The Inside Scoop on Anthologies with Mike Resnick

interview by Carl Slaughter

In the 1990s, Mike Resnick launched more careers with his anthologies than Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF combined. He’s at it again with Stellar Guild. He gives Diabolical Plots the inside story on the nature and process of anthologies.

CARL SLAUGHTER: Which is a better/faster way to build a resume as a speculative fiction writer, anthologies or magazines?

MIKE RESNICK: The digest magazines. Then the print anthologies. Then the e-zines. But mass market novels are the quickest way of all.

 

CS: Which pays better?

MR: Depends on the market. Jim Baen’s Universe was paying a quarter a word when I was co-editing it with Eric Flint. Most of the print zines pay 7 to 9 cents, most of the SFWA-accepted e-zines pay 5 or 6 cents, though a few pay double that. The average anthology, at least the ones I’m acquainted with over the past half-dozen years, pay from 7 to 10 cents a word. Even when I was editing them twenty+ years ago, we never paid less than 6 cents. Which is to say, in sum, that it’s a crap shoot.

 

CS: Which involves surrendering fewer rights?

MR: Any legit magazine will buy first serial rights, and keep the option of buying it again for an anthology of stories from the magazine. Usually they want a six-month worldwide exclusive. Most anthologies will buy first serial rights, plus a worldwide non-exclusive (which means they can sell the anthology to other countries, giving you a pro rata split; but you can market the solo story anywhere you want.) That’s standard, but of course not all contracts are standard.

 

CS: From conception to publication, what’s the timeframe for a typical anthology?

MR: From conception, I assume you mean from the day the editor signs a contract with the publisher. If it’s an original anthology, figure twelve to sixteen months; if it’s reprint, maybe seven to twelve months.

 

CS: What’s the average number of stories per anthology?

MR: Varies wildly. Twenty is a nice safe average number.

 

CS: What’s the average word count per story?

MR: 5000 to 6500 usually. Which isn’t to say that flash fiction and novellas are totally absent from all anthologies.

 

CS: How well do anthologies sell?

MR: Not very. Most sales are made in the contracts, not the execution. And if a publisher is shelling out well under $10,000 for an anthology — and 95% of the anthologies go for four figures — then the only way he can get hurt is to spend $50,000 promoting it, or printing 300,000 copies, or hiring the equivalent of Frank Frazetta for the cover art…so he handles it like a $7,000 book…and lo and behold, it sells like a $7,000 book.

 

CS: Does every major speculative fiction publisher have an anthology division or are most anthology editors freelancers?

MR: Almost all anthologies are freelance edited.

 

CS: Where does a freelance anthology editor get capital for their next project?

MR: You talk to “Names” that will make the book marketable, and when you get enough commitments, you take your anthology idea to the various publishing houses until someone likes it enough to sign a contract and pay you an advance. I should add that almost all advances are half on signing and half on delivery…and since you budget about 90% of the advance for stories, the editor is often a few thousand dollars out-of-pocket until he delivers. (And mass market publishing is historically a month or two late on the signature advance, and two to four months late on the delivery/acceptance payment.)

 

CS: Are most anthologies open to submission or by invitation only?

MR: Most are invitation only. For sound economic reasons. If I sell an anthology for $8,000, I’ll budget it at $7,000…and someone always has diarrhea of the keyboard, so it’ll cost me about $7,300…which means I’ll make about $700. Now, if I’m dealing with journeyman writers whose work I like well enough to invite them, I can usually do the editing in a few days…but if I open it to submissions, I’m going to get about 600 stories, maybe 500 all-but-unreadable, and it’ll take me a month to wade my way through them…and if I’m only earning $700 a month, I’m in the wrong business.

 

CS: For the ones that are invitation only, how does an aspiring writer get on the editor’s radar?

MR: He keeps his eyes and ears open, he networks, he talks to pros, to other beginners, he attends conventions. I know it seems like “invite only” means “no beginners wanted”…but I bought more first stories for my anthologies in the 1990s than Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF combined.

