got Trinity from The Matrix and surely the new Star Wars films will bring us some feisty new lass who can shoot a laser gun. Hey, even turds like Van Helsing knew that you require one (and only one) “strong” woman in the film.

My debut novel Signal to Noise is coming out and I’ve been obsessively reading the reviews. The main character, Meche–who in 1980s Mexico City discovers how to cast magic spells using vinyl records–has been described as “awkward,” “angry and cruel at times but also powerful, active,” “angry and self-isolating” and “smart, caring and affectionate but, at the same time, bossy, possessive and manipulative.”

You have no idea how much this pleases me.

When I think about the desire for “strong” women in fiction I think about my great-grandmother who was an illiterate peasant and then a maid after the Mexican Revolution. Surely she wouldn’t fit the grade of “badassery,” but I think that there is a certain kind of endurance in being on your knees for years, cleaning floors, in order to support your illegitimate daughter. There is duty and there is affection.

You might reply that this is not a good example as audiences rarely want to read about the tribulations of poor maids, but my point is not to demand a particular type of character but to remark that we should not yearn for “strong” women but for a wide variety of women. They need not all know how to fence or have studied kung fu.


About the Author 

Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia’s debut novel is Signal to Noise, about music, magic and Mexico City. Her first collection, This Strange Way of Dying, was a finalist for The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her stories have also been collected in Love & Other Poisons. She tweets @silviamg.

Una McCormack Guest Post–“Writing Within Boundaries: The Challenge of Franchise Fiction”

I often think of writing as a process of entering into a contract with your readers: when you persuade someone to read your work, you’re making promises to them that your work will deliver in certain ways. Certain genres, it seems to me, make specific contractual demands on a writer–for example, I doubt that Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light is going to end with Henry VIII abdicating and the Catholic Church being re-established. Science fiction does the same; franchise fiction–at least, the kind that I write–makes its own promises to the reader. By having to pay attention to certain “fixed” events established on-screen, the franchise fiction writer sometimes has to be as much a writer of historical fiction as science fiction.

I sometimes describe my Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel The Never-Ending Sacrifice as a historical novel that happens to be set on an alien planet. This novel is set on Cardassia Prime across a period of several years (roughly the same time period covered by the TV show) but from the perspective of the antagonists, the Cardassians, who are responsible for the war that comprises the main storyline of the later seasons of DS9. As such, I was bound to keep to events that had been established on-screen–the capture of DS9, the entry of the Romulans into the war, the fall of Cardassia Prime–indeed, that was the point of the story! My methodology writing the book was much as I imagine a historical novelist’s must be: establishing dates, compiling lists of significant figures such as political leaders (and their dates in office). Events in my book grew out of these limits: What must have happened between event A and event B? What could have happened, given those two events? I found this a very fertile mode of storytelling. Nothing in the book contradicts what is seen on screen (at least, I hope not!), but the story–and most of the characters–were completely new, patching together what was glimpsed on-screen into what I hope was a satisfactory whole. The pleasure of reading–the contract that I offered the reader–was to enjoy the retelling of a familiar story through an entirely fresh perspective.

Other books that I’ve written in Pocket’s Star Trek range have allowed me to expand this future history of the Cardassian Union, and have drawn on texts from the Star Trek expanded universe, aiming for consistency while establishing space for my own stories. The Crimson Shadow, which is set after the end of DS9, and during a period of stabilization on Cardassia, draws upon the world-building done by actor Andrew J. Robinson (Garak) in his novel A Stitch in Time. It was an interesting challenge to remain true to three separate creative visions: the original series, Robinson’s, and my own vision of Cardassian society and culture.

The Star Trek book range is currently a fairly complex universe, with many overlapping stories. (The Crimson Shadow was part of a five-book series, Star Trek: The Fall, written with four other authors: a thoroughly enjoyable project in its own right, working to satisfy all our various ideas for the series.) I think of the books as fulfilling a role similar to that fulfilled by the New Adventures when Doctor Who was off-air. They are the sole place where stories set in the Star Trek universe are being told (the J. J. Abrams films inhabit their own timeline). As such, the readership is dedicated, has bought into the continuing narrative, and is interested in seeing that narrative furthered.

*Spoiler Alert*

The space station Deep Space 9, for example, is now a completely new facility, crewed by an almost entirely new staff (there is crossover from Star Trek: The Next Generation too: the current commander is Ro Laren, and Beverly Crusher has been CMO on the station for a few books). Anyone new to the range picking up my current book, The Missing, expecting Sisko, Kira, Bashir, etc., might find themselves confused. They will find plenty of sniping between Odo and Quark, however. Some things remain the same.

I’m often asked whether writing franchise fiction constrains my writing in any way. I’ve found it’s much better to think of these boundaries as challenges rather than limitations. There’s as much fun to be had from writing a sonnet or a villanelle, in working with a tight form, as there is from writing free verse. Sometimes those limits are exactly what makes the writing process challenging and interesting.


About the Author

Una McCormack is a lecturer in creative writing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, and a New York Times bestselling author. She has written six Star Trek novels for Simon and Schuster, including her most recent, The Missing, and two Doctor Who novels for BBC Books, The King’s Dragon and The Way through the Woods. Her audio dramas, based on Doctor Who and Blake’s 7, have been produced by Big Finish. She lives in Cambridge with her partner, Matthew, and their daughter, Verity.

