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[GUEST POST] Joshua Palmatier on How to Create a New Small Press

Joshua Palmatier is a fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics, currently residing in Binghamton, NY, while teaching mathematics at SUNY College at Oneonta. He has five books currently on the shelves: The Skewed Throne, nominated for the Compton Crook Award for 2006, The Cracked Throne, The Vacant Throne, the conclusion of the Throne of Amenkor series, and Well of Sorrows and Leaves of Flame, the first two books in a new series written under the pseudonym Benjamin Tate. He has also co-edited the anthologies After Hours: Tales from the Ur-bar and The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity.

How to Create a New Small Press

by Joshua Palmatier

John DeNardo here at SF Signal asked me to stop by and say a few words about the behind-the-scenes action in creating a new small press, Zombies Need Brains, that I hope will be able to bring SF&F fans some great anthologies in the near future. We’re running a Kickstarter campaign for the creation of the small press and for the first anthology, CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs. ALIENS, with some great authors — including Scott Lynch, Seanan McGuire, Gini Koch, Gail Z. Martin, Bradley Beaulieu, Ian Tregillis, and Caitlin Kittredge — already lined up to participate if we’re funded. Check it out at Kickstarter if you haven’t already. It’s an exciting project.

I’ve had this dream of creating a small press for a couple of years now, mostly because I believe the market for anthologies has been steadily shrinking as they become less cost-effective for the traditional publishers to produce. The entire industry suffered a major blow when Martin H. Greenberg passed away, effectively removing Tekno-the company that packaged and sold my previous two anthologies (co-edited with Patricia Bray) to DAW-from the market, at least temporarily. I waited to see if Tekno would recover, but finally got antsy and decided I need to take up the challenge and just do it myself.

Hence, Zombies Need Brains LLC!

I knew right off the bat that I wanted to treat this new small press seriously. I want it to be a respected addition to the publishing field, one that treats authors, editors, artists–and everyone else who works to produce a quality book–professionally and conscientiously. So I knew I needed to create a name that would be remembered, and that it should be a legal entity. But I also wanted to make certain that it contained a sense of the spirited fun that professionals and fans in the genre have as well. After all, the whole thing came about because Patricia and I had so much fun doing the first two anthologies! That’s why Zombies Need Brains LLC seemed perfect. It’s fun, easy to remember, and I instantly had the perfect image of the logo we’d use. *grin*

Once the decision was reached, I dove into its creation . . . and that’s where the “Squee! Dream press! Let’s do it!” hit the first serious hurdles. An LLC isn’t the easiest thing to create. The initial paperwork is cake (at least here in New York); I sent that in with no problem. But then I realized that in order to deal with all of the follow-up paperwork, I needed help. So ZNB now has a lawyer. I knew a lawyer would be necessary eventually-we’ll be dealing with contracts with artists, editors, and authors after all-but I’d been hoping to put it off. Oh well. Lawyer hired, the LLC was on its way. Now what?

The first project! We needed something with pizzazz, something that we hadn’t seen before, an anthology theme that would grab people in the genre, slap them, and make them pay attention. Patricia and I had come up with numerous ideas to pitch to Tekno, but out of all of those, only one of them had the oomph! I felt was needed for the project: CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs. ALIENS. This was actually one of Patricia’s ideas. It had absolutely nothing to do with her obsession with Daniel Craig. (Nor mine.) What better idea to draw from than aliens invading Earth and finding a 19th century steampunk society instead? I mean, flying saucers vs. dirigibles! Laser cannons vs. steam engines! Who will win-humans or aliens? It was perfect.

But an anthology is only as good as the authors who appear in it, so the next step was to see if we could pull some strings with our author friends and get them to back us. We sent out a bunch of emails and got instant interest from people like Seanan McGuire, Scott Lynch, and Gini Koch. Some of our dream authors for this project — like Gail Carriger and Scott Westerfeld — declined because their schedule just wouldn’t allow it. Patricia and I expected this from many of the authors we contacted; since we’re authors ourselves, we know that writing a decent short story takes weeks at a minimum, and almost everyone we contacted already has numerous books under contract, not to mention other commitments. But we ended up with seven great authors to “anchor” the anthology and to help with spreading the word about the Kickstarter when it went live.

At this point, we had a legal entity to represent the small press (lawyer included!) and a project that we felt confident would draw people’s attention. Now came what I considered the hardest part: art. As anyone knows, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover . . . but unfortunately the reality is that we all do just that. In order for a new book to get noticed, something in the cover has to catch the customer’s eye, or they won’t even notice it on the shelf. I knew that the cover for CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE had to be special, and I’d factored in a large portion of the initial funds I intended to put out in the press creation to just cover art. I started scrolling Deviant Art and other art locations, plus checking out friends and such on Facebook who were artists, looking for something that caught my eye and screamed STEAMPUNK vs ALIENS! I found it in “Steampunk Octopus” by Alex Broeckel. But who knew if it was available? Who knew how much it would cost? It’s great art, so I assumed that it would be well out of a start-up’s budget. But I also figure, WTH? So I emailed Alex out of the blue, explained the situation, and asked for a price quote. To my astonishment, Alex came back with an exceptionally good offer.

There was some wrangling with the official terms in the artist contract and I found that I had to balance what the artist wanted and what the lawyer wanted, but we came to an acceptable agreement on both sides, and lo! I had spectacular cover art!

Everything was in place at this point . . . except the logo for the LLC. I knew what I wanted, but I’m not an artist. Fortunately, I have a few good friends who are graphic artists and with their help the Zombies Need Brains logo was whipped into shape. And once that was done, the only issue was deciding when to announce and launch the project. It’s now live, and people can support it if they’d like. I think it’s going to rock!

And that’s the behind the scenes look at the formation of Zombies Need Brains. It took some time, some work, some frustration, a heavy dose of insanity, and the help of some good friends with great talents to put it all together, but it was worth it.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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