Polyphony Anthology Series

A while back I compiled a list of influential anthologies or anthology series (I think I had the audacity to call it “The Most Influential”). Possibly the most controversial item on the list was the Polyphony series, started by Deborah Layne and Jay Lake in 2002. I’ve made no bones about the fact that it’s one of my favorite recent anthology series. Mostly that comes from the fact that many authors I enjoy reading have been in the series, including Jeffrey Ford, Theodora Goss, Jeff VanderMeer, Leslie What, Lucius Shepard, Alex Irvine, Carol Emshwiller, Howard Waldrop, Ken Scholes, and more.

I also posted a while back that Deborah Layne and Wheatland Press were going on hiatus for all of 2009. In case you’ve forgotten (and I suspect most of you haven’t) 2008 into 2009 was a particularly bad time in publishing and the economy in general. The thought was that Layne and everyone else would have some time to recoup from their financial difficulties and Polyphony 7 would be published in early 2010.

However (there’s always a however with me, right?) Layne announced that she was looking for 225 pre-orders or she would have to cancel the book and the series. Now comes the news that Layne has received just over half the pre-orders she needed. She’s extended the pre-order deadline through Friday March 19, 2010, but it doesn’t look good.

One of the most telling points in her announcement is the number of submissions versus sales. Polyphony is typically open to submissions for 45 days. In that time frame Layne receives 650 submissions. In three months, she has about a quarter of that in sales. I’m not surprised. That’s the kind of numbers I see all the time with Electric Velocipede.

I can remember thinking more than once, “If half of the people submitting bought an issue or a subscription, I’d be doing great!” Of course, at the rates that short fiction pays, most sales wouldn’t give you enough money to buy a sample from the publisher and then you enter into a vicious circle of authors and publishers looking to make sales.

This isn’t to exhort you to rush over to the Wheatland Press site and buy the book. If you decide to click on the links and look at it, you’ll either like the list of authors and think about buying the book or you won’t. I can’t make that happen.

And I understand that disparity between submissions and sales. Many of us don’t have the income to buy something we know nothing about and can’t learn more about without ordering it. It’s that vicious circle again. I used to subscribe to a lot of publications, big and small, and I’ve had to cut back on those drastically over the past 18 months and shift my attention to anthologies and online fiction.

I’ll be very sad if Layne decides to cease the Polyphony series. But I’ll understand her decision.


John Klima is the editor of Electric Velocipede, winner of the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine.

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