Over the last year, I've sold several short stories to "theme" anthologies -- collections of fiction centered around a specific idea such as deep space, cyberpunk apocalypse, undead in a high fantasy shared world, or superheroes through the ages. One such anthology, When the Hero Comes Home, came out this month from Dragon Moon Press. The theme for the latter was simply what the title says: what happens after the hero comes home from his or her adventure. The stories range from high fantasy to hardcore science fiction, with every author exploring the theme in a very individual way.
Like the rise of the pulp magazine in the early 20th century, the new, cheaper ways of delivering story content to readers is sparking off a renaissance of short story collections. Also, like the pulps, these collections are generally built around a theme designed to appeal to a certain subset of readers.
The theme anthology is nothing new. Anthologies built around a shared world, like Robert Asprin's Thieves' World or George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards, enjoyed great popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress anthologies invited writers to break the traditions of sword-and-sorcery style and create tales where the women were more than a damsel in distress.
Today, the theme anthologies stretch from bad-ass fairies to zombie romance. Others ask for stories centered around a certain holiday. Shared world anthologies still come out on a frequent basis, often tied to games set in those worlds.
The publishers of these collections, both small press and large New York houses, have found that a tightly defined anthology appeals to readers hungry for fairies with attitude or zombies with girlfriend issues.
Some theme anthologies are closed markets, with editors issuing invitations to writers already known for their work in a particular market (vampires, urban fantasy, and so on). But other markets, primarily small press, are open to new writers. It's a great way to expand your market and reach new readers.
Small press editors often mention upcoming anthologies at conventions (especially if you're buying books from their tables!). And your social network of genre-writing friends may offer you other leads: don't overlook becoming fans of an anthology on Facebook or following an editor on Twitter for an early notice of calls for submissions.
Many times, you'll hear of a theme that fits a story already on your hard drive, but don't be afraid to stretch and write something new. Never tackled zombies before? The theme anthology might be just the ticket for you to discover a new love of the undead.
Anthologies also are a great way to meet new writers and make new friends. Every time I have a story appear in an anthology, I find the writers making connections via signings, gatherings at cons, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.
So have fun, line up those zombies or steampunk heroines, and start looking for some anthologies for your own writing.
Rosemary Jones has written two novels set in Wizards of the Coast's bestselling Forgotten Realms series: City of the Dead and Crypt of the Moaning Diamond. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies including Realms of the Dead, Cobalt City Timeslip, and the recently released When the Hero Comes Home.