Roger Elwood and the anthology market…

Roger Elwood published fifty-five anthologies with a variety of publishers in a six year period beginning in 1972. The view is held within science fiction circles that the large quantity and poor quality of these books led to low sales, which in turn so damaged the reputation of anthologies with both publishers and readers that it became near impossible for editors to place new anthologies.

Science fiction editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden has written a cogent and considered entry on Roger Elwood for wikipedia that addresses most of these issues. In doing so she makes some interesting observations. The one that struck a chord with me, as a novice anthologist (*), was that prior to Elwood “anthologies and collections were very popular with readers, and were considered by the publishing industry to be a surer bet than novels”. I don’t dispute the observation for a moment, but it does make pre-Elwood publishing seem like an impossible wonderland to someone whose experience with the business side of the field has been almost entirely within the past decade.

Teresa also goes on to say:

“What’s safe to say is that there are no very creditable explanations for his flood of anthologies in the mid-1970s; that the publishers who bought them would never have done so if they’d had any idea that he was carpet-bombing SF publishing with anthology projects; that many of his anthologies (if not all the stories in them) were well below par in terms of their quality; and that the subsequent collapse of the anthology and story-collection market did long-term damage to science fiction as a whole.”

The observation that Elwood did long-term damage is the one that interests me most. Teresa states more than once that the market for anthologies and collections has only partly recovered. It seems difficult to believe that, thirty years after Elwood published his final anthology, that the science fiction field is still suffering. But, so seems to be the case.

I did take a moment to look at some of the statistics in the The Locus Index to Science Fiction which, if not definitively accurate, at least provides the best readily available statistical information on such things, and it seems to suggest that things have been fairly steady over the past ten years, with, if anything, an increase in the number of anthologies and collections being published. Between 1984 and 1998, the Locus database records 11,576 novels and 3,929 anthologies and collections being published. This ratio of about three to one seems to have remained fairly constant up to 2004, when 842 novels and 332 anthologies and collections were published. I’d be interested to know the pattern for the ten years before Elwood, the ten years he was active, and the twenty years after he stopped publishing. Hmmm. Need to do some research.

(via David Moles, Chrononautic Log)

* I’ve been jokingly compared to Elwood, but I published my first anthology back in 1997, have published eight books in all since then, and am very much still learning my craft. It’s a long way from 22 books in a single year, and I’d like to think that the books that I have done have been of somewhat higher quality.

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2 Comments

  1. Dear Mr. Strahan,

    If you are interested in the career of Roger Elwood, then you MUST get a copy of the Tor paperback re-issue of Piers Anthony’s novel BUT WHAT OF EARTH?

    Elwood actually talked Anthony into submitting a novel to be included in the now-defunct Laser Books line in the mid-1970’s. Anthony obliged with BUT WHAT OF EARTH?, whereupon Elwood gave the manuscript over to fledging fiction author Buck Coulson to do extensive revisions, and then published the book as a collaboration between the two, eviscerating Anthony’s original book! Anthony knew nothing about this until locating the book at a bookstand!

    Tom Dean, a.k.a. “William Atheling III”
    Canal Fulton, Ohio
    Across the (Big) Pond

  2. Hi Tom

    I’ve no doubt Elwood acted badly, and little doubt at all that most of the assertions about made by Teresa Nielsen Hayden are correct. I’m interested, though, on the idea that he made an indelibly negative impact on the anthology market. I’m not sure the statistics back that up.

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