Why we need an annual best of anthology for stories published online

We need more, and more varied, best-of and reprint anthologies, with as much difference of approach in them as possible–not fewer. These are the arks of our common reading culture and outlive the magazines they often cull from. Without past anthos, the book of the weird would be impossible. Even with the internet, these anthos are crucial. The fewer we have, the more of an oligarchy of taste, and the more good work we consign to history’s dustbin.

Jeff VanderMeer

For the better part of a year now I’ve been wondering out loud if there is a market for an annual The Best Online Short Stories anthology. The online mystery and crime fiction scene is hopping right now and I think one of the best ways to bring attention to it would be this type of annual anthology. But that’s not the only reason.

Keith Rawson and I were recently talking about some of the fallen zines. If there are two words to describe the online short story scene right now then vibrant would be one and transient would be the other. An annual anthology would go a long way to establishing a historical record, an actual artifact to ensure that great stories are remembered, so that future generations of readers can, at the very least, be aware of this time right now. Fifty years from now the only online publication that people will be aware of will be Thuglit.

If we make the assumption that the online scene is about a decade old then my suggestion for some brave publisher would be to offer up a couple best of the decade type anthologies that kick off the annual series. My guess is that there are some of the older, fallen zines that some people havet never heard of, especially if they are new to the community.

The rub is that there is a good chance this would be God’s work only and not very profitable. But with new models emerging in a business that’s changing I remain hopeful.

Let me know what you think? How does the idea of an annual anthology that focuses on online stories only sound? Would you buy one? At what price point? Would you read one? Let’s talk about this.

I would but one at a trade paperback price.

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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About Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

22 Replies to “Why we need an annual best of anthology for stories published online”

  1. I think this idea is long past due. If somebody had been doing this 10 years ago, think about all of the stories from zines like Blue Murder, Demolition, the old Plots with Guns, etc., that would still be in circulation, and eligible for awards from the MWA and ITW, who both insist a story see “print” before it’s consider for an an award

  2. I agree it is a good idea but the trick would be to market it to people who don’t keep up with the webzines. The trouble being that all the stories are out there for free.
    I do think having a compilation would make it easier to digest for people who can’t get around to all the different publications that are out there. And yes, transient does seem to be the way of the webzine.
    I’d be interested to see what the numbers are on anthologies in general. Do they make a lot of money? Maybe Akashic would consider doing one in their series – Cyberspace Noir or something.
    I certainly think there is room for a once-a-year best of round up and there would be a market for it.
    Christ, going through all the material out there would be a bitch.

  3. It’s definitely an idea whose time has come.

    Eric – I think the first hurdle is to make sure the community itself buys the anthos (and this is one of the things I’m curious to see about Needle). If you’ve got it self-sustaining with an established baseline then you can work on bringing in the new people from other communities and add new growth to the old growth.

    Having the stories online may act like the authors who put up their full works online. It doesn’t hurt their sales.

    Also the sites may see some extra traffic.

    I realized that this should happen last year when I was reading for the Spinetingler awards and came up with 15 stories, which seemed to me to be enough. Reading for the awards is a bitch but a rewarding one. I volonteer to edit the first antho and then we can rotate after that.

  4. Remember, we did do a “best of” antho for the old Plots with Guns. It’s out there, from Dennis McMillan Publications, 2005.

  5. I’d absolutely buy one. I’ve bought both the ThugLit ones so far, and even tracked down the old Plots with Guns one on Amazon. I may be the exception, but even with these stories out there for free on the internet machine, I’d still pay good money to keep them bound on my shelf. I’ve bought all of Warren Ellis’ Freak Angels collections without having once read the comic for free on the internet. ‘Sides, ThugLit pulls off their site the ones they anthologize, so that wouldn’t be hard to do.

  6. Yes and YES. Christopher Grant (Twist of Noir) and I have been banging the idea around too. I have been working on a few authors to contribute a few new stories that we could use in addition to best of our two sites.

  7. It would be a tough sell to most bookstores or distributing companies. But then, new ideas are always hard to get out there to the public. Michael Moorecock’s Eternal Warrior series got immensely popular after a year or so, but the first time his bookseller’s agent shopped it around to the stores, his proudest moment was putting 30 copies into an indie book store. That said, once those copies got out there Moorcock’s Elric series took off like a rabid bat. So, yeah, I’d buy one and tell my friends and pitch it to the local book shops and who knows what could happen? I say go for it.