Alex Shvartsman Guest Post–“The Art and Science of Anthology Editing”

Now that I have five completed anthologies under my belt, the number of questions I get–from friends and strangers alike–about various aspects of anthology editing has turned from an occasional drip to a steady trickle. And while I would love to presume it’s because I’m such an awesome anthologist, the truth is, there’s fairly little information on the web regarding this niche topic. I thought it might be a good idea to collect some basic suggestions in one handy blog post. (Also, I’m incredibly lazy, and pointing people to a link is easier than cut/pasting chunks of this between e-mails!)

So, here goes:

Develop a Unique Concept

The optimal place to start is to develop a theme that is narrow yet appealing to a sizable readership, which your professional or life experience can somehow contribute to.

There are three primary reasons for a reader to pick up an anthology:

1)      It contains a story or stories by some of their favorite authors.

2)      They’re interested in the concept of the anthology.

3)      They trust the editor’s selections.

Unless you’re Gardner Dozois, Ellen Datlow, or anyone else who knows a lot more than I do about this subject (and therefore wouldn’t be reading this post), you probably won’t be able to capitalize on #3. And while we’ll cover headliners later, anthology concept is what you have the most control over.

There are plenty of space opera, zombie, steampunk, and Lovecraftian horror volumes edited by well-established anthologists. And while it’s possible to produce another quality entry into any of these sub-genres, you’re much better off exploring a narrow topic that will appeal to a large enough number of readers for the project to succeed.

My inaugural project as editor was Unidentified Funny Objects, an anthology of humorous science fiction and fantasy. I felt that there weren’t enough pro-paying venues that seek out humorous and lighthearted stories. I did some digging and discovered that no similar volumes exist or had existed in recent memory; most humor anthologies cover a specific theme (Deals with the Devil, Chicks in Chainmail, etc). As a reader, I would gladly buy an annual volume that collected wide-ranging humor stories. Happily, other readers agreed: I’m at work on the fourth annual volume. Similarly, Coffee: 14 Caffeinated Tales of the Fantastic tapped into a large, unexplored demographic; there haven’t been any coffee-themed speculative anthologies before. The book is easy to market as a present for anyone who enjoys both reading and coffee.


When Neil Clarke, award-winning editor of Clarkesworld magazine, decided to launch his first anthology, he found a subject that was near and dear to his heart. Literally. A year before he announced Upgraded, an anthology of short stories about cyborgs, he survived a heart attack and had a defibrillator installed, effectively making him a self-proclaimed cyborg. Clarke wrote:

As I began looking into the possibility of a cyborg anthology, I quickly noticed that the cyborgs most people think of are villains (Cybermen, Darth Vader, the Borg, etc.). My people make excellent villains, but that only represents the tip of the iceberg. The more I thought about it, the more certain I became that this was the anthology project I had been looking for…  a cyborg-edited cyborg anthology. I don’t think that’s been done before. Besides, cyborgs are cool.

So, what unique idea do you have, and how can your life experience contribute to the project? An architect might collect tales of fantastic cities and structures. A real estate agent could gather urban fantasy and ghost stories involving houses for sale. (Plus, they’d be able to market these books to other architects and real estate agents, in addition to SF/F fans.)

Have a Plan, Have a Budget

What’s your strategy for producing an anthology? While it’s possible for a first-time anthologist to sell their project to an established publisher, this is perhaps even more difficult than selling a first novel.

Your agent could contact publishers and pitch them your idea. You will need a brief write-up of the concept and a list of headliners who are tentatively willing to contribute stories. The more appealing your headliners, the more likely you are to land a deal. There are a number of (mostly much smaller) publishers whom you can approach without an agent. Even so, it’s a long shot unless you have some sort of a pre-existing relationship or a resumé.

If a publisher accepts your proposal, they’ll pay you an advance against royalties (usually upon delivery of the manuscript) which you can use to pay your authors and cover some of your time and effort. The amount can vary greatly and is extremely unlikely to exceed $10,000.

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter are perhaps the best solution for such fledgling niche projects. Not only can you raise some or all of the funds needed to produce the book, but the level of interest during your funding period will be a good indicator of how well the book might sell upon release.

In recent years I’ve seen more and more “hybrid” projects, where an anthology would raise its initial funds on Kickstarter, then become picked up by a publisher who would handle subsequent sales and print distribution. For example, Bryan Thomas-Schmidt’s space exploration anthology Beyond the Sun was crowd-funded, then published by Fairwood Press.

Whatever your strategy, please be sure you are able to fairly reimburse your writers, cover artist, and everyone else involved in the project. Your contributors should be paid at least $0.05-0.06 per word, perhaps more for your headliners (some won’t write for that little). If you plan on including reprints, you can pay $0.01-0.02 per word for those. Always provide at least one contributor copy to each author.

“I can’t afford to pay much” is not only a common excuse I hear from token-market publishers, but also a terrible business strategy. Most of the accomplished authors will not submit their work to penny-pinching projects. In the end, you will have a much weaker pool of stories to select from, and the project will be far less likely to get noticed by readers and critics alike.



