Thursday, June 29, 2023

The Case for Anthologists

Discussion has cropped up on the Internet regarding anthologies and the editors who curate them and the writers who contribute stories to them. An open letter to the varies bodies that administer speculative fiction awards has been circulating that calls for Best Anthology awards to be awarded to each contributor of the anthology, as well as the editor(s). The proposal calls for an “equal share of the award” for each contributor. Part of the justification for this is that the editors “have not contributed a single story” to the anthology.

First, and foremost, I appreciate the discussion and the civility that has ensued despite differing opinions. I did not immediately weigh in on the issue, preferring instead to sit back and listen to the opinions of others—of those on both sides of this discussion—for a bit on various social media sites. But in some of the responses, loaded words like “injustice” and “inequity” and “unfair” have been introduced into the discourse.

Speaking specifically from the horror-side of the equation, as a point of clarification, the Shirley Jackson Awards have 6 categories—five are exclusively for writers, one for editors (the Edited Anthology category). The Bram Stoker Awards have 13 categories—eleven are exclusively for writers with one solely for editors (Superior Achievement in an Anthology) and a second (Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction) that could be won by either a writer or an editor. Are 2 to 3 editor-eligible awards out of 19 really an "injustice" or constitute "inequity" as has been characterized elsewhere? Neither one of these award bodies have a "Best Editor" award. So, at least in the cases of these two genre awards, an 85/15 split for writers and editors seems more than equitable.

I have both edited anthologies and contributed original works to others. When the editors of anthologies to which I've contributed have been nominated for an award, I celebrate them. I understand that my role was to write a story (or submit something already finished) and cash the check for said story. On occasion, that may include a few hours of research. Even after this business transaction, I still try to be a good cheerleader for the anthology's success. As a contributor, those were my obligations. As an editor, I'm responsible for developing the concept/theme, developing the pitch that sells the anthology to a publisher or convinces an agent of its potential to sell, negotiating an advance that ensures I can pay contributors at or above the prevailing professional rate (or bankrolling that portion myself in advance), reading through hundreds of slush pile submissions, notifying each author who submits of their story's acceptance or rejection, preparing author contracts/agreements, sending them out, and tracking their return. As the editor, I'm editing each one of the stories and working with the contributors on revisions, deciding on the TOC order, proofreading each story in the manuscript at least twice (usually more), pulling the manuscript together into one document, writing the introduction, working with the publisher on the cover concept and art, and proofreading the manuscript after it's been formatted. As the editor, I'm engaged in the pre-release marketing—email interviews, virtual interviews and podcasts, social media boosts—keeping the contributors updated on reviews and award nominations. For Other Terrors, my co-editor purchased and mailed each contributor a t-shirt with the anthology's cover on it at her own expense in celebration of the anthology and everyone who contributed to it.

So, respectfully, no, I do not believe that an award nomination or win for an edited anthology should be equally shared, as has been proposed. Each one of contributing writers has opportunities to be recognized for their work as a contributor to an anthology in one of several short fiction categories in those same awards. So why the call to dilute the anthologist’s single opportunity to be recognized within either of these awards bodies? Using Other Terrors, as an example, one of our contributors—the magnificent Tananarive Due—was recognized for her contribution to the anthology with a Locus Award nomination for her superb closer “Incident at Bear Creek Lodge” in the Novelette category. The anthology itself was not nominated. Should Rena and I—as editors of that story in our anthology—also been recognized as Locus nominees because (under the proposal’s logic) anthologies are a group effort? Of course not—that’s ludicrous. Likewise, it’s ludicrous to equate the amount of labor, time, and creativity that an anthologist pours into curating a 100k-word collection with the writer’s (inarguably valuable) single story contribution for which they have ample opportunity for awards recognition on their own. Again, with an 85/15 split between writers and editors in terms of awards eligibility in both the Shirley Jackson and Bram Stoker Awards, there is hardly a case that can be made for inequity.

Using an analogy from another art form, let’s take movies to illustrate the point here. Like an anthology, it takes numerous artists of various kinds to create a film. There is the film’s director, the actors, the producers, the screenwriter, the costume and set designers, the cameraman, the publicists, and countless others—many individuals who contribute to the success of a film. When a film is nominated for and wins an Academy Award for Best Picture, the producers win the actual award. The actors and everyone else involved in the film get bragging rights to having been featured in/worked on an Oscar-winning film, but the honor is bestowed upon the producer(s) (i.e., the person(s) who oversees the film’s production, the person(s) who plans and coordinates various aspects of the film’s creation, such as selecting the script, coordinating writing, directing, editing, and arranging financing).

As someone who strives to be a good and professional anthologist, I think the contributors should always be acknowledged and thanked in public forums; when I won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology in 2009, I named each contributor in my acceptance speech. If OTHER TERRORS was to win the SJA, the same would occur. Throughout the process for OTHER TERRORS and my latest anthology, contributors were repeatedly tagged in each and every social media post highlighting a starred review or notable mention. I even asked the art department at Harper Collins to design a graphic celebrating the anthology's SJA nomination (which they happily did) and I immediately emailed every contributor to thank them for being a part of the anthology and to offer them the graphic to share. I think only 4 out of 20+ contributors actually did.

That all said, while I still hold to the idea that it's the editor(s) who is credited with the nomination or award for an edited anthology, I see absolutely no harm in a certificate being bestowed upon the contributors acknowledging that their story was included in an anthology that was nominated and/or won the <insert award name here> award. As was said elsewhere, contributors still get bragging rights for being included in said anthology, on top of being paid for their work (hopefully at or above the prevailing per word rate, as they should).

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