 

CS: For the ones that accept submissions, how do they spread the word? Post on Codex, WOTF, Hatrack, and Critters; advertise in the SFWA newsletter; if it’s a horror anthology, advertise in the Horror Writers Association newsletter; if the subgenre is vampire or zombie, do they notify the Vampire Writers Association or Zombie Writers Association (I’m joking, are there such associations?)?

MR: You can whisper, very softly, that you accept submissions, and you’ll be whelmed over with hundreds of them within a couple of weeks.

 

CS: Novel editors put stories through extensive revision. What about anthology editors. Do they request multiple rewrites? Do they do the rewrites themselves?

MR: If it’s a theme anthology, and 90% of them are, that means it’s a story that wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t commissioned it…and that means I have a moral obligation to the writer. I will return any story for revisions if it needs them…and on those occasions that the author simply can’t give me what I want — and it’s only happened three times in over fortyanthologies, I’ll pay him a kill fee, since as I say he’d never have taken the time to write a story on that particular theme if I hadn’t assigned it.

 

CS: What percentage of stories in a typical anthology are by new writers?

MR: I can’t speak for any other editors. I’d say about 20-25% in my anthologies are by new or newer writers, or to be more blunt, by names we can’t put on the cover because they have absolutely no following or value at present. This, I should add, is not a permanent condition. 10 of the writers I have bought from made the Campbell ballot after I bought their stories.

 

CS: How often do we see anthologies with all new writers? Is it too much of a risk for publishers? Aren’t readers keen to check out new writers?

MR: My guess is: Never. I did one for SFWA, published by DAW, called NEW VOICES IN SCIENCE FICTION, a few years back, and it contained only writers who’d broken into print in the past five years…but even so it contained some bestsellers, a bunch of Campbell winners and nominees, etc.

 

CS: Who are/were the heavy hitters in the anthology industry and what is their greatest contribution?

MR: Anytime between 1980 and 2005 I’d have said there was Marty Greenberg and then there was Everyone Else. With Marty gone, no one has begun to dominate the field the way he did. John Joseph Adams is putting out some nice anthologies; so is the team of George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. And there’s something new afoot — the Kickstarter project. The best so far have come from Bryan Schmidt, Marty Halpern, Alex Shvartsman, and a few others…but it’s very early days in that field.

 

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.

Kevin J. Anderson Interview

interview by Carl Slaughter

KevinProBioKevin Anderson is the author of numerous Star Wars novels. He is also the coauthor, with Brian Herbert, Frank Herbert’s son, of 12 Dune novels. He most popular original series is Saga of Seven Suns. His novel Assemblers of Infinity, which was serialized in Analog, was nominated for a Nebula award. 51 of his books have been international or national best sellers, 40 of them on the New York Times bestseller list. He has had 23 million books published in 30 languages. His most recent novels are Enemies and Aliens, about the first meeting of Superman and Batman, and The Last Days of Krypton, a Superman prequel. He is a Writers of the Future judge and participates in Mike Resnick’s anthology mentor series, Stellar Guild. He is working on Saga of Shadows, a prequel trilogy. He is married to author Rebecca Moesta, with whom he has coauthored a horror comedy series. Carl Slaughter interviews Anderson for Diabolical Plots.

Check out Kevin’s websites at:
http://www.wordfire.com/books/ebooks
http://kjablog.com/

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: Why is it significant that Batman and Superman meet? Does Batman need Superman? Does Superman need Batman? Why the mid 50s? Why Lex Luthor but not the Joker?

KEVIN ANDERSON: Not only are they both icons, but they are two sides of the same coin, both “heroes” but with very different approaches. By playing one against the other, I could explore the differences more clearly. Each is convinced in his own methods, but I loved playing them against each other. I wanted to do the first meeting of Batman and Superman. If I set it in the modern period, I couldn’t figure out how to make it seem believable. But in the 1950s, that gave me a whole new playground to run around in. That was a time for Lex Luthor to shine, like a mix between a super-villain and Mad Men. Honestly, I don’t think I ever considered using the Joker; he seemed too out of control!

