Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interview with Alex Shvartsman on Community Days

Welcome to another great Community Days interview!

My guest today is Alex Shvartsman, a writer and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. He's sold nearly 50 short stories since late 2010, to such venues as The Journal of Nature, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and Galaxy's Edge, among others. He's best-known for humorous short stories.

In 2012 Alex edited and published Unidentified Funny Objects -- an anthology of humorous SF/F which featured stories by Mike Resnick, Lavie Tidhar, Jody Lynn Nye, and Ken Liu, among others. It was well-received by readers and critics alike. Alex is running a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the second in what he hopes will become an annual anthology series: Unidentified Funny Objects.

Tell us a little bit about your inspiration for the Unidentified Funny Objects collection. How did it reflect your previous experience as a writer and editor?

Much of what I write is humorous science fiction and fantasy short stories. I submit them to what markets appreciate that sort of thing, but there are many established and well-respected magazines and anthologies that do not. So it cuts down the list of viable professional markets from over a dozen to just a handful. I always found this frustrating and wished that somebody would create a regular outlet for SF/F humor (I firmly believe there are plenty of readers interested in such stories). So you could say that I was inspired to create the market I always wanted to exist. And when I researched humor anthologies, I found that nothing similar to Unidentified Funny Objects had been published, at least not during the course of the last decade. I became even more convinced that there's a niche need that my project could fill.

How do you go about establishing relationships with the excellent crop of UFO contributors?

It varies. Some are great, established writers of whom I've been a fan of for a long time. I reached out to them and was thrilled to have them be willing to contribute a story. Others are friends and colleagues from among the crop of neo-pros and other up-and-coming writers. We run across each other on writer forums, share table of contents in other magazines, and form friendships via social media. And others yet are authors I never met or heard of, who submitted stories via an open call and thoroughly impressed me with their writing talent and their humor. I made a number of lasting friendships and some of those were actually with writers whose stories I didn't accept for the first UFO book. I can't wait to see what they might come up with for the second volume!

What reasons, beyond straight fundraising, inspired you to turn to Kickstarter for your projects?

There are two very important aspects to the Kickstarter for me that go beyond the dollars raised. First. it's the exposure. Although most of the money in publishing fundraisers comes from people who are already aware of the project manager and their work, it is still a great way to gain new readers and exposure. Instead of paying to advertise your existence elsewhere, you can potentially raise extra money if the Kickstarter aficionados discover the project and deem it cool enough!

The second, and perhaps the more important goal, is proof of concept. I believe that readers want an anthology of humor SF/F, but what proof have I got? Raising $6,000, or 20% more than I asked for, for the first book, with nearly 250 people pledging their hard-earned dollars toward the project is tangible proof that the demand for this anthology series exists.

You're in the process of running a second Kickstarter project for Vol. 2. How are you using insights from the first campaign to make the second time around smoother?

For the second volume, I'm trying for an even more ambitious $8,000. It's a big number, but I am prepared to challenge myself and UFO fans, because I want to make this book the best it can be, without being forced to cut any corners.

I paid careful attention to what reward levels worked best and to what people really wanted from the book and the project overall. I'm committed to keep the pricing reasonable, in line with what one might spend on a pre-order. The eBook is only $10, and the paperback is only $20, with plenty of other reasonably-priced rewards. I focused on using copies of both this year's and last year's anthologies as primary rewards, to avoid spending the funds on creating unrelated gifts such as t-shirts or mugs.

Will this strategy pay off, or will I be left thousands of dollars short when the campaign time runs out? We'll find out in late April.

You mentioned that it's easy to get caught up in "doing everything at once" (running a Kickstarter project, reading submissions, launching a company). How do you manage the different aspects of the project? Is it beneficial to have a lot going on at one time?

When I launched the first Kickstarter campaign in 2012 I didn't quite appreciate just how much time running and promoting it was going to take. This time around, I am concentrating on the campaign itself and have the submission reading period slated for May. Based on the success or failure of this campaign I will know how much material I can afford to buy. Doing things the second time around are generally easier because I learned a lot last year and can apply that knowledge to the current project. For example, I spent approximately 10 work hours researching the costs and options for printing the trade paperbacks. This time around it should take me no more than an hour or two to solicit the price quotes from several of the best printers I researched the last time around, saving a ton of time and effort.

Could you talk a bit about art assets? It can be a lot of work to get a good artist on board (especially with a speculative/Kickstarter project). Why do you think nailing the cover art is worth the effort?

Cover art is hugely important. They say one shouldn't judge the book by its cover, but that happens, every day. A beautiful cover can sell the book. I'm talking to a couple of artists now and will make the final decisions based on the funds raised, but only because I can show off the art from the first book. If this was my first project or a new, independent anthology, I would begin with commissioning the cover art and have that available as a draw for the potential readers and backers.

I would also love to have some of the stories illustrated, but this will only be possible as a stretch goal.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher, agent etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is quickly becoming one of the most prominent anthologists in the science fiction and fantasy fields. He has several books in the pipeline, slated for release over the course of the next year and a half. Some of these projects were funded via Kickstarter, others sold to traditional publisheres. Bryan is a very effective networker and is an active member of the SF fandom. He edits a magazine, hosts a weekly chat with popular writers and editors on Twitter, and is a successful writer himself. If you don't already know his name, you soon will.

Interested in learning more? Follow Alex on Twitter or check out his website.

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