As I mentioned above, headliners are the top reason a reader might buy your anthology. Established authors will each have sizable fan bases who will gladly cough up a few bucks for their story alone; they might discover new authors as a bonus, which is an excellent reason to combine works from well-known authors and talented new writers alike.

Once you’ve established your anthology’s concept, think of popular authors who are especially good at writing the sort of stories you seek. Reach out to them directly. Send a polite query, including your pay rate, desired word count, and deadline.

If you plan to crowd-fund your project, be sure to mention that. Don’t ask them to begin working on the story until you’re certain you can afford to pay for it, but it’s okay to ask for tentative commitments. The same applies to anthologies you are shopping to publishers: so long as you don’t ask the author to begin the work, soliciting tentative interest so you can present your list of authors who are “on board” to the publisher is fine.

Keep in mind that popular authors are incredibly busy. Many won’t be able to commit to the project. Some will never respond to your e-mail. That’s okay–there are lots of great authors to approach, and some of them will say yes. If you’re having a hard time coming up with potential headliners for your project, you may not be quite well-read enough yet to edit an anthology.

Your e-mail should be brief, personal, and professional. Here’s a sample:

Dear Mr. Melville,

I’m in the process of putting together an anthology of short stories about whales. I greatly enjoyed Moby Dick and was hoping you might consider writing a short story for this project.

I’m seeking original stories of 2000-6000 words for Whales, Whales, Whales, and am able to offer $0.10/word for First Print and Electronic English language rights exclusive for 6 months after publication and non-exclusive rights afterward. Each contributor will also receive two paperback copies of the book and a lifetime supply of whale oil.

The submission deadline is December 31, 2015 and the publication date is August 1, 2016.

Thank you very much in advance for your consideration.


Hopeful Editor

Other Contributors

Once you have a few solid headliners lined up, it’s time to fill out the rest of the book. There are two ways to go about this: you can open to submissions from the general public, or you can invite a bunch of authors directly. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach.

Opening to submissions will likely allow you to find gems by little-known authors. Who knows, you could be the editor who discovers the next Octavia Butler or Robert Heinlein. Nothing about this process is more satisfying than nurturing and promoting brilliant new authors. However, this approach is extremely time-consuming. By posting the submission call on sites like The Grinder, Ralan, and Duotrope, you’ll likely receive hundreds of submissions. By the time you’re finished, you might sink enough hours into the project to earn less than minimum wage, but your anthology will be stronger for it.

The second approach is to identify and invite a number of authors whose work you’ve enjoyed to contribute directly. (Shameless Hint: I very much like getting invited to projects). These would mostly be neo-pros, not established best-selling authors.

The trick here is to catch people who are on their way up. Two years ago, any decent anthology could’ve gotten a story out of Ken Liu, who is one of the most brilliant short story authors writing today. By now, he’s too busy with bigger projects and has to turn down most anthology invitations. Be sure to approach authors whose work you already know and enjoy: they’re much more likely to write stories you’ll want to accept.

Cast your net wide: it’s important to solicit stories from a diverse group of authors. Let your potential contributors know that you welcome material from authors of all backgrounds, and actively seek out promising authors from traditionally disadvantaged groups. There is a ton of talent there, but even if you do an open submissions call, don’t just assume that you will get enough diverse submissions; be proactive about encouraging them. Also, I’m partial to encouraging the submission of translated stories, so English-speaking readers may be exposed to works from other countries and cultures.

Finally, it’s important to note that an invitation to submit is not a guarantee of acceptance. In fact, closed anthologies will generally invite more authors than they have room for, so that the editor can select and buy only the best of the available stories.

Selecting & Editing the Stories

If you do your job right, you will end up with more great stories than you can use. This is a good thing. An anthology isn’t just a random collection of tales united by theme: it is a work of art. The interplay of voices, styles, and plots should fit together like a symphony performed by an orchestra with you as the conductor.

To this end, most editors will whittle the submissions down slowly and only send out acceptances at the end of the process. They’re looking for material that isn’t just good, but fits well with the rest of the accepted stories.

Once the stories are in, don’t just spell-check them and throw the ones you like into the book. A good editor will work with an author to polish their story like a gemstone. In many ways, this process is similar to beta-reading and critiquing stories for fellow authors, except your opinion has more weight and you must be more careful to help rather than hinder the story. In addition to selecting the best stories, this is where your own skill and talent will matter most to the quality of the project.

Finally, there’s the devilishly difficult task of assembling the table of contents (TOC). There are many schools of thought on the subject. Some editors subscribe to “open strong, close long”–they place their one or two strongest stories at the beginning and close with a longer piece. Others prefer to mix up lengths and close on a light note, with their one humorous story at the end of the book.

This process is more art than science and no two editors will build the TOC in exactly the same way. Ultimately, it will come down to the interplay between stories, as described above.