 

CS: Why delve into events on Krypton? Don’t we already know what happens? Hasn’t it already been discussed in the comic books and movies? Krypton is about to explode, so Jorel’s father sends him away from Krypton to save him and to Earth to help us. Or is it more complicated than that?

KA: I made my mark on the genre by writing big SF epics. I wanted to treat the grand planet of Krypton as the basis of a great epic, like the Last Days of Pompeii. I would argue that we know almost *nothing* about what happens on Krypton. Why does the planet explode? Why does such an advanced planet have only one spaceship? And why is it only “baby sized”? What about the Phantom Zone? The rise of General Zod, how Argo City survives under its dome, how Brainiac steals the city of Kandor? All of these hints are given, but the whole story was never pieced together. THE LAST DAYS OF KRYPTON tells the whole sweeping story,

 

CS: “Horror humor” sounds like a contradiction of terms. How can scary be funny and how can funny be scary? Does “horror humor” mean the story is laced with funny one liners, like a slasher saying to his victims after he cuts them up, “May you rest in pieces”? Or are the horror DNA and the humor DNA fused? Give us an example.

KA: Horror and humor have been used together very successfully for a long time. Look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Army of Darkness†and more recently, Shaun of the Dead, True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse. My Dan Shamble, Zombie PI stories are more like corny spoofs, Mad Monster Party, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, but I fell in love with the characters so much when I was writing them, I would love to keep working on the series.

 

CS: How does an aspiring writer get into franchise writing? For screen, print, and comics. Do you have to submit outlines to a managing editor who zealously guards the franchise’s reputation? Are the tie in/spin off plots and characters allowed to differ significantly from the original canon?

KA: The problem with giving advice is that the publishing world has changed so dramatically, my experiences are no longer relevant. Most important, I didn’t “break” into the field,I was asked. Lucasfilm approached me because they had read my work; it wasn’t something I had planned ahead of time. And on the basis of my Star Wars successes, I got offered many other jobs. I don’t know how somebody can do it on purpose.

 

CS: Your career has been heavy on novels and heavy on series. Why not short fiction, why not original fiction?

KA: I’ve published over a hundred short stories, but my heart is really in the novels. That’s the canvas my imagination likes to paint on. When I come up with a great idea, do all the huge world building, the stories keep suggesting themselves. I like to stay with characters I have created, in universes I have built. The vast majority of my published work has been original fiction†or do you mean “standalone novels” by your question? If I come up with a story and characters, I usually can’t limit it to a single novel.

 

CS: True or false: A hard science story stands a better chance of getting selected by Writers of the Future?

KA: False.

 

CS: You’ve had 40 books on the New York Times bestsellers list. Did this record start before or after the first million words a writer allegedly types before achieving publishable quality?

KA: I’ve had 51 national or international bestsellers; twenty or so have been on the New York Times. My first bestseller, JEDI SEARCH, was my seventh or eighth published novel, each one 100,000 words or more†so I wasn’t quite at the million-word mark, but close. I was still practicing.

 

CS: What are the biggest mistakes aspiring writers make and what are the most important things aspiring writers should do?

KA: They think their writing is perfect and don’t listen to advice. If your book has been rejected 20 times, maybe there’s something wrong with it, rather than “publishers don’t understand my genius.” Also, don’t keep writing and rewriting and rewriting your first novel. Write the next one. Then the next. Then the next. That’s how you learn the most. Put in those million practice words!

 

CS: What’s the motivation for such a busy author to work with an unestablished writer for comparatively little pay? Is the purpose of the project to help them improve their writing or to help get their name out there? What’s the mentoring arrangement. Do they write a story and you help them revise it or do you write it together and share a byline?

KA: For “TAU CETI”, when I was approached to launch the Stellar Guild, I had an idea for a story that had fascinated me for a long time, but I knew it was only a novella length, not something I could expand into a full novel. And novellas are notoriously difficult to publish, so most of us just veto them in our creative brain. So it seemed like a great opportunity for me to write the story I wanted to do, and also give an opportunity for one of my friends and writing students, Steve Savile. (Of course, Steve wasn’t entirely a newbie, since he had been quite successful on his own.) I wrote my novella and gave it to Steve as I drafted it so he could start thinking of a related follow-up story. In fact, since Steve has been fascinated with how i write with a digital recorder, I sent Steve my raw audio files as I dictated him, so he could really see the rough versions!

