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[GUEST INTERVIEW] Alex Shvartsman, Editor of the UNIDENTIFIED FUNNY OBJECTS Anthology Series, on Funny Fiction and His New Kickstarter Project

Alex Shvartsman edits the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology series and the Funny Science Fiction anthology. His Funny Fantasy and Funny Horror anthologies are forthcoming. This monthy, he launched a Kickstarter campaign for Unidentified Funny Objects #5.

I talked with Alex about humor and anthologies.

CARL SLAUGHTER: Why did you decide to get into fiction?

ALEX SHVARTSMAN: I’ve been an avid SF/F reader since I was ten or eleven year old. Always wanted to write my own stories, but because my family moved to the US and I had to learn a new language, I didn’t believe I’d ever possess the linguistic skills necessary to do so. And so, I waited way too long. I began writing in 2010 and never looked back, but I wish I had started earlier.

CS: Why did you decide to get into humor?

AS: I never pictured myself as a humor writer. I started doing so entirely by accident. One time I just gave up on writing the more-or-less serious story I was working on because it wasn’t coming together and wrote something unabashedly fun instead. I discovered it was so much easier for me to write that story! While writing humor is generally hard, it seemed like a good fit for me. Not every story I write is humor, but I write a fair share of it, and I’ve done pretty well selling those stories!

CS: Why did you decide to edit anthologies?

AS: Once I started writing — and selling — a lot of short fiction, I became a little more familiar with how magazines and anthology markets work (or, more often, don’t.) I was frustrated with slow response times, poorly designed and edited books with terrible covers being released by small presses, etc. “If I was in charge, I would do things differently,” I would say. And then it dawned on me that I *could* be in charge and, instead of complaining of what somebody else is doing wrong, I could see whether I had what it takes to do those things right.

Now all I needed was an idea: something that could fill a niche not being already served by far more experienced editors. And then I had it: one of the things I complained about was the lack of markets that wanted humorous stories. Sure, a magazine or an anthology would occasionally include a funny story but there were precious few for me to read. So why not create a pro-paying, regular market for that sort of fare? If I wanted to read more funny stories, surely there were other, like-minded readers who would shell out a few bucks for such a book? And thus Unidentified Funny Objects was born.

Of course, it was a steep learning curve. At the time I had no editorial experience (though I cut my teeth on critiquing short stories for some really great writers and they seemed to appreciate my feedback.) I didn’t know much about formatting, printing, or marketing books. However, I have loads of business experience and I knew I could run a tighter ship than a lot of the other guys when it comes to handling submissions, etc. And I was willing to shell out the cash (well beyond what we raised on Kickstarter) to hire pros for copy editing, book design, and all aspects of creating a book that I wasn’t an expert in. I also was willing to learn on the job.

CS: Besides the Unidentified Funny Objects series, what other anthologies of other author’s stories have you edited?

AS: There’s Coffee: 14 Caffeinated Tales of the Fantastic I edited for my own press, UFO Publishing. Dark Expanse: Surviving the Collapse, a space opera anthology set in the world of the Dark Expanse video game I edited for DeOrc Enterprises, and I’m currently putting together a hard SF anthology Humanity 2.0 for Arc Manor.

I’ve also started a new sub-series for UFO last year. Funny Science Fiction collected the sort of stories I would have loved to buy for the UFO series, but someone else got to them first. So basically, another UFO volume but of all reprints. and all SF stories. It was released last September and remains my best-selling anthology. I’ll be following it with Funny Fantasy and Funny Horror volumes this year, and Funny Science Fiction 2 in 2017.

There are other potential projects for 2017 but until the ink is dry on the contract I’ll keep mum.

CS: Quick timeline: When did you start writing? When did you move into the humor subgenre? When did you collect your own short stories? When did you start editing short stories by other authors?

AS: I wrote my first short story in the Spring of 2010 and sold my first story in the fall of the same year. Since then I’ve sold close to 100 original stories and countless reprints, translations, and audio rights. I began writing humor around 2011. My collection, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories was released in early 2015. The first volume of UFO was released in 2012.

CS: Any novels, past, present, or future?

AS: I have a steampunk humor novella that’s out, H. G. Wells, Secret Agent. I’m working on my first novel, Eridani’s Crown, which, given all the humor work I’ve been doing, is obviously a grimdark fantasy.

