I hadn't realized how harmful a bad intro can be until I saw it in action--making me disinclined to buy any more of that antho. (Don't want to mention the name as I like the person.)
For me, story notes work if there's a fun history of the story's background. It does NOT work if it's laden with superlatives, especially if the intro tells me what theme I'm supposed to be seeing.
I do like to read how authors came to write certain stories, but I don't think it's necessary.
The professionalism, in my mind, comes from how the book is designed and laid out, how good/clean the cover is, if there are typos, and other forms of presentation -- all assuming of course that the stories are great stories. An intro to the collection is just another very small notch in that regard.
I quite like story notes, but I like them to go at the end of the collection, where they won't prejudice me about the story before I read it. (And if they're boring, I can ignore them without trouble.)
I like this, too.
A bad set of extra material is much, much worse than nothing. But no extras at all tends to leave me feeling vaguely left out.
Right - either at the end of the collection, or possibly right after the story. Only rarely have I read "intro" notes that I felt added something positive.
On the other hand, I think an editor's introduction to the whole anthology or collection is really valuable, and adds to the professionalism and the experience. I might read it after I read the stories, but I like for it to be there.
So to be clear: if a long-standing major print publisher chooses to have the author or a fellow author introduce the collection instead of the editor, that feels less professional to you on average?
If it's a single author collection, it's fine to have either the author or a fellow author write the intro.
If it's an anthology, I really like to get an intro from the editor, to get the "this is what we did and how and why backstory. But then, I'm an historian, so I'm more interested in backstory than in third-party literary analysis, which is what I think I more often see if it is someone else writing the intro.
Ah. I tend to distinguish verbally between "collection" and "anthology," so I'm only asking about single author collections here.
In multi-person athologies, I like a little biographical info and maybe an author's brief "where this story came from" summation.
With single person collections, I like post-story story notes. Otherwise I agree with Blythe.
The anthos I've enjoyed most I specifically picked up because they related to a particular author, now departed, and I wanted to know more about the person behind the work. The intros were thus the background behind the stories and how they came to be, and combined with the work themselves presented the picture I'd sought.
If an intro looks like it's all superlatives, or all about the intro's writer, I skip it.
Much of my impression of the professionalism comes from the flow of the stories (that's good), and whether there are obviously weak stories included to pad up the wordcount (that's bad).
Speaking as a casual reader, rather than someone with an academic or career interest, I'm not big on short story notes. The story holds together or it doesn't. The notes aren't going to change that.
I read a horror anthology where the notes BEFORE the stories gave away the endings of the stories. As in "... an excellent example of an unreliable narrator..." kind of ruining. So then I had to try to skip the notes, read the stories, then decide whether it was worthwhile to go back to the notes. I ended up skipping them entirely. So don't do that.
As a reader, I prefer to see the story notes be in a separate section of the book instead of being included with each story. It is often more interesting to read the notes in one go after digesting the entire book, and I can decide to skip it if I've decided after reading the stories that I'd rather not learn more about the author after all.
If the story notes are at the beginning of the book, I'll sometimes look in on them before reading, but then I REALLY don't want them to give away much about the story, just the background of how the story came to be.
On the professional axis, their mere presence or absence makes little to no difference to me. If accompanied by the almost complete absence of any other verbiage external to the stories, that would tend to give the impression of a cursory job akin to just printing out the manuscripts, which would seem unprofessional. At minimum, if there are no story notes or story introductions, I would expect at least one of any of jacket copy, about the author, collection introduction (none of which necessarily need be seen to be by the author), but their necessity goes down if story notes and/or introductions are present, if that makes some sense. I think that it has to do with my perception of intent to draw attention and intent to sell commercially by having the presence of things that people can read without looking at the stories themselves to get an idea of whether the stories would be to their taste. Places where I've seen the total absence thing not imply being unprofessional are usually in other arts like songbooks or stage play scripts with established interested parties in said publications, where the people buying them are less interested in the creator or the process of creation of the words, so much as putting on the play, or studying stagecraft, or they've already seen the play. Cases where the other stuff isn't needed so isn't there.
In reference to other attributes, you will be unsurprised to read that I like detail and contextualization, so whether dry, entertaining, or charming, story notes/introductions are usually interesting to me, and thus appreciated. I like
knowing things that colour my understanding of a story. It's all food for analysis. And wherever they appear in the physical book, I can choose to read or not read them in any order in relation to the story(s) they pertain to. Admittedly, it's easier if they are right next to the story in question. I have no problem with authorial statements of intent, or self analysis, in notes. Connecting the 'what were they thinking' with the story is one of the useful ways to look at how people understand how storytelling works. Notes about why the stories are in this particular collection, or in this order are also interesting in similar ways, just at a different level.
Re: sartorias' comment above, I can't recall having read story notes in collections laden with superlatives, but perhaps I've just been reading different collections. That or I've blocked them from memory. Usually if I see them, they're in blurbs, jacket copy, or occasionally in third party introductions, where one might expect to see them.
Re: presentation and professionalism. There are a great many areas of matter of taste that I don't have much to add to beyond that many of them don't seem to apply in my case beyond minimum construction and production standards, which are not so much to do with content. But on that note, I recall a pair of posts by Michelle, their comments and references that may or may not be of use to you: An open letter to Trade Publishers More on covers
Speaking of on a different level, I find the choice of buttons for these polls interesting. 'Very important', 'Moderately important', and 'Meh', can all be on a scale, which makes sense for a question asking for degree. 'Some other response…' makes sense as an option for those who aren't going to characterize their response in that fashion, so it can go as a button too. The remaining two do not answer the question as asked (i.e: in the 'how important' sense), especially 'I find them annoying and generally a distraction from the stories' in the question of professionalism. They may bear on the perception, but can be separated from degree in a way that I would have expected them to be ticky-boxes. 'Oh Brian you are such a Brian', yes?
On again a different level, I'm pleased about the prospect of a collection from you. While I've bought several magazines/e-zines in order to read stories of yours, it's nice to have them all in one place.
Not just "oh Brian you are such a Brian," but indeed such a self-aware Brian about being a Brian. Which is dear of you.
Sometimes self-aware anyway. People keep encouraging me to think less about what I say. Hence incidents like the one that prompted the comment in person. Balance-finding. It is a thing.