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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Have anthologies gone the way of the album?

Anthology order used to mean something.

Hear me out, because it's true, even if it means I'm old. Just like albums when I was a kid, anthologies told a complete story, one that had an ebb and flow, and there were certain places an author wanted to be to know their story was one of the best in the anthology.

Lead off. This is my place in the Hot Off the Press Anthology from Dreamspinner (get it here) and I was surprised and honored to get it. That means the editor thought my story was strong enough to be the very first story readers saw, that it would pull the reader in and make them want more.

Final story. My wife BA got this honor in Horsing Around, edited by Vincent Diamond. This is the spot to anchor the whole anthology, the last glimpse of this book the readers see. The lasting impression.

The middle. Right smack in the middle. Story 5 of 10 for example. This means your story is there to keep readers going. Often this story is longer or shorter than the others, something really different in pacing.

I have to admit, I'm spoiled enough to have seen my stories fill these spots that when they don't, I'm disappointed. Sad. I'm not saying all stories in an anthology can't be stellar. I think I've been charmed to be in some of the best company in the business that way. I'm just saying that to an old broad like me, anthology order is like listening to Abbey Road in order, the way it was meant to be heard. It matters.

Does that matter to a modern reader at all? Thoughts?




Anonymous said...

Anthology order has zero importance to me. I never have any expectations or interpretations regarding anthology order. Sometimes I read beginning to end, sometimes I read end to beginning, sometimes I jump around a lot. I'm absorbed in the stories and don't notice what order they're in.

I don't think it's a young vs. old thing, but maybe a degree of neuroticness thing.

Actually, this is the first time in my life I've heard someone caring about anthology order. I didn't even know anthology order is a thing.

Julia said...

Could totally be me being neurotic, but I'm in good company! Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman have all discussed it at one point or another, and panels about the subject pop up at roundtables at BEA, ALA and RWA. I guess if that's neurosis, I'm happy to be counted in that number!

BA Tortuga said...

It may not be a thing to some, but it's absolutely a thing to the writers I've spoken to. Hell, there was a group of 10 of us at RT in Dallas that had a long discussion about how much it matters -- the ebb and flow of an anthology, how they're built and how much power an editor has to feature or bury a story. We also discussed whether to simply market an individual story instead of the actual anthology, because then order doesn't matter at all and the anthology can rise or fall on its own -- this topic came up because the consensus we reached was that it didn't matter whether you promoted an anthology -- they're flat fee, as a rule, and you have to put your buck where your bang is. It's a complicated issue, I think.

Katherine Halle said...

I honestly had no idea it was a thing. I mean, not concretely? I guess I kind of just assumed lead off and ending were the places to be. As a reader though? It doesn't matter to me. I recently read an anthology where the story that remains the most memorable is ironically the one I liked the least. And it was the second to the ending story. Weird. But there it is.

Julia said...

Interesting, hon! I've had some where the big names were my least favorite, for sure, but most editors put their best stories first and last. Now, some organize by type of story, say you have 2 contemps, 2 historicals and 2 sci fi. They group them that way. When I was editing I always kind of thought that was a mistake, as then people might only read the 2 historicals, for instance. But that was just my mileage as a reader affecting my editing style.