I’ve decided to talk about two different subjects this time, although they are connected.
Here’s a strange situation.
I’ve written, revised and edited an episodic novel and three anthologies of dark urban fantasy, science fiction and horror, with more than one of the genres and sub-genres often blended into a single story. I have another five collections I’m still working on.
The thing is, publishers and agents keep telling me that anthologies and story collections are on the way out; no one is interested in either publishing them or reading them, they say. In fact, I ended up writing a space opera novel in an attempt to break into the publishing market. I’m still trying to find an agent or a publisher for that, too.
And yet, I have had eight short stories accepted for seven different anthologies (plus one for a podcast) in the past nine months. In fact, six of them have been accepted in the past four months.
As I see it, there are several advantages of anthologies:
- They allow multiple writers to present their work to the public. Getting your name out there can be very difficult for people starting in their writing careers. Anthologies from publishers can be a great way of getting yourself noticed. Writing and publishing credits are extremely useful for showing agents and publishers that you are serious and that you can write.
- Even if the anthology has a single author, each story can be an experiment in changing style, viewpoint, structure, etc., allowing the writer to entertain in various ways. From drabbles (100-word stories) to novellas, each story is complete, even though they can also be part of an overarching tale. Think of A Game of Thrones, the first volume of the all-embracing storyline of A Song of Ice and Fire.
- They can be specific, where the subject matter of all the stories has a common thread: Cthulhu, Mermaids, Lesbian Ninja Cats, whatever. This “limitation” can be a source of great creativity, I’ve found.
- For the writer, it means that you can narrate a story without having to expend huge amounts of thought, time and effort on plot and character development. You can concentrate on a single event, or series of connected events, telling a simpler story. The characters might never appear again, or they could make cameo appearances in other stories, or even be the Main Characters in most or all of the stories.
- For the reader, a shorter read can be a great experience. When you’re commuting (remember doing that?), a quick 10-15 minute read is exactly what you want. You don’t have to remember where you are in a novel, and you needn’t go back to the previous paragraph or page to get back into the flow of the story. And you have the satisfaction of reaching the end of the story and experiencing its resolution.
So please don’t tell me that anthologies are on the decline.
The second theme is what I consider to be the limitations of genres.
Many agents and publishers insist that stories stick within the framework of a specific genre and even a specific sub-genre. And this is where I have a problem.
I write self-help, science fiction, space opera, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, magical realism, horror, fairy tales, fairy stories, slipstream, interstitial, noir, detective fiction, action, thriller, humour, YA, and children's stories. I sometimes blend more than one into a single story.
For instance, I have a story with a police detective (detective fiction) who is both a psychic and magician (paranormal/urban fantasy) and a cyborg (science fiction). In which genre should it be pigeonholed? Especially since the preceding story is a noir/magical realism blend and the following one an urban fantasy/action blend.
And all of them are part of an urban fantasy/horror/science fiction episodic novel (again, think A Song of Ice and Fire), which also has flashes of horror, humour and straight fantasy.
How am I supposed to define the novel-length book? Urban fantasy? Science fiction? Speculative fiction? Something else?
A humorous children’s science fiction story? Done it. Lovecraftian humour? Written that, too. A twisted fairytale with a Carollian quirkiness? Yep! These are all from anthologies based in the same narrative universe as the novel.
And, as all of us know, life isn’t neatly sliced into categories. It’s messy and overlaps, blending and merging, splitting apart and diversifying. There are no blacks or whites, merely uncounted shades of colour and grey.
And then there are the cross-overs and mixes; Twilight has vampires and shifters (werewolves), for example, which I’ve been told repeatedly are two genres to be kept distinct from one another. People love stories that blend and blur, no matter what the agents and publishers try to sell us.
And that is how I write.
To get around this, I focused on a single sub-genre and wrote the YA space opera science fiction novel I mentioned earlier. Even there, the genre-loving agents and publishers bite me in the backside. One said that my language was too adult for the proposed audience, while another told me that it was too young and infantile a few days later. Go figure.
And remember, these genre divisions are artificial, devised to allow agents and publishers to pigeonhole things so that they can determine whether they will make any money from them.
Sorry if I sound as if I’m ranting, but I’ve just received my 189th rejection since the beginning of this year, from a total of 287 submissions sent during the same period. That’s a rejection rate of 65.9%. It’s only that low because 92 submissions are too recent to have been rejected.
Mind you, as I said at the beginning, I’ve also had two short stories published last year, and another six have been accepted in the past four months. I’m getting noticed, just not as quickly or extensively as I would like.