Best American Fantasy Series to End

After three volumes, we’re discontinuing the Best American Fantasy series founded by me, Ann VanderMeer, and Sean Wallace, along with Matthew Cheney. The amicable move from Prime to Underland following the publication of BAF2 was meant to rejuvenate the series and to finally achieve stability for it. Unfortunately, this didn’t occur, for a variety of reasons. BAF did not having a wide margin for error. A cross-genre fantasy year’s best that focused not just on genre magazines but also on literary magazines, that required sympathy and generosity from both the mainstream and genre, as well as the right placement in the chains, was always going to be a difficult sell.

Although we are disappointed in this outcome, we’re mostly sad for Larry Nolen, the new series editor, and for Minister Faust, the guest editor, both of whom had put work into what would have been volume 4. (Not to mention the extensive online reading completed by Alan Swirsky and Fabio Fernandes’s efforts re Latin America.) It also would have been wonderful to see what the guest editors for volumes 5 and 6, Junot Diaz and Catherynne M. Valente, would have chosen, just as we enjoyed reading Kevin Brockmeier’s selections for volume 3.

On the plus side, the various BAF volumes picked up a wonderful blurb from Michael Chabon, made NPR’s recommended summer reading list, were placed on year’s best lists, and garnered a few nice reviews in large newspapers. In addition, a lot of bloggers supported us, and we received good feedback from the readers who picked up the books. Many libraries have stocked them, and all three are still available for sale on Amazon, providing a nice alternative view of the year’s best for those three years. We also made inroads into the literary mainstream through events like the AWP conference, and we were very successful in convincing literary magazines and genre magazines to send us material. In addition, we brought writers into contact with each other who might otherwise not been aware of each other’s work, and our correspondence with magazine editors and writers while running BAF led to many, many other creative liaisons and projects.

BAF was always going to need time to establish its brand and to reach the intended readership. To do so, it needed to remain consistent in its look-and-feel, its publishing schedule, and its PR. BAF also needed long-term strategies in addition to short-term strategies to reach its objectives. It needed more time and attention from Ann and from me, consistently, across volumes. It needed to be ramped up slowly, with lowered expectations for sales, and build up from year to year. Is there blame to assign? Yes and no. As happens on every project, everyone involved made mistakes—that is part of the learning curve. We certainly now have a better idea of what we would need to do if we started up such a series again, and we are indebted to both Prime and Underland for making a go of it.

That said, we’re still absolutely committed to the idea of erasing the artificial wall between “genre” and “mainstream,” as evidenced by most of our other projects. We also still believe that SF/Fantasy needs the balance of something like BAF, in terms of guest editors. Yes, you need the continuity and experience of a year’s best editor whose series runs for many years. But you also need the freshness and different points-of-view created when you have at least one year’s best series that rotates editors, and draws those editors from a pool of writers rather than professional editors. Mainstream fiction has at least two such series, and it works well in not enshrining one particular approach as the canon.

But, as noted, we got three volumes out, we shone a spotlight on some fiction that might not otherwise have gotten the attention, and at the end of the day, we know we tried hard, despite some lapses. The only option for continuing now would be to put our own money behind it, and that’s alas not possible.

Thanks to everyone who supported us, thanks to the magazines that sent us issues, and thanks also for the help of first readers like Tessa Kum and Clayton Kroh, and Luis Rodrigues who set up the website. (We know we’re leaving out people—apologies in advance.)

28 comments on “Best American Fantasy Series to End

  1. Hi, Jeff,

    Have you and Ann considered publishing the current three volumes as ebooks — and future volumes as ebooks only?

    Short fiction is ideal for mobile devices.
    – marty

  2. Marty: The form in which the book is published doesn’t actually constitute not needing a budget, alas.

  3. Larry says:

    For those curious about several of the stories being considered for BAF 4, I typed out my handwritten list of possibilities (or 2/3 of the stories that guest editor Minister Faust received). Link’s here.

    It was a pleasure working on this and learning along the way. Thanks to Ann, Jeff, Matt, Minister, Victoria and everyone else that helped me along the way.

  4. Claire says:

    That’s a shame. I’ve been buying them, even if I haven’t gotten around to reading them as quickly as I’d like. Of course I think that sums up my book buying habits in general of late.

  5. Nathan says:

    Thanks, Larry.

    This is a sad day. Leviathan, Polyphony, BAF . . . they’re dropping like flies!

  6. Drat. I loved the first two volumes, and had just recently started reading the third. Jeff, I thought the choices you and Ann made that you had control over were all well-done: the idea behind the series, the organization of its editorship, and the story selections themselves. And to the extent that the series constituted an argument measured not in sales but rather in content, I certainly found it to be a convincing argument: I had known it to be true for novels, but I before BAF1 I had had no idea that there was so much fantastic short fiction, in both senses of the world, being published in so many venues outside genre’s gaze. Those, in combination with the genre-sourced stories, made the best possible argument for reading widely and focusing on individual stories, rather than on labels and venues. So thank you for the work you put into the series.

  7. jeff ford says:

    Sorry to hear this. I thought the series was terrific, and I made a lot of reading discoveries through it. It was a pleasure to have published in it and that last cover by John Coulthart was, for obvious reasons, a particular favorite of mine. It can be counted a triumph for lasting for 3 volumes.

  8. Nathan: Huh? Leviathan’s not dead. For one thing, its spirit lives on in New Weird, The Weird, and Steampunk Reloaded. For another we will be doing #5, probably next year.

    Also, you’ve now got Clockwork Phoenix, which really deserves people’s support.

    Thanks, Matt and Jeff. As always we will find new and ways of creating this kind of dialogue. There’re always new projects.


  9. Very sorry to hear the news. I was definitely looking forward to the new volume.

  10. Very sorry to hear it, Jeff. Having someone with catholic taste reading widely on both sides of the “great divide” was a service to all interested readers, and it will be missed. Looking forward to Leviathan 5.

  11. Nathan says:

    JeffV: Great news about Leviathan. I didn’t realize a new one was on the way. . .

    Clockwork Phoenix does have my support. I also have my fingers crossed for Interfictions to continue.

    Still, I was pretty excited about the effort to include a broader range of American fiction in BAF4 and am sorry that the market couldn’t support it.

  12. This is a real shame. I was so looking forward to this.

  13. That’s so sad. I really loved these books. I return to them for inspiration, constantly.

  14. Well, again, these anthos have had a huge influence on us as editors, have introduced us to new writers we didn’t know about, and will continue to be a subtextual influence on anthologies going forward. It also makes us keen to do Leviathan 5, which will be the “knives out” installment.


  15. A.C. Wise says:

    I’m truly sorry to see these anthologies go. Thank you – and everyone involved – for all your hard work in giving us three wonderful volumes. Better to have loved a series and lost…

  16. If you are interested, I am happy to pick up the series for Norilana Books.

    Drop me a line.



  17. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Thanks, Vera. We’ll be in touch. Our biggest concerns are long-term commitment, budget, and stability. We’ll be reluctant to start it up again without firm guarantees. We do love the work you do with Clockwork Phoenix, but it may be best to start BAF up again at some future date with, for example, institutional support from a university press.

  18. Sure, Jeff, and best to luck! :-)

    A worthy anthology series deserves the best treatment possible. I am am completely swamped and overbought for Norilana up to the end of 2011 in any case. If after that you are still open to it, let me know any time.

Comments are closed.