I recently had the pleasure of designing the TOC for my own short story collection, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories. This is generally a bad idea, because authors are famously poor at judging the quality of their own work. Fortunately, most of the stories in this collection are reprints from pro venues, which means they were vetted by other editors. For this TOC, I took a rollercoaster approach: hopping from humorous to dark, from space opera to urban fantasy, in an effort to emphasize fun and enhance the sense of wonder for the reader. Did I succeed? Can you deduce my reasons for story placement? In a shameless act of self-promotion, I invite you to pick up a copy and find out.


About the Author

Alex Shvartsman is a writer, translator and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. Over 70 of his short stories have appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Nature, Galaxy’s Edge, Daily Science Fiction, and many other magazines and anthologies. He won the 2014 WSFA Small Press Award for Short Fiction. He is the editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects annual anthology series of humorous SF/F. His collection Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories was released on February 1, 2015. His website is

A Cheery Holiday Roundtable

In December 2014 I approached our esteemed panelists with the following:

On his blog Michael Swanwick recently addressed a reader-inspired question: “How do I cope with the despair endemic upon being an unpublished or little-published writer?” In an essay first published in 1991, Robert Silverberg wrote about spending his adult life as a successful professional writer but still facing the “long despair of nothing well.” The word “despair,” and related terms, like “defeat” and “depression,” appear with some frequency in discussions of writing.

My question for this group is: if this is something you experience, how do *you* cope with despair as it relates to your professional SF/F/H endeavors (writing, reviewing, editing, scholarship, etc.)?

Are your coping methods now the same or different as when you were unpublished/little-published/trying to break in?

Cat Rambo

Strangely enough, when I am feeling particularly angsty, I mail Michael Swanwick, who was one of my Clarion West instructors. I mail him a long tortured letter and then he mails back and tells me to go write.

Paul Graham Raven

The most honest answer in my case is probably “scuttle sideways into a world where there’s marginally better odds of landing a regular paycheck given your skillset”–with the rueful caveat that I’m fully aware that the academy isn’t exactly a stable employment market for the majority of its participating Rational Actors, but also that I’m too old to pass the eye-candy selection standards at Starbucks.

More true to the spirit of the question: deadlines are the great and final motivator. A promise to deliver must be fulfilled, and commissions–regular or irregular, paid or otherwise–bring a certain productive rhythm to one’s writing life, and also provide a justification for sustaining it, if that doesn’t sound too pompous. (It totally does, but whatevs.) So I guess volunteering for things is a good motivator, as is reading new stuff by writers who inspire you, and stuff by writers you think are idiots. Whatever warms the engine-block, right?

But getting yourself into writing the stuff you’re always promising yourself you’ll write, those odd-ball back-burner secret pet projects that you’ve poked at for half a decade or so, but never have time to work on properly because you have to pay the rent and writing? Damned if I know–if anyone’s got tips, I plan to copy them down!

Jeffrey Ford

Honestly, I never felt despair when I was unpublished. Writing was too much fun. It was a lot of the other shit in life that at times caused despair, but even then, not much. It took me ten years of writing without much acknowledgement before things took off. I wouldn’t trade that time for the world. Also, I was young and basically didn’t give a fuck. I’d decided I was gonna write come hell or high water. When you have kids, though, things get deep pretty quickly. Then I had a full time job where I taught five classes a semester and drove an hour and a half each way to work and back. Writing time was precious, but I used the drive to think up story ideas and my students, to a great extent, taught me a lot about writing. Writing has never made me feel despair. Sometimes frustration. But often elation and accomplishment as well. Only bad things happening to the people I love can really get me down. In these situations, writing has saved me more times than not.

Cecelia Holland

Despair is part of my process. I don’t get into the meat of the story until I’ve destroyed all I already know about it and am reduced to sitting, staring out a window, and eating chocolate chip cookies. Then, against my will, drop by drop like acid falling on the heart, through the awful grace of god, comes wisdom. Read more »

Roundtable on 2015 Releases

Being close to the end of the year, it occurs to me it might be interesting to talk about some of the books we’re most looking forward to in 2015, and why. I will mention three to get the ball rolling. Daryl Gregory’s Harrison Squared (March 24, 2015). I love Daryl’s writing, and this Lovecraftian teen story promises to be dark, comical and poignant all in one. Kit Reed’s Where (May 12, 2015). Don’t know much about it, but consistently find her work intriguing and worth checking out. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson (May 19, 2015)–Stan returns to pure space exploration. (And I love the cover).

Ellen Datlow

Afraid I can’t participate in this one. Too busy reading for 2014!

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

That’s a great reason, Ellen! Maybe you can mention a few of the projects *you* have in the pipeline for 2015, which will surely be on some of *our* lists of books to look forward to? :-)

Ellen Datlow

Okay. A quickie (I’m learning a new computer and email system today, which is taking wayyy too much time).

To be totally self-serving, my antho for Tor called The Doll Collection will be out March 10th–and it will hopefully satiate anyone who loves/hates/is afraid of dolls. With illos by Ellen Klages, Rick Bowes, and my doll collections :-)

Cecelia Holland

I have a book coming out next year also, Dragon Heart, from Tor. If Ellen can do it, I can.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

You certainly can, Cecelia–thanks for sharing. Any 2015 releases you’re looking forward to as a reader?

Jack Skillingstead

I always look forward to Daryl’s work. I read Harrison Squared in manuscript last year, and, yes, it’s very good.

