UFO Publications’ Alex Shvartsman

Have you checked Duotrope or Ralan lately for speculative fiction anthology markets that pay professional rates? If you have, you’ll notice two things. First, that the number of open markets as much smaller than it was five years ago, and second, that there is a new market, one that fills an uncommon niche: science fiction and fantasy humor. It’s called Unidentified Funny Objects.

I know when I see a new market, especially one with the ‘fledgling’ label slapped on next to it, I become suspicious. We’ve had too many scams come through these sites lately to really trust a new market without first researching the editor and publisher and figuring out just what their deal is. I’ve got the scoop on this one: the market’s legit and trustworthy and you’re in for a treat.

UFO Publications–Unidentified Funny Objects–is putting out an anthology edited and managed by Alex Shvartsman, a name that’s been creeping up from out of the aspiring writer trenches. Alex’s recent work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Bards and Sages and a dozen more. He’ll be attending this year’s Viable Paradise workshop in October.

So he’s a good writer. You might be asking about his editorial skills. His work on UFO has attracted writers such as Mike Resnick and Jake Kerr. Encouraging, yes? Well here’s the good news. Alex allowed me to grill him with the dozen questions burning in my mind. I’m sharing his answers with you today.

 * * * * * * * * * *

DMB: Where did the first spark hit you for UFO and did anyone look at you oddly?

AS: There was no “Eureka” moment. The idea coalesced over time.

My desire to put together an anthology grew out of dissatisfaction with how things are often done in the industry. Slow response times, insultingly low pay, and budget production values are not quite the norm, but more common than they ought to be. I thought that I might be able to do better.

There aren’t a lot of spec fic magazines or anthologies specializing in humor. I decided that it would be a nice niche to fill, especially since I enjoy both reading and writing such material. Given the overwhelmingly positive response from the community thus far, I’m not alone in this assessment. I’ve had some wonderful help and advice every step of the way and there are many people eager to read the anthology.

Now I just have to deliver on the promise of an excellent book of humor. No pressure, right?

DMB:What types of stories are you still looking for to fill the anthology, or if you prefer, what have you had your fill of, or seen too often?

AS: I want to print stories that are funny, optimistic and upbeat. And while some submissions miss the mark (and boy do they miss it!) I’m also getting tons of truly excellent submissions to select from.

So far urban fantasy has been the most popular. I’m up to my eyeballs in werewolf, vampire, zombie, and demon stories.
With the submission deadline looming so close, I would still like to see more SF and more quality flash. I only bought 3 flash stories so far and there are just a few more in the final round of consideration.

DMB: How did you requisition the cover art?

 AS: I always intended to make the book look as good as anything TOR or BAEN might put out. This most definitely meant getting an amazing piece of art for the cover. I reached out to Dixon Leavitt, who is a professional illustrator and cover artist and who also drew a great illustration for my Conrad Brent stories.

I asked him for a “Dogs Playing Poker type painting with trope SF and F characters around the table instead of dogs.” He said that his style was significantly different from “Dogs” but felt he could come up with something I’d like. He wasn’t wrong!

DMB: You’ve commented online via your blog and twitter that you spend about six hours a day working on this anthology. Can you shed some light on what kinds of activities this entails, and where your headaches and shrieks of joy come from?

AS: The most time consuming part of the project by far is reading submissions. We’ve read over 700 submissions in less than 3 months and I try to read a lion’s share of them myself. I also try to respond to people in less than 48 hours and often provide at least a small bit of personal feedback. This takes a *lot* of time, but the true joy comes from occasionally discovering a gem among all the submissions – a story that I *know* I’m going to buy on the first read.

Other activities involve working with accepted writers on preliminary edits and rewrites, handling contracts, setting up distribution channels for the physical book and fundraising. Promoting a Kickstarter campaign takes a lot more time than I anticipated.

I come from a business background and know how to run a tight ship and juggle all these things efficiently. But, no matter smoothly I set everything up, there are still only 24 hours in each day. I do vaguely recall a time when I used to sleep for a luxurious 7 hours a night.

DMB: Previous to your UFO project, have you had any editorial experience?

AS: I worked as an editor in chief at two short-lived national gaming magazines (Mage and Hero Gamer) and an editor at a few more publications, both online and in print. I’ve been writing game-related non-fiction for many years. However, I have zero editorial experience when it comes to fiction. This is my first such project.

Having said that, I’m not completely unqualified. I’m an active member of SFWA with 30+ short story sales under my belt, all since 2010 which is when I began writing fiction. I have also been accepted into the Viable Paradise workshop and will attend in October. So I can argue that I have at least some decent idea of what a good story looks like.

DMB: Are you receiving any editorial assistance with this anthology – or is this your solo project?