  8. Neil–And the PWG anthology was a work of art (as are all of Dennis’ books)but imagine an annual best of online crime anthology like the ones TOR has been putting out for the past 20 years. Why is it that crime and mystery fiction doesn’t have a series like this? (Other than the best Mystery stories of the year that Mariner Books puts out, which has a limited number of online stories.)Maybe a consistent anthology series would broaden the overall readership of crime fiction?

  9. The online universe is too vast for just one anthology. Nonetheless, if it’s focused on a given genre such as noir, I believe there’s still enough quality material to compile an annual anthology. As a matter of fact, I think there’s much more to choose from among the online publications than among their print counterparts. Not to belittle EQMM or AHMM, but the top stories from Plots with Guns, Thuglit and others can stand with the best of them. I’ve never understood why most “best of” anthologies tend to favor stories from the print world and virtually ignore what’s going on online. Writers publishing on the Internet these days (I’m thinking of people like Patricia Abbott) are a far cry from the amateurish authors that used to post their stuff a decade ago.

  10. A great idea. Maxim Jakubowski is including online stories in his Mammoth Book Of British Crime BTW, although that’s not much use to non Brits.

  11. -Jimmy

    I didn’t realize that Thuglit pulled the collected stories until I tried linking to one for one of the Conversations. Other sites may be willing to follow suit, especially if they see an up tick in traffic from people checking out the site because of the book.

  12. -Aldo

    Great, keep banging away at it. Let’s make some noise. If the antho was comprehensive then I would shy away from new stories as I would want it to be more of a best of.

  13. -AJ

    I think it would be on a smaller scale and all involved would be aware of that. I think of New Pulp press for example. Their numbers aren’t too bad and would be what I would be aiming for. If, by the end of a year you had sold 400-800 copies that would be a success. Then it could grow from there. Just thinking out loud.

    Its funny how history has kind of forgotten that there were some people who were pissed at Moorcock because they were upset at the Conan parody elements.

  14. -Keith

    And its important to remember that as a genre, mystery & crime has THE most vibrant online short story scene. Other genres haven’t fostered this type of online fiction presence so its going to be up to us to pull something like this together. Which is a little like herding cats since each publication is basically no more then a couple of people doing it on the side.

    We are at a point now where it could go one way or the other. It can go towards the collections of Pulp era fiction or xeroxed and mimeographed punk zines. The former is well represented and the latter is lost to history and faded memories.

  15. -Gonzalo

    Maybe, but wouldn’t one be a great start. I would advocate no genre and sub-genre restrictions. Each year’s editor (s) pick the best, that’s it. The online fiction trends toward the darker anyway so you’d have a natural thinning of the sub-genre herd but thats different from starting out with the restrictions in place.

  16. Ed Gorman included online stories in his reading and selected some for the antho he did for Bleak House last year.

  17. I’ve been trying to get my thoughts in order before I said anything. On the one hand, I think this is a wonderful idea and something I would support. But I wonder if you’re fighting an uphill battle with this project. The vast majority of the mystery community tends to look down their noses at the online venues and, short stories in general, mostly because they don’t pay. Of the big awards, only the Agatha short-listed an online short story this year and with the higher profile of the Derringers this past year we saw a large increase in the number of stories submitted by EQ and AHMM, which knocked a good many online shorts out of the running, mostly, I believe, because the judges taste in stories tend toward the mystery side instead of the crime side.

    Just playing Devil’s advocate here. But it’s a hard sell when the readers you’re looking to impress don’t think there’s anything worth reading in the online zines. Even ThugLit didn’t get a nod until the anthologies came out and then it was a very wary nod. I’ve never understood why stories aren’t judged by their value as a story instead of where it was published and how much the author was paid.

  18. We could do a series called The Virtual Anthology (or some such) where we all pick one story from the last decade and write about it.

  19. Sandra – Please do play the Devils Advocate. At the very least we can all agree that this is a conversation worth having. Which means we have to talk honestly about it.

  20. The editors of The Best American Mystery Stories anthologies have been including stories from the zines for several years now. Of course, it helps that the anthology can attract book buyers with names like Stephen King.

  21. If you really think there should be an annual best-of collection of crime fiction first published on the Internet, then don’t just talk about it. Put together a proposal and pitch the idea to some publishing houses.