Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interview with Alex Shvartsman

Unidentified Funny Objects Anthology (UFO)
Today the interview is with one of our own at Write1Sub1, Alex Shvartsman. Alex is a prolific and often-published writer who donned an editor's cap to create a humorous science fiction and fantasy anthology series. The first volume of Unidentified Funny Objects appeared in December, 2012, with the second volume slated for this fall.

W1S1: Very little humorous science fiction and fantasy seems to be out there. What made you want to combine humor and speculative fiction?

I love to read and write humorous speculative fiction, and I always feel like there aren't enough markets out there for it, especially in short form. Almost everyone appears to enjoy reading such stories when they're done well, but it's very tough to sell them, when compared to the more serious, more dramatic tales. I would like for UFO to become an annual tradition, and a regular venue for readers and writers who enjoy the lighter side of genre as much as I do.

W1S1: What's your favorite part of putting these anthologies together?

Two different answers really stand out to me, so I'm going to cheat and tell you both!

First, it's the opportunity to work with established authors whose writing I've enjoyed for years as a fan. It's been an immense pleasure to get to work with the likes of Mike Resnick and Sergey Lukyanenko for the first volume, and now Robert Silverberg in the second volume.

And second, it's the discovery aspect of reading the submissions and, every once in a while, falling immediately in love with a story. Those moments are the best!

W1S1: How would you describe the submissions that came in for UFO1? Are there one or two things that seemed to get a majority of stories rejected?

We received over 900 submissions for UFO1, and while many of the ones we rejected were excellent (and, indeed, some of them went on to become published in SFWA-qualifying venues), a great many of them just didn't tickle our collective funny bone. We're looking for a story that can put a smile on the reader's face. It doesn't have to be a pie-in-the-face farce or a chockful of painful puns (in fact, those would be tough sells with us) -- but it needs to have more of a connection to humor than merely a couple of funny one-liners spoken by the characters.

I would highly encourage anyone who wants to submit and truly wants to know what the editorial team's tastes are like to read the first book. Or, if you don't want to spend money on it (after all, money should flow TO the writer!), read a number of short stories posted for free on our site.

Also, avoid zombies and vampires. We are fine reading stories that feature those tropes, but we get so many of them that your submission would have to work super-extra-hard to stand out in the crowd. 

W1S1: You've already got some award-winning writers with impressive bodies of work slated for UFO2. What advice would you give to someone without those kinds of credits who wants to submit?

The great news is that, unless you are one of a handful of headliners, your credits won't matter. They won't even help. Every story is forwarded to the associate editors anonymously. They don't know if they are reading a submission by a Nebula winner or someone who has never been published before. Each submission is judged entirely on its merit, with allowances made for the particular tastes of the editors, of course. Just because we didn't love a submission enough to buy it for the book doesn't make it a bad story. 

W1S1: What made you decide to make the UFO anthologies pro-paying markets?

When it comes to short stories or any kind of creative writing, there is so much more supply than demand, and because of that writers are often paid at rates lower than those seen in the 1950s and '60s -- and I'm not even accounting for inflation! I mean, a penny a word? Come on! Even at 5c a word, I feel like I'm getting a much better end of the deal as a publisher. I would like for writers to be paid fairly and will immediately increase pay rates if and when the UFO series becomes profitable.

Putting together a quality book is very expensive. We raised $6,000 on Kickstarter but UFO1 cost me about $15,000 to put together. It will be a while before I break even on that -- but I'm in it for the long haul.

For UFO2, I'm running another Kickstarter campaign with an ambitious goal of $8,000. It's a very large sum to try and raise for an anthology, but I believe it's doable. Ultimately, I need that level of support -- either via crowdfunding or pre-orders -- to be able to continue publishing a quality book annually. And I would love to have the budget to continue publishing a free-to-read humorous story on the UFO site as well. So if this book sounds like it's up your alley, please consider pre-ordering a copy of one (or both!) volumes via Kickstarter and help us reach the funding goal by the end of April.

UFO Kickstarter Campaign

Submissions are opening on May 1, so get your funny stories ready. Our team can't wait to read them! 

W1S1: Great information--thanks, Alex!

You can find out even more at the UFO Publishing website.


  1. Thanks, Alex and Shelley. This interview was truly awesome. I now feel inspired to write a funny sf/f story AND to preorder the anthology! :)

  2. Thanks, Von. Alex gave great answers, and it looks like an awesome project.

    I may have something to submit in May, as well, and I plan to chip in on the Kickstarter whether or no. :) I'm not sure how I missed the first volume, aside from being in a little bubble of frenzied distractions for a few months. I'm really looking forward to reading the stories--some of my favorites are in there!

  3. Thanks to both of you! We just broke 100 backers today, but I hope to break 250 by the end of the campaign! Ken Liu's story alone is worth the price of the eBook -- I was laughing out loud while reading it on the train and getting wary looks from the other commuters!