Born and raised in Southern New Jersey, Roger Elwood started his professional writing career shortly after graduating from high school.
Elwood edited two wrestling magazines, The Big Book of Wrestling and Official Wrestling Guide, on a contract basis in 1971–72 for Jalart House, an Arizona publisher, and regularly photographed matches (wrestling magazines placed a premium on photos rather than text). He became a regular with locker room access at some shows on the East Coast, which might seem to contradict rumours that he had become disillusioned with wrestling when it came to his attention that some pro wrestling matches were fixed. This period produced some fictional confessional stories (e.g. "I Killed a Man in the Ring") that Elwood claimed were based on "a blending of interviews". He abruptly left the job in between late 1972 and early 1973, telling writers the wrestling magazines were too much work for too little compensation.
Elwood was published by four different publishers in the first six years as an SF anthologist. During the following few years he would contract with over a dozen other publishers to produce many dozens of individual books and two anthology series, the four-book Continuum and two-book Frontiers. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction observes that "At one time it was estimated that Roger Elwood alone constituted about one quarter of the total market for SF short stories."
Around the time the SF anthology market was bottoming out, Elwood moved on to Laser Books, an ultimately unsuccessful attempt by romance publishing giant Harlequin Books to systematize and regularize SF into a uniform series of novels by diverse authors. He then effectively left the mainline science fiction/fantasy field in the late 1970s.
Elwood's biography on the Fantastic Fiction website omits all mention of his work in the mainline science fiction/fantasy field and identifies him as a Writer-in-Residence (or occasionally a "professor of literature") at a Bible college in the mid-west. The biography also claims that "12 of his novels have won Excellence in Media awards for best book of the year", although the Silver Angels award website includes only a general "Print" category, and does not list Elwood's name.
In the 1990's, Elwood became a prolific writer of Christian based novels, with more than thirty novels published throughout that decade.
Elwood's significant presence in the genre anthology field in the mid 1970s is not without its detractors, whose criticisms range from professional to ad hominem.
A review of Elwood's 1976 anthology Six Science Fiction Plays in the Star Trek fan magazine Enterprise Incidents remarked that except for the inclusion of the original teleplay of the episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" by Harlan Ellison, the book was "another excursion into mediocrity by Roger Elwood".
Publishing houses which published Roger Elwood's anthologies:1964: Paperback Library
1965: Paperback Library
1966: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
1969: MacFadden-Bartell (3x)
1972: Avon, Chilton, Fleming H. Revell, MacFadden-Bartell
1973: Avon (2x), Concordia, Doubleday, Fawcett Gold Medal Books, Follett, Franklin Watts, Harper & Row, Macmillan Publishers (2x), Manor, Rand McNally (2x), Random House, Trident, Walker, Whitman
1974: Aurora, Berkley/Putnam (3x), Curtis, Dodd, Mead and Company, Doubleday, Franklin Watts, John Knox Press, Julian Messner, Lerner SF Library (8x), Pocket Books, Rand McNally, Thomas Nelson, Trident
1975: Berkley, Berkley/Putnam, Bobbs-Merrill, Evans, Follett, Manor, Prentice Hall, Warner
1976: Archway, Pocket, Washington Square Press
1977: Bobbs-Merrill Company
Amongst other criticisms, which she suggests "are more conjectural, but not easily dismissed", Nielsen Hayden nominates "the quality of the books themselves". She describes Elwood's theme anthologies as "carelessly edited" and "low-grade", although she allows that "some of Elwood's collections were quite decent," and that "all of them featured some good writers and good stories."
The following are examples of peer recognition accorded to some of the stories printed in Elwood's anthologies (source: the Internet Speculative Fiction Database):The short story "Forever and Amen" by Robert Bloch, from Elwood's 1972 anthology And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire and Other Science Fiction Stories was chosen by Forrest J. Ackerman for inclusion in his Best Science Fiction for 1973 compilation.
The 1973 anthology Future City included "The World as Will and Wallpaper" by R. A. Lafferty, which was reprinted by Terry Carr in The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3 (1974), "The Undercity" by Dean Koontz, which has been re-anthologized twice (in 1977 by Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander in Criminal Justice Through Science Fiction, and in 1997 by Ric Alexander in Cyber-Killers), and "Getting Across" by Robert Silverberg which has also been re-anthologized twice (in 1986 by Greenberg et al. in Computer Crimes and Capers and in 1997 by Waugh and Greenberg in Sci-Fi Private Eye). The Future City anthology itself was reprinted in the United Kingdom by Sphere Books in 1976.
Robert Silverberg's "The Wind and the Rain", from Elwood's 1973 anthology Saving Worlds, was reprinted by Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss in their Best SF: 1973 anthology.
"After King Kong Fell" by Philip José Farmer, from Elwood's 1973 anthology Omega, was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1974, and reprinted by Harrison and Aldiss in Best SF: 1974.
Elwood's 1973 anthology Showcase contains Silverberg's novelette Breckenridge and the Continuum, which was chosen by Terry Carr for The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3 (1974), as well as "The Childhood of the Human Hero" by Carol Emshwiller, which was included in Nebula Award Stories 9, edited by Kate Wilhelm.
Thomas F. Monteleone's short story "Breath's a Ware That Will Not Keep", from Elwood's 1975 anthology Dystopian Visions, was nominated for a Nebula award in 1976.
No less than twenty of the stories chosen by Barry N. Malzberg for inclusion in his collection The Best of Barry N. Malzberg (1976) were first published in one or other of Elwood's original anthologies.
Elwood is reported to have underpaid authors. Additionally, Teresa Nielsen Hayden discusses speculation about the financial details of some of Elwood's projects "that by all indications should have had generous budgets" but were "peculiarly long on authors who had slight or nonexistent publishing credentials outside of Roger Elwood projects."
Elwood's eight-volume young adult hardcover Lerner SF Library (1974), with three or four stories per volume, includes stories from three authors whose only recorded sale, according to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, was to that book; two more authors who only ever sold stories to Roger Elwood; and one whose only first sale was to Roger Elwood, but who had the story picked up for republication elsewhere.
SF hardcovers were relatively uncommon in the 1970s and the stories were supposedly original commissions, so Nielsen Hayden believes it is reasonable to assume that this was a well-funded project. Normally the entire advance for an anthology is paid out to the anthologist, who then purchases story rights out of his or her own pocket, retaining any unspent advance money.
Given the availability of experienced short fiction writers at the time, Elwood's choice of inexperienced authors aroused suspicions.
The Lerner SF Library also contains two stories by Earl and Otto Binder, and a third story by Otto alone. Given Earl and Otto Binder ceased to co-author stories in 1955, and that Earl died in 1965 and Otto in 1974, it seems unlikely any of these stories was a commissioned work.
Nielsen Hayden reports that, prior to Elwood's involvement in the market, anthologies and collections were very popular with readers, and were considered by the publishing industry to be "a surer bet than novels." She goes on to accuse Elwood of "singlehandedly breaking the story collection/anthology market". By "wreck[ing] the readers' faith in collections" she says, Elwood "squandered industry credibility accumulated over decades by better anthologists". Anthologies and story collections, she suggests, became "a hard sell".
Whether Elwood's impact has been a long-term one, as Nielsen Hayden maintains, is difficult to discern from the figures, which point to continuing high numbers of anthologies published annually.