Nick Gevers

A few books I’m looking forward to in 2015:

Gene Wolfe, A Borrowed Man (Tor)
Michael Swanwick, Chasing the Phoenix (Tor)
Neal Stephenson, Seveneves (William Morrow)
Catherynne M. Valente, Radiance (Tor)
James P. Blaylock, Beneath London (Titan)
Ken Liu, The Grace of Kings (Saga Press)
Ian McDonald, Luna (Gollancz)
Charles Stross, The Annihilation Score (Ace)
N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (Orbit)
Jeffrey Ford, A Natural History of Autumn (Small Beer)
Paul Witcover, The Watchman of Eternity (Bantam UK)
Paul McAuley, Something Coming Through (Gollancz)
Robert Charles Wilson, The Affinities (Tor)

And Stan Robinson’s Aurora.

Karen Burnham

I definitely agree with looking forward to Daryl Gregory’s Harrison Squared–I always love Gregory’s stuff, and the related novella, We Are All Completely Fine, which came out from Tachyon in 2014, was excellent.

Filed under “guilty pleasures” are the new Atrocity Archives book from Charles Stross (The Annihilation Score) and the (presumably) final book in the Tao trilogy from Wesley Chu, The Rebirths of Tao.

It’s always interesting to see what new door-stopper anthology will come out from Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, so while I haven’t had the chance to dive into their Time Travelers anthology yet, I’m looking forward to Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology. Whenever I’m reading as a scholar, volumes like this are invaluable.

I’d be looking forward to Robert Charles Wilson’s The Affinities more, except that his most recent book, Burning Paradise, didn’t grab me. But on the basis of all the books of his that I’ve loved, I’ll give this one a try as well.

Karen Lord’s The Galaxy Game will be likely be intriguing, a follow on to her previous The Best of All Possible Worlds.

And isn’t everyone waiting for Kelly Link’s new book Get in Trouble?

Fabio Fernandes

I’m looking forward for the usual suspects, naturally–Gene Wolfe’s A Borrowed Man, Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, Stan Robinson’s Aurora and the next Richard Kadrey Sandman Slim novel (I’m a huge fan). Also:
Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest (the sequel to The Three-Body Problem).

And I’m really interested in the upcoming anthologies: Rose Lemberg’s An Alphabet of Embers, Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell’s Stories for Chip, Seanan McGuire’s Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Matthew David
Goodwin’s Latino/a Rising, and Sam Wilson’s The Near Now (with a personal interest in this last one, cause I have a story innit–but there are stories by Lauren Beukes, JY Yang, Charlie Human and Sarah Lotz that I’m dying to read, so).

Russell Letson

As a reviewer, it would be tactless of me to indicate which books I look forward to–and by implication, which books I might not be so excited about. Of course, anybody can look at the forthcoming-books pages of Locus and at my reviews over the last few years and make some educated guesses, but I’ll leave that parlor game to–well, I can’t imagine who would find it amusing. I’m sure I’ll find a couple dozen titles that will at the very least engage my attention. (I’m reading one right now, but you’ll have to wait for the review to see which one it might be.)

Paul Graham Raven

I’ve never been much of one for thinking far ahead about books, to be honest–which is more a reflection of my general inability to plan than anything else, perhaps. (I was always terribly laggard about even my favorite bands, back in the days when the number of new album releases was still something one could reasonably be expected to keep up with.) And the demands of a PhD aren’t exactly freeing up extra braincycles, either–so I’ll politely excuse myself from this thread, while noting that reading it is clueing me in to a few titles I’ll try to remember to look out for in the year ahead. :)

Cecelia Holland

Yes, I think this round is going to be for the critics, not the writers.

Paul Graham Raven

Heh–I assumed that more people would think of me as the former than the latter, despite (or is it because of?) my unbalanced attempts to keep a foot in both camps. :)

Fabio Fernandes

I’m more of a writer (and editor) than critic. :)

Karen Burnham

Apropos of what Russell said (although I don’t share his take on reviewers avoiding mention of favorites) I should say that probably what I’m most looking forward to next year is the thing I’ve never heard of that I’ll end up loving. In 2013 that was the anthology Glitter & Mayhem–I would never have picked it up based on its cover copy description, but when I was assigned to review it (for Locus, I think) it totally hit my sweet spot. The array of authors and the way they tackled the subject matter turned out to be my favorite of the year. I don’t think any 2014 releases hit me quite that way, but I haven’t been reviewing much this year, either. So I’m looking forward to the things I don’t know about yet in 2015!

Stefan Dziemianowicz

I’m of the same frame of mind. As a critic who reviews horror fiction, had you asked me last year at this time what books I was looking forward to, I would have mentioned Stephen King’s Revival mostly out of a sense of obligation. It’s always interesting to see what new tricks the genre’s bestselling author has got up his sleeve. But it wasn’t until this year, when I actually read Revival and was totally blown away by it, that I realized how long it had been since I had reacted so strongly to one of King’s novels. For 2015, I’m looking forward to books by authors whom I’m not familiar with that make an impact, and books by authors whose work I do know that exceed expectations. That’s about as vague and indefinite as you can get, but it’s what keeps me reading as a reviewer.

