Closed Versus Open Anthologies

Interesting discussion on Jay’s blog, to which I added my two cents. To sum up my position on the subject:

(1) When possible, anthologies should be open to unsolicited submissions to promote diversity and to protect against staleness and entrenched hierarchies. Being “open” doesn’t mean that an anthology editor needs to read thousands of submissions for six months or a year. Nor does it mean that an editor needs to reserve a certain number of spots to accommodate unsolicited submissions. All it means is that editors should consider having at least a one- or two-month reading period in the interests of fairness and diversity. The benefits of this position are, to my mind:

A – Discovery of new talent or at the very least interesting stories that would otherwise either not find a market or have more difficulty entering into the marketplace.

B – Commonsense way to ensure the highest quality and most appropriate stories for the anthology by drawing on a larger pool of talent, even if the reading period only supplements the anthology by one or two stories. Note that this not only helps new writers–it helps the vast majority of established writers who do not receive many invites to anthologies.

B – Keep established talent from becoming complacent by providing more competition for spots.

C – Open up more editorial perspectives to all writers. Which is to say, when there are fewer editors open to unsolicited submissions, writers have fewer opinions against which to test their fiction. Fiction is not an objective business and one editor’s poison may well be another editor’s meat. We need as many different perspectives as possible.

(2) Some anthologies cannot be open anthologies because of the nature of the theme. It would have been unfair to the antho and to the writers to open my fake disease guide to unsolicited submissions because rejected submissions would have been hard to place and/or would have devalued the anthology by being placed elsewhere. I can’t imagine what a mess the Martin/Dozois Vance antho would have been if opened to unsolicited submissions. Etc.

(3) We live in the real world–we strive for the ideal world. This means quite simply that established writers who live off of their writing have to submit to closed anthologies just to put bread on the table, and should not be pilloried for submitting to closed anthologies. At the same time, there’s no reason why established writers and editors shouldn’t try to promote the idea of open anthologies as much as possible.

That’s it in a nutshell. I do not believe in the hierarchy of privilege, which is to say that if you’ve been around long enough you should have “protected status”. It’s nice to have it at times, but it should not be expected and it can be harmful to the development of new writers. Hell, it is also harmful to the continued development of established writers.

It is true that in the current publishing environment, anthologies must have established names to compete–but editors must recognize this as a business imperative not an artistic imperative.

Jay Lake and Ellen Datlow, who have opinions on this subject, have edited both closed and open publications. So have I. The point isn’t to do away with closed anthos, but to present the case for having open anthologies–that it can work from a time/business and artistic point of view.

I feel like this post is aimed more at up-and-coming editors more than established ones, who will have their preferred processes and unlikely to be swayed one way or the other. I.e., if you are new and planning to edit an antho, consider making it an open antho.


9 comments on “Closed Versus Open Anthologies

  1. Have already added my halfcent to Jay’s post, and I agree with your stance on this matter. But I don’t think it’s going to make a difference, unfortunately. Some systems, no matter how broken or lop-sided, never change.
    Closed anthos are “easy”, in a manner of speaking.
    Personally, I find it a more ideal platform to both provide new work for established names while simultaneously showcasing new talent. That’s pretty much my take.

  2. I’m pretty much on board for your view of things. I agree that open anthologies are, ‘in principle’, a very good and are desirable for the health of the field as a whole. I would add that any editor worth his or her salt has some obligation (and almost certainly desire) to promote the development of a healthy field, so doing open anthologies when you can is the way to go.

    I also agree with points made by Jay, Ellen, and yourself, that this isn’t always possible. I co-edited a ‘zine for ten years that was an open market. I’ve also edited or co-edited four original anthologies, one of which was an open market. I’m currently working on three more, and of those will be open shortly. For both commercial and practical reasons, I couldn’t open the closed anthologies to general submissions. It is unfortunate, but sometimes practically speaking you don’t have a lot of choice (as you mentioned about the Disease Guide).

    Actually, I should probably mention that I’m going to announce shortly a brief open period for Eclipse. Because of practicalities, I’m going to accept submission for Eclipse 2 and Eclipse 3 together. It’ll probably be for a month around February or March. I’ll make sure the announcement goes out in the usual places. Because of the situation governing the Eclipse series, I’m guessing there’ll only be a few slots open to unsolicited stories, but it’ll be nice to get a different perspective.

  3. Thanks for your post, Jonathan. Very cool re Eclipse!


  4. Alex D M says:

    I actually want to slush-read for the antho I plan to edit. I’m sure I’ll encounter my share of frustrations, but the idea of digging in the pile for the good stuff is one that really appeals.

  5. Blue Tyson says:

    Is there any noticeable sales difference? Most of us wouldn’t know one from the other on this end.

  6. I left a couple of comments on Jay’s blog. But I’ll comment here too.

    I feel very strongly as you do Jeff. Generally publications should be open to unsolicited submissions. Most anthologies and magazines are far too square as it is. By denying new voices, these places just become even more square.

    I can understand giving preference to writers whose names will help sell a book, but at the same time, just because one person can sell, doesn’t mean that their work is better. And in the end, is if all a person wants to do is make money, fiction–publishing, editing, writing–is the wrong field for them. Better become a banker, a thief or a seller of eye-liner.

  7. Well said on all points, sir. 99% of the slush pile is not functional (I used to read slush for Asimov’s), but the opportunity to discover someone who IS writing superbly, telling a story, and hitting the notes is important. Otherwise, the same cluster of writers just keep writing the same stuff even after it goes flatulent (or they do), and no one new enters the arena. Hardly the glowing neon “Welcome” sign that the genre purports to display.


  8. I believe I’ve said and I’ll maintain that most if not all short story editors are on the look out for new writers–as much because those so-called big names rarely write short stories and most of the short story writers we started publishing move on to novel writing and no longer write short stories. This is hardly brain surgery folks. I’m not even sure who is referred to when talk is of these “big names”–I can name on one hand for any of the three subgenres of fantastic fiction: sf/f/h–ie. Writers whose names will be commercial enough to make a significant difference in the sales of a magazine/anthology. (and in sf I don’t think there IS any writer).

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