CS: What’s the difference between Unidentified Funny Objects and Funny Science Fiction?

AS: Objects collects original short stories. In the past I’ve included 1-2 reprints per volume but now that the Funny series is a thing, I won’t be doing that any longer. Funny Science Fiction, Funny Fantasy, and Funny Horror are all reprints, all of stories that were originally published in the past decade.

CS: How many more anthologies will we see in the Unidentified Funny Objects series?

AS: I’ll keep producing these on a one-per-year basis as long as there’s interest. UFO5 is currently live on Kickstarter. The money raised via crowdfunding is like a huge pre-order engine — it allows me to invest more heavily into buying stories and paying all the creative professionals associated with the project, as well as to print a larger offset run of the books so I don;t have to pay much higher POD rates. The series has been very well received so far by both critics and readers, and I’m very happy to be the “humor guy” when it comes to anthologies.

CS: When are we going to see an anthology of funny fantasy and funny horror?

AS: Funny Fantasy is scheduled for a late May release. Funny Horror does not have a specific release date, but I’m shooting for sometime in the summer if I can help it.

CS: What’s next? Funny steampunk? Funny alternate history? Funny space opera?

AS: Honestly? I haven’t thought that far ahead. There’s lots of good humor stories out there, but I don’t want to get myself into a niche where I’m trying to find enough publishable funny-Troll-Under-The-Bridge stories to fill an entire book. I will definitely have another volume of funny SF because there’s lots of good material out in the wild, but I don’t want to pump these out too quickly, either. I’m always on the lookout for great funny stories for future reprint anthologies (and to encourage authors to write something for UFO), and I keep a spreadsheet of what I might be able to solicit for future volumes. We’ll see what develops of that.

CS: How much does it cost to publish an anthology?

AS: That’s too general a question, honestly. It depends on what you’re paying your authors and other contributors, how many copies you’re printing (if you’re releasing a paper edition at all) etc. All told, a typical volume of UFO costs me about $15,000 to produce, but I prefer to pre-buy a larger number of printed copies to lower my per-unit cost.

CS: What’s the turnaround time from Kickstarter announcement to release date?

AS: Typically 6-7 months. I’m promising backers the book in November. but I’m shooting for an October release. I just like to leave myself a little wiggle room. So far, I was able to produce all previous volumes on time, or even ahead of schedule.

CS: Who’s lined up for UFO #5?

AS: Authors who have promised me stories for UFO5 include David Gerrold, Esther Friesner, Mike Resnick, Gini Koch, Tim Pratt, Jody Lynn Nye, and Laura Resnick.

Most if not all of them will deliver — they’re reliable authors and I’ve worked with all of them before. But I don’t want to make any guarantees until I have stories in hand, and so far the only one that I have in hand and the contract is signed for is a very funny story by Shaenon K. Garrity.

CS: Any plans to revisit your H.G. Wells: Secret Agent universe?

AS: The goal is to write two more novellas that, put together, will Voltron themselves into a novel. But, where do I find the time?!

CS: I count 11 stories in Nature, 9 stories in Daily Science Fiction, 5 stories in Galaxy’s Edge, 5 stories in Toasted Cake, 4 stories in Cast of Wonders, 3 stories in Baen. Did I miss any significant sales?

AS: There are four at Intergalactic Medicine Show, including the story that won me the WSFA award! And then there are lots of one-ofs or two-ofs all over the place. My complete bibliography is available here.

Check out Alex’s new Kickstarter project for Unidentified Funny Objects 5!

Carl Slaughter wrote many reviews for Tangent before moving to Diabolical Plots as a reviewer and later an interviewer. He conducted 50 plus interviews for Diabolical Plots. For the past 14 years, he has traveled the globe teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in 6 counties on 3 continents. Carl has traveled to 18 countries and counting. (He’s tired.) In college, Carl studied journalism, broadcasting, advertising, English, speech, and history. For several years, he was a stringer for the Associated Press. His essay on Chinese culture was published in Beijing Review. His essay on Korean culture was published in The Korea Times, as was his expose on the Korean ESL industry. His travel/education reports about Thailand occasionally appear on the Ajarn website. Carl subscribes to the Mike Resnick philosophy of fiction: It’s all about the characters. Check out Carl’s Diabolical Plots interviews, his Facebook photos with his students of all ages from around the world, and a short Youtube video of Carl with some VERY excited Thai kindergarteners.

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