Peter Straub

This is a funny thread. The writers say they won’t, and the critics say they can’t.

Cecelia Holland

It’s all in the life of the mind, Peter.

Ellen Datlow

The editors also can’t (at least this one can’t) :-)

Andy Duncan

Karen beat me to it, but I was going to say Link’s collection, absolutely. Heard her read from it at World Fantasy. Terrific, of course.

Peter Straub

Karen and Andy, I’m with you on this one. Kelly’s new book, for sure.

Ellen Datlow

Even I will say YES, although I’ve read all the stories, I think :-)

Siobhan Carroll

I echo the enthusiasm for Kelly Link’s new collection. Andy, don’t you also have a collection coming out? Or is it just wishful thinking on my part?

I’ll be on the lookout for Okorafor’s The Book of Phoenix, Karen Lord’s Galaxy Game, Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory, and others. I’ll add that I caught Randy Henderson’s highly entertaining reading of his forthcoming Finn Fancy Necromancy at the World Fantasy Convention, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for that.

Andy Duncan

Siobhan, yes, thanks, but it might not be 2015.

Elizabeth Hand

I’m late to the party, sorry! My answer echoes Russell’s–I review so much stuff that I feel that I can’t play favorites. I will say that there are MANY titles already mentioned here that I’m really looking forward to!

Nick Gevers

Oh yes, another 2015 title I’m looking forward to: Liz’s Wylding Hall.

Paul Di Filippo

I confess to being out of the loop on this discussion–please forgive!

But if no one has yet mentioned Reif Larsen’s I Am Radar, allow me to do so. I did not read his previous novel, The Selected Works of T. S. Pivet, but recall being attracted by its different vibe. With galley of the new one in hand, my interest in this author is further stoked. Looks totally Pynchonesque!

Marie Brennan

I’m afraid I’m way too out of the loop as to what’s coming out in the next year. (I have to stop and remind myself which of *my* books is coming out next year–the perils of a timeline where you’re working on #4 when the general public has only read up through #2.)

Siobhan Carroll

I loved the new Fitz & Fool book, so I’m looking forward to Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Quest, and I hear great things about Jo Walton’s The Just City… honestly though, I’m most looking forward to discovering titles and authors I don’t yet know are out there.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

Okay–let me chip in a few titles from the horror side. I’m looking forward to Joe Hill’s fourth novel, The Fireman, an excerpt from which I heard him read some months back at at New York’s KGB Bar Fantastic Fiction reading series (and which, at the time, he alluded would NOT be out until later than 2015). It’s a 1,000-page post-apocalyptic thriller that–say, wait a minute… wasn’t there some other guy a few decades back whose fourth novel was also a 1,000-page post-apocalyptic thriller? Hmmm….

I eagerly anticipate Ellen Datlow’s anthology The Doll Collection, because any original anthology that Ellen edits invariably yields a handful (or more) of stories that wind up in the various year’s-best compilations. (Plus, who among us doesn’t have some creepy childhood memories–or fantasies–of dolls?)

Melanie Tem has the novel Yellow Wood coming out, and Steve Tem a stand-alone novella In The Lovecraft Museum. Both of the Tems write stories whose supernaturalism seems perfectly in synch with the rhythms of everyday life. They’re writing a sort of fiction for the twenty-first century that Shirley Jackson was lauded for in the 1950s and ’60s.

And–what the hey–I’m interested in Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels, because it revisits themes and moments from his Books of Blood era.

Fabio Fernandes

Alvaro, if I may add one more title: Victor Milan’s The Dinosaur Lords. Knights and dinosaurs: what’s not to love?

Three Recent Associational Items

While the print and online versions of this magazine do an excellent job of monitoring and reviewing new SF/F/H texts, and non-fiction books closely tied to SF/F/H, it occurs to me that at times there might be other “associational” books that are worth bringing to the attention of readers. This is one of those items.

First, a book related to Christopher Nolan’s latest movie, Interstellar (2014), reviewed here by Gary Westfahl. I’ll say right upfront that I haven’t seen the film yet, but in this instance I don’t think it makes much of a difference. As someone with an interest in science, I was delighted to learn that renowned physicist Kip Thorne acted as consultant (and executive producer) on the project. Better yet, as I recently discovered, he has written a beautifully-illustrated popular science book on the subject: The Science of Interstellar. From what I’ve read so far, I can heartily recommend it. (The only reason I haven’t read all of it is that it contains spoilers, so those sections will have to wait until after I’ve checked out the flick). Ursula K. Le Guin recently used the phrase “realists of a larger reality” to talk about writers of the fantastic, and I think that phrase also applies to scientists who conceive of far-out possibilities. That’s what Thorne has done, and his book nicely bridges cutting-edge theories with thoughtful extrapolation. In this video Nolan and Thorne talk about their collaboration; and in this piece, Matt Williams describes how the film-making process may have led Thorne to make a discovery.

Continuing this thread of interest in science, there are two other recent films that chronicle pivotal moments and key contributions of two great minds, one deceased, one still alive. Both of these films are largely based on fascinating non-fiction books.