 

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.

Interview: Mike Resnick

interview by Carl Slaughter

Mike Resnick recently launched 2 new projects. Stellar Guild, an anthology series, and Galaxy’s Edge, an ezine. Diabolical Plots asks
who, what, when, why, and how.

CARL SLAUGHTER: You did these type of projects in the 90s and launched a lot of careers. Why again? Why now?

MIKE RESNICK: This field has been phenomenally good to me over the years. I can’t pay back — everyone who helped me is either dead or rich or both — so I pay forward.

CARL: Will these 2 project continue indefinitely, with you turning over the editorship to someone else, or will you shut them down after you’ve accomplished certain goals?

MIKE: That’s up to the guy who pays the bills, but I don’t believe he plans on halting either project in the foreseeable future.

CARL: The magazine stories are free. What’s the business model for a free, online magazine?

MIKE: That’s a publisher question. I’m just the editor. I assume that being free online serves multiple purposes: it lets me recruit new
writers he may want to work with in the future, it advertises many of his books and projects (like the Caribbean cruise workshop) in its
pages, etc. And I should add that although it’s free online, we’re actually selling a surprising number of copies of the Kindle, Nook and
paper formats. And as each new issue comes online for free, the prior one is accessible only for a fee.

CARL: Speculative fiction is a big umbrella. Which subgenres will you emphasize and which will you exclude?

MIKE: I like science fiction. I like fantasy. I like humor. I like odd and offbeat. I have no interest in horror.

CARL: What percentage of stories will be original and what percentage will be reprints? What percentage of stories will have recognizable bylines and what percentage will be new names?

MIKE: We’ll be running 5 new stories and 4 reprint stories and/or novelettes each issue, so it’s 55% new, 44% reprint, and 1% left over.
The new stories will be by newcomers, or journeymen whose names aren’t well-known yet. The reprints will be by major writers whose names on the cover will theoretically keep us in business. We’re also running a science column by Greg Benford, a book review column by Paul Cook, and an anything-he-feels-like-writing-about column by Barry Malzberg. And my editorials seem to go a few thousand words each. Oh, and we serialize a novel each issue, we run a novel excerpt from the publisher’s list each issue, and we run a short story from one of the
publisher’s available collections each issue. Like the old Lucky Strike commercials, we’re firm and fully-packed.

CARL: How does the protÃ’ gÃ’ thing work? Does the protÃ’ gÃ’ write a story and the veteran help with revision or do they both write a story on a similar theme?

MIKE: I contact a superstar and assign him/her a novella. Then a protÃ’ gÃ’ (of their choosing, not mine) will write a novella or long
novelette that is a sequel, a prequel, or just set in the same universe — and share cover credit. And when you’re a newcomer sharing cover credit with Mercedes Lackey or Larry Niven or Kevin J. Anderson or Robert Silverberg or Harry Turtledove or Nancy Kress or Eric Flint, it’s got to give your embryonic career a lot more of a boost than selling half a dozen stories to the usual markets.

CARL: All the established authors you contacted initially declined to participate. When you informed them the project would involve working with a protÃ’ gÃ’ , they all immediately reversed their decision. Why is working with a protÃ’ gÃ’ such a motivation?

MIKE: For the same reason I work with beginners: to pay forward. I just ran through the names of the senior partners on these books. Most
are contracted years ahead, most make far more than we can pay…but the moment the philosophy of the line was explained to them, each of
these talented and truly generous writers instantly agreed. I should add that the very first Stellar Guild book to come out — Kevin
Anderson’s and Steve Saville’s TAU CETI — just won the very first “Lifeboat to the Stars” Award, which carries a 4-figure cash prize with it.

CARL: An important question for aspiring writers. Are submissions open?

MIKE: No, but I hope to open submissions soon. Maybe 3 or 4 months.

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.