[GUEST POST] John Helfers on The Brave New World of Publishing


John Helfers is a freelance writer and editor based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. During his sixteen years working at the packaging company Tekno Books, he edited more than fifteen short story anthologies for DAW Books, Inc., and more than one hundred others for publishers in all genres. He also worked with well-known authors and co-editors such as Charlaine Harris, Mercedes Lackey, Margaret Weis, Jean Rabe, Robert Silverberg, and Kevin J. Anderson. John has also published more than forty short stories in anthologies such as If I Were An Evil Overlord, Time Twisters, and Places to Be, People to Kill. His media tie-in fiction has appeared in anthologies, game books, and novels for the Dragonlance®, Transformers®, BattleTech® and Shadowrun® universes. He’s written fiction and nonfiction, including a novel in the first authorized trilogy based on The Twilight Zone™ television series, the YA novel Tom Clancy’s Net Force Explorers™: Cloak and Dagger, the original fantasy novel Siege of Night and Fire, and a history of the United States Navy. Recent projects including overseeing the second Elemental Masters anthology with Mercedes Lackey, and working with Esther Friesner on the next Chicks in Chainmail anthology. In his spare time, he’s signs on to Kickstarter projects he believes in while trying to write several projects in the middle-grade and adult genres.

The Brave New World of Publishing, or How the Cars, Cards & Carbines anthology and Kickstarter project came about
Or, How the Cars, CARDS & CARBINES Anthology and Kickstarter Project Came About

by John Helfers

This is my first foray into Kickstarter as a co-editor, indeed, as part of any project. For that, I can thank Travis Heermann, whom I’ve known for several years, ever since I acquired his novel Heart of the Ronin for Five Star’s Science Fiction and Fantasy line, and have enjoyed his work ever since.

I’ve also had a front-row seat to the changes that have been happening in publishing over the past several years, from the rise of e-books and self-publishing to the various permutations and machinations large publishers have gone through in response. Unfortunately, there have been casualties in this brave new world, and one of them is anthologies.

In some ways, that’s not saying much. Like genre fiction itself, anthologies have never really enjoyed a proper place of pride in literature, which I find sad, really. Short fiction contains every element of longer works-dynamic, engaging characters, twisty plots, exciting action-and all in a tenth (or less) of the space a novel requires. Every word counts, and therefore, the authors who write short fiction must pay attention to each one.

However, traditional publishers have typically found anthologies to be even more of a gamble than novels-a line-up of heavy hitting, bestselling authors doesn’t guarantee that their fans will follow them into an anthology for a short story. So, publishers see these volumes as more risk, with less reward.

This is also a disappointing, not just for editors, but for authors as well, as anthologies have several benefits for publishers and authors. The biggest one is to get greater exposure for newer authors by pairing them in a short fiction collection with a bestseller or two (of the various genres, it seems that only romance publishers have committed to using this strategy regularly, with very positive results).

And should an anthology series become popular (Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner’s paranormal anthology series comes to mind), they can definitely be profitable in their own right. Authors can gain new fans themselves by appearances in anthologies between novels; although the pay is rarely great, the publicity for these smaller projects are often great to keep fans hooked during the wait between books.

On the reader side, anthologies are often seen as less risky for someone who may want to try a new author without committing to a full novel. Even though short fiction differs significantly from long fiction, they can often get enough of a writer’s style to find out if they are going to pick up that writer’s books. Also, in today’s even more fast-paced, multi-task world, anthologies, particularly electronic anthologies, are perfect for today’s reader on the go, who wants a quick fiction fix during a ten-minute subway or taxi ride, or while waiting for their doctor’s appointment.

Fortunately, there are several alternate avenues for anthologies to be published. From small press programs like Fiction River to Kickstarter projects like Fearful Symmetries, anthologies have found alternate paths to publication, and with them, all of the wonderful short stories that may not have existed without the inspiration the framing anthology often provides.

When Travis spoke to me about Cars, Cards, and Carbines at Dragoncon this past year, I was intrigued by both the idea and its proposed execution, and signed on immediately. Travis and I share a love of gripping, thrilling tales with roots in the finest pulp tradition, but which also stretch beyond that to combine with crime and mystery, fantasy, horror, and science fiction.

But I think Travis’s own thoughts about this project sum it up best: “This anthology was conceived as Mad Max meets Maverick and The Wild Wild West, by way of Quentin Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez. Each story will do something unique to incorporate those three themes, without restrictions on genre. One cool thing about putting together this kind of anthology (aside from the sheer talent we’ve assembled) is the way the three elements of the theme can be stretched. ‘Cars’ can mean a lot of things, hot rods, getaway cars, train cars, mine cars, horse-drawn carriages. While originating from a Poker theme, ‘Cards’ can reach into things like credit cards, programming cards, green cards, and more. And of course ‘Carbine’ literally means a short-barreled rifled used generally by cavalry in the old days, but could easily reach into all sorts of firearms across almost any milieu. Put these three together, throw in these authors, simmer, and the possibility for a potboiler is limitless. Stories will likely be all over the genre map, from noir to weird western, steampunk to cyberpunk, science fiction to straight-up horror.”

I think he’s right on all counts. We have a tremendous line-up of authors, including Seanan McGuire, Kevin J. Anderson, Cat Rambo, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Norman Partridge, Jay Bonasinga, Jay Lake, Dean Wesley Smith, Nick Mamatas, E.C. Ambrose, D.B. Jackson, Ken Scholes, Nancy Holder, Mur Lafferty ready and raring to go. We also have a great line-up of backer rewards, including electronic, trade paperback and hardcover copies of Cars, Cards, & Carbines, Tuckerizations, and book launch parties at select levels, plus other goodies. All we need now is fans of these great authors and of great short fiction to check out our Kickstarter, and help us create a great anthology.

We all hope you’ll join us.

Please take a closer look at the project on Kickstarter, and help keep great original short fiction alive.

One thought on “[GUEST POST] John Helfers on The Brave New World of Publishing”

  1. This is a good read, the bigger picture is how important it is to SF as a whole to keep the anthology as a key component of the craft. Hugh H did a great service bringing serial fiction back into the fray, good luck with this, they are needed.

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