One is Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, which is the inspiration for The Imitation Game. The other is Travelling to Infinity by Jane Hawking, which is the primary source material for the movie about Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything. These are movie tie-in editions of older books, and the texts have been updated with new material, so I recommend the newer editions. For anyone who is curious about cryptography, computation, algorithms, the nature of time, the Big Bang, and black holes, these are good gateway texts that provide the very human contexts of these ideas.


A Note About Asimov’s Essay “On Creativity”

In late October various fine publications (including this one) reported that a previously unpublished essay by Isaac Asimov had appeared in the MIT Technology Review. In a prefatory note to the essay, Arthur Obermayer describes how he was the one who suggested, back in 1959, that Asimov be approached to join a group of “out of the box” thinkers on an ARPA-related project. Asimov participated briefly, and wrote the piece, “On Creativity”, as his single contribution. Obermayer notes that “his essay was never published or used beyond our small group.”

Interestingly, however, the core ideas in Asimov’s recently published piece did, in fact, see print, back in 1960, in a similar essay to the one just published. I’m referring to Asimov’s essay “Those Crazy Ideas”, which was published in the January 1960 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and included in his collection of essays Fact and Fancy (1962, Doubleday). [This collection which was republished as a paperback by Discus in March 1972 and is easy to find secondhand.]

Here are two of the similarities between the pieces, strongly suggesting that “On Creativity” was the precursor of “Those Crazy Ideas”:

  • Asimov develops the same example of Darwin and Wallace arriving at the theory of evolution by natural selection independently in both essays. This includes the reference to Malthus. He provides a lot more detail in the F&SF version, which is considerably longer.
  • In both essays, when discussing groups dedicated to generating new ideas, Asimov intuits/guesses that five participants is the maximum desired number. In the MIT piece, Asimov refers to these think tanks as “cerebration sessions”; in the more informal F&SF piece, he calls the practice “brain-busting.”

If that isn’t enough to illustrate the connection, consider that in the introduction to “Those Crazy Ideas” Asimov describes how a “consultant firm in Boston, engaged in a sophisticated space-age project for the government, got in touch with me,” and asked him “where do you get those crazy ideas?”.


Based on all this, I think it’s safe to say that “On Creativity” is an earlier version of what would become “Those Crazy Ideas”, with a different intended audience. It’s clear from the tone and treatment that “Those Crazy Ideas” is meant for a lay reader while “On Creativity” isn’t (it includes explicit references like “your company”). It’s also clear that “Those Crazy Ideas” is more fully fleshed-out, thoughtful and systematic about the problem of creativity.

For readers who don’t have easy access to the F&SF essay, I’ll leave you with the summary of what Asimov considers the five key criteria needed for creativity:

“A creative person must be

1) broadly educated

2) intelligent

3) intuitive

4) courageous

5) lucky.”

(“Those Crazy Ideas”, 1960)

The details behind these five points are developed at length in “Those Crazy Ideas”–I recommend it.



Brad R. Torgersen Guest Post–“What Value the ‘Traditional’ Path?”

An aspiring writer recently asked if there was any value in doing short fiction, as a way to break into SF/F publishing. Versus merely penning novels and pitching them at the editors in New York.

Once upon a time, doing short fiction was the established path. From the 1920s through the early 1980s, almost everyone who was anyone came up through the magazines first: short stories, novelettes, novellas, and serialized novels. Go back and look at the covers of old issues of Analog magazine (formerly Astounding) and one will see the names of some of today’s top sellers. Including people who aren’t commonly known for having cut their teeth in a “Hard SF” market like Analog, such as George R.R. Martin. Other authors who figured prominently in pages of Analog (prior to going “big” in novel publishing) include Frank Herbert, Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, Joe Haldeman, Greg Benford, Vernor Vinge, Orson Scott Card, and many others.

These days, the statistics tell us that it’s easier to break in with a novel than with a piece of short fiction. Starting in the 1990s, new writers began to have a lot of success going directly to books, as opposed to short stuff. There are far more “slots” for new novels, from year to year, than new short works. For every first short piece appearing in an issue of Asimov’s or on there are dozens of first novels hitting the market. So what is the advantage to “going traditional” when the odds clearly favor the novelist, whether indie or paper pub?

I know for me, I wouldn’t have a career without my short works.

A little history: I came of age reading the short fiction of Larry Niven, and fell in love with how Larry was able to tell “big” stories in relatively confined spaces, and because Larry had come up through the magazines (in the 1960s and 1970s) I determined (in the 1990s) that this was the way I wanted to come up too. Granted, the process of learning my craft proved to be much more protracted and challenging than I thought it would be. Enjoying well-told short SF/F is very different from being able to actually write good SF/F short work. I’d been a novel reader (mostly) as a teen, and my unconscious novel sensibilities made re-tooling for short works a much bigger project than I thought it would be.


It paid off, though, in 2009, when I finally got the call from the Writers of the Future contest: one of my novelettes had won me a spot in the 26th volume. Within 60 days I also got a nice note from Stanley Schmidt at Analog magazine, telling me he was taking another novelette of mine; a piece called “Outbound”, which eventually won me my first Analog AnLab readers’ choice award. Now, both of these triumphs (and they were triumphs, believe you me, after the better part of two decades of rejection letters!) presaged a quick rise in the ranks. My proverbial “iceberg” was surfacing from the depths, after many years of honing craft and learning by doing—and failing. Which inevitably got me on the radar of editors like Toni Weisskopf, who is the chief editor and publisher of Baen Books.

