Alex Shvartsman recently launched a Kickstarter project to aid in the creation of an anthology of science fiction humor from pro authors. It wasn’t until he mentioned his plan in a discussion that I realized I had never seen such a thing, and yet it’s a simple and appealing idea–an idea with legs, as they say.
So I made my first-ever Kickstarter contribution and asked Alex if I could interview him about the book. Here is that interview.
LUC: You’ve had some noticeable success both in writing (with sales to major markets like DSF and Nature) and in the gaming world. What made you venture into editing and publishing an anthology by pro writers?
ALEX: Although I really enjoy reading and writing speculative fiction, I’m a businessman at heart. I’ve launched several different companies over the years and it’s difficult for me to look at a business model without the question of “how would I do this differently” lingering at the back of my mind.
One of the first things I learned upon trying to get published is that content is way underpriced. Incredibly talented people work very hard to let someone publish their words for pennies per word. So why not put my business acumen to good use and let that someone be me? Even paying what’s considered pro rates I feel that I’m taking advantage of the authors, somehow. I hope to be able to pay even more, eventually, if UFO Publishing becomes a success.
Mind you, I’m not saying that I know better than anyone else, or that the way other publishers do things is somehow bad or wrong. Small publishers that make such claims come and go, and that sort of a statement is often a warning sign in itself. All I’m saying is that I’m willing to invest my time and money to put together the best book I possibly can, and see where that takes me.
LUC: Interesting. So with that in mind, why funny science fiction in particular?
ALEX: I love writing and reading light, humorous stories. Stuff that may be fun to read but won’t necessarily be considered by some of the SFWA markets. When trying to submit such stories for publication I’ve been frustrated at the lack of pro paying venues where they would fit, and realized that, surely, I’m not alone in this.
Can you think of an anthology of speculative humor published any time recently? A publisher that specializes in such material? I can’t. Yet Terry Pratchett books and, recently, “Redshirts” by John Scalzi are bestsellers. So why not short SF/F stories, too? I believe there is a market for such books, and it may be a great niche for a fledgling company to fill.
LUC: How did you decide on a Kickstarter campaign for initial funding, and how did you address the perennial question “why is this book project worth supporting”?
ALEX: Kickstarter is a perfect platform for projects like this. It isn’t just about the money raised (though the money certainly helps!) – it’s about proof of concept. How many people will become excited enough about an anthology of humorous SF/F to support it by pre-ordering a copy, or even pledging extra money for other rewards? How many people will I be able to reach, make aware of the upcoming book, that might not have learned about it otherwise? This is marketing with an added benefit or raising money for a new venture rather than spending money. A godsend for any bootstrapping new publisher.
So far, I’m very pleased with the results. Over 125 individuals backed UFO in the first three weeks. Hundreds more learned about it through social media and are at least aware of the book, even if they didn’t elect to pre-order. By the time the crowdfunding campaign is over in September, the numbers it generates will give me a much better idea of how many physical copies of the book to print, how much to spend on advertising, etc. And, of course, an infusion of cash at this stage is supremely helpful.
As to the reasons to support the project, there are many. If you are a reader/fan who enjoys speculative humor then, I will repeat once again, UFO is the only anthology of this kind being released in the foreseeable future and supporting it helps promote light/humorous SF and support authors. If you’re a writer, you will find UFO’s systems and procedures to be very friendly — we respond to all submissions within 1-2 days, often provide personalized feedback, pay pro rates, don’t demand excessive rights, pay promptly upon contract … I can go on!
LUC: How have the submissions you’ve received so far–and especially the stories you’ve bought for the anthology–compared with what you expected? What exactly are we in for, here?
ALEX: Both the quantity and the quality of the submissions far exceeded my expectations. There have been over 750 submissions already and way more of them are excellent stories than what I can hope to squeeze into the book.
Let me tell you about just a few of the yarns that will appear in UFO. There’s a novelette by Mike Resnick about a spell-casting Albert Einstein battling the Nazis with some help from Eleanor Roosevelt. Ferrett Steinmetz writes about a wizard who powers his spells through tantric masturbation. This story is a lot more PG-13 than you might expect but still, it isn’t something you’re likely to read elsewhere.
There are also stoned computers, down on their luck vampires, omnivorous sex-maniac pandas and a zombear.
Not every story is over-the-top slapstick humor. Some are gentler, light tales, like Stephanie Burgis’ “Dreaming Harry” about a child whose dreams literally come true and the parents forced to deal the consequences of that. Or Nathaniel Lee’s “The Alchemist’s Children” about a scientifically-minded daughter’s quest to reconnect with her alchemist father. I am going for variety, but I try to avoid dark humor and humorous horror. I want the tone of the book to be very optimistic.
A great example of what’s to be found in the book is Jake Kerr’s story of an alien invasion told via Twitter. We posted it for everyone to read for free, and coded the page to look just like a Twitter stream. It can be found here:
Let me leave you with that, because Kerr’s story is worth reading and probably a good litmus test for whether or not this book is for you. At the time of this writing, the Kickstarter project is more than 70% funded with a week to go (though less by the time you read this).