Gavin Grant reports that Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror is no more, although it might be revived in the future, and that Ellen Datlow will move on to edit two horror year’s bests for Night Shade Books. The anthology’s sales had been dipping over the last few years, and packaging-wise no real attempt was made to change a formula that clearly wasn’t pulling in as many readers as in the past. Nor, frankly, was the promotional effort for the anthology that good. I think the proliferation of other year’s bests and the easy access of readers to short fiction online may have also hurt the series.
For now, this leaves Jonathan Strahan’s SF/F best-of and Rich Horton’s fantasy best-of as the leaders of the pack on the fantasy side–especially since the disposition of the Hartwell/Cramer fantasy best-of is up in the air. [UPDATE: Apparently, it will be published by Tor.com] Best American Fantasy admittedly took a hit from these lean economic times, but the second volume will appear in the next month, with a 2009 copyright on it, and BAF3 guest edited by Kevin Brockmeier, series editor Matt Cheney, will also be released as planned, although when, given a 2009 release for BAF2, is still a question.
On the horror side, you now have Datlow’s new antho up against Stephen Jones’ Best New Horror (which has rarely gotten that much attention in the US, despite often being very good). Prime’s horror best of has vanished into thin air. (In terms of SF, Gardner Dozois is lord of that domain, although I understand Horton’s SF volume sells pretty well.)
I imagine there will be further carnage before it’s over, and I find it unlikely that the current slate of year’s bests will all still be around by the end of 2010.
What do these times mean for writers generally? It might be stating the obvious, but if you’re a midlist writer with a major publisher, you might be in trouble. If you’re a midlist writer doing a stint with a large independent, you might be okay. Indies have less overhead, and although more vulnerable to cash flow issues, distribution problems and the like, the best-organized indies might be a better place right now for some midlist writers. Or, at least, not any worse, especially when the print runs of some indies have gone up while the print runs of some of the smaller NY publishers aren’t any great shakes.
If Borders goes belly up, the paradigm completely changes, and although some people think that would strengthen the independent bookstores I think it’s more likely it strengthens Barnes & Noble and Amazon. (Finding creative ways to sell more books online, in whatever form, is definitely becoming ever more important.)
In terms of anthologies, eccentric but imaginative projects are unlikely to fly with large publishers, but they usually don’t anyway. And yet some editors are still going to take chances, as always. Solid theme anthologies are probably going to continue to sell well enough, but I can’t see many publishers wanting to launch more year’s bests right now. John Joseph Adams has proven again that reprint anthologies can sell as well or better than original anthologies, and that may also wind up having an effect on what’s published going forward.
I also think the trend of needing as many big names for anthologies as possible is going to continue, with some of the downsides I’ve already spoken about in previous posts. (Although this means the internet will continue to be ever more important for new talented writers, especially as most print magazines continue to take a hit.)
But, precisely because we are in a down cycle and the majority of writers and editors will be looking for safe ways to make money, it is a paradoxically a great time to jump in and start thinking about doing outrageous things–especially if you can find the niche or the slant that gives a publisher some hope of making back their investment. (Ann and I will announce a couple outrageous things soon…)
Some of this is just idle speculation, and I’m sure there are arguments to be made about all of it contrary to what I’ve put forth–please do, in fact, put them forth.
But the fact is–any clinical dissection of the situation aside–we’ve just lost a venerable flagship anthology that had an excellent reputation. And we lost it primarily because not enough people were buying it, for whatever reason.
Sometimes such things are unavoidable–all projects, all series, have decaying orbits. But it does mean we should cherish and be more attentive to the institutions, series, websites, or whatever that we profess to enjoy…because they might not be around forever otherwise. God bless Gavin and Kelly and Ellen. Ann and I know from editing just two years of a best-of that it’s a thankless, grinding task, even if you love fiction. To do it for a long span of time represents a considerable and laudable commitment.