Now, it was unknown to me at the time that Toni has a particular enjoyment of “Hard SF” stories; those SF/F tales that try to stick close to what we actually know about physics, chemistry, math, cosmology, etc. Or at least rigorously extrapolate from same and/or work hard to be self-consistent about technology and science. But when I started having other publishing success at Analog, the premier “Hard SF” magazine in the English language, and also the most-circulated print SF magazine in the West, this was a green flag for Toni that I was a guy to watch out for. Had she received a first novel from me without any bona fides (e.g: no track record in Analog) I am not sure I’d have gotten the close attention I got because I had bona fides. So in a sense, selling a first novel to Baen (for me) would not have been possible without prior sales to Analog first. That some of those Analog stories (“Ray of Light”, “Outbound”, “The Chaplain’s Legacy”) would land on Nebula and Hugo ballots, or win readers’ choice awards, was merely icing on the cake. A marker (for any editor to see) that this new Brad R. Torgersen guy was turning heads in the readership.

So yes, to answer the question posed originally, I think short fiction can be a very valuable tool for any aspiring writer seeking to enter the field. Provided (s)he enjoys the form. Not everyone likes short stories, novelettes, or novellas. In fact it’s a safe bet that the vast majority of people reading this article probably prefer novels to short works. And may only occasionally read a short piece if they pick up one of Gardner Dozois’s annual Best Of books, or the similar volumes done by other editors. This is not 1960, and the population of actual SF/F readers in 2014 come to the genre mainly through long form; not short. Which means they will be thinking and feeling “long” when they sit down to begin writing their stories. Which means re-tooling for “short” is a whole other ballgame.

Still, it can be done. And in my case, all my best PR and success has relied upon my traction in the short fiction world. Even my first novel (Baen Books: The Chaplain’s War, fresh out on October 7, 2014) relies on two linked short fiction pieces which previously occupied space in Analog: “The Chaplain’s Assistant”, which made the top 5 in the reader poll for short stories in its year, and “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, which made the 2014 Hugo ballot, and won Best Novella for the AnLab, publishing year 2013. These short works are the backbone of the book. And while the book does tell a bigger, broader story, it could not exist without the “vertebra” of the short works being there first.


Something else: most of my short work to date has been compiled into two collections, Lights in the Deep, and Racers of the Night. I’d initially thought (in 2009) that one should wait until one has a long-lived career, before embarking upon any “best of” albums. But in the run-up to the publication of The Chaplain’s War I had a lot of readers ask me if I had any other books for sale. It occurred to me that there was a lot of economic sense in compiling my short pieces into a book-length treasur(ies.) Kevin J. Anderson agreed, and brought me into the fold at WordFire Press, a consortium publishing enterprise which was able to rapidly and professionally put my collections onto the market well before any traditional small press could. Both Lights in the Deep and Racers of the Night have done well for me, and served as “appetizer trays” for readers wanting to get a taste of my work, prior to investing in something like a novel. These collections also help put the stories into the hands of awards voters who can’t otherwise get their hands on copies of back-dated issues of Analog.


So there’s no reason why a short work, having sold and been published once, can’t be re-sold and re-published again and again; to include overseas sales and translations, which merely introduce overseas audiences to you in a brief format. Paving the way, as it were, for those overseas audiences to expect your longer stuff when it eventually comes.

I think short work also serves as a reinforcement for good craft. As has been said by Steven Barnes and many others, learning to tell a “big” story in a small space forces you to learn an economy of prose that might not otherwise manifest, if your first instinct is to type up a thousand-page epic. True, many readers like and enjoy thousand-page epics. But the heightening of tension, suspense, and the preservation of reader enthusiasm, can all be aided by learning to work at short length. Even if you may have to then turn around and develop a different “tool box” for going long again. Habits developed at short length can do wonders for a person extending to long again.

If nothing else, short works can also serve as good “rest stops” for both writer and reader alike. If you’re in the thick of your novel and your brain simply needs a productive break—something new upon which to dwell—a short story or novelette can be just the thing to take your mind off the novel. So that you come back to the novel fresh, with renewed energy. Assuming the short piece sells and is published, this then keeps your name and work in front of readers during the publication troughs between books. In other words, fans eager to see more from you won’t have to wait a full year (or more) to get their hands and eyes on something they enjoy. Which just further increases their anticipation for your book(s) when it/they eventually see print.

So, short fiction: worth it? Damned right! And I would add: good luck!


About the Author:


Hugo and Nebula award nominee Brad R. Torgersen has won the Writers of the Future award, and two Analog magazine “AnLab” Readers’ Choice awards. A native of Utah, Brad and his wife lived for fourteen years in Washington State, before returning to the Wasatch Front late in the last decade. A healthcare tech geek by day and Army Reserve Chief Warrant Officer on weekends, Brad’s first novel (from Baen Books) The Chaplain’s War hit store shelves in October 2014.

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 or follow her on Twitter: @JenniferBrozek.

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