AS: I’m getting a ton of help. Every submission I deem good enough to “pass up” is then read anonymously by a board of trusted associate editors. Their number has grown from the initial four to eight as I’ve shamelessly recruited several of the writers whose stories I bought for the anthology to help out!

The associate editors are Fran Wilde, Leah Cypess, James Beamon, Nathaniel Lee, Cyd Athens, Anatoly Belilovsky, Michael Haynes and Frank Dutkiewicz. They’re all excellent writers in their own right and bring a ton of experience and diverging tastes, which allows me to “test” stories on a great sample audience.

I would also like to mention Elektra Hammond, our copy-editor. I’ve encountered a number of copy-editors over the years as both a fiction writer and a non-fiction one and she is, hands down, the best I’ve had a privilege of working with.

For UFO stories, I’ve asked Elektra to CC: me on the copy-edits she sends to writers – not because I feel I should (or can) micromanage, but because I enjoy and learn from the insights into the process. She regularly catches things I totally miss.

She also does freelance projects, so if you’re looking for someone really, really good to edit your book, seek her out.

DMB: Aside from the stories you’re compiling for UFO, do you have a favorite humorous story, and can you share why it sticks with you even today?

AS: Can I admit something? I sort of hate the ‘what’s your favorite ….” question, because there’s rarely just one. There are many humorous SF stories and novels that I love, and they are all different from each other. Novels by Douglas Adams and Mike Resnick, short stories by Robert Sheckley and Fredric Brown. And I would be remiss not to mention “The Stainless Steel Rat” series by Harry Harrison, who just passed away recently at age 87. Those were among the first humorous SF books I ever read, and they had a tremendous impact in establishing my tastes for SF and humor.

I linked several “sample” stories from the UFO Submissions page, because I would have bought those stories on the spot had they been submitted to me. Of those, my favorite is “Wikihistory” by Desmond Warzel. I love the non-traditional format and humor of that story, as well as the fact that it is, in fact, a solid SF story and not just a delivery vehicle for a bunch of jokes.

DMB: Now that you’re both writing and editing, which calls to you more?

AS: It’s apples and oranges, and I enjoy both very much. Both writing and editing, that is. I’m indifferent toward oranges.

The quantity of my writing has suffered due to the time commitments described above. However, I think I will become a better writer due to this experience. Finding faults and flaws in other people’s stories teaches me to look at my own with a more critical eye.

DMB: Are there differences between your ideal “writing space” and “editing space”?

AS: I do the bulk of both in a small office room at my house. However, I’m not a “picky” writer or editor. I can write in hotel rooms, on the plane, anywhere where I’m not constantly interrupted by other things.

DMB: Knowing what you do now after all this work you’ve put in, is there anything you’d handle differently?

AS: Not at this stage, no. In the future I may abandon reading round 1 slush and rely on associate editors for that. But I’m glad that I took it upon myself to do it the first time around. It gave me a really good idea of what to expect from submission and valuable experience evaluating and commenting on stories.

DMB: For many writers, humor is one of the toughest stories to write. Any advice on how to connect with our inner comic/comedian?

AS: It’s incredibly difficult to teach someone to write humor. You either have a funny bone, or you don’t. However, there are a couple of suggestions that come to mind based on my experience this summer:

  • Don’t sell yourself short. Many writers assume they can’t do funny, so they won’t try. I had to convince Jake Kerr to try and write something for UFO. Inspiration struck him and he wrote a story in one sitting that is among the funniest in the book. You can read it for free at ufopub.com/twitter
  • “Humor” isn’t the same thing as “light.” I get a ton of stories that are light-hearted and don’t take themselves too seriously, but a few funny lines do not make the story a “humor” story. You need to work harder.
  • Comedic timing. A joke can be hilarious or a dud, based on how it’s timed and presented. I could repeat a Patton Oswald routine but it wouldn’t be even remotely funny, but when he does it, it’s hilarious. Because it’s all in the delivery. As a writer you don’t have the opportunity to take advantage of some of the tools available to stand-up comedians in the visual (or auditory) presentation of their humor. So you have to lean extra heavily on the timing. James Beamon is particularly good at this in his writing. Everyone interested in learning more about comedic timing should read a James Beamon story or two.

DMB: What are you plans post UFO — will there be more?

AS: This really depends on how well the book sells. I already have several projects planned out for 2013, assuming that sales of UFO and interest in the project justify going forward. My 2013 business plan culminates, naturally, in the release of UFO #2!

But honestly, the time for reflection and evaluation hasn’t come yet. I’m still incredibly busy putting this book together. When all is said and done I can analyze it and figure out what I can do better the next time around. For now it’s a great learning experience and if readers love this book half as much as I do, it can turn out to be a huge success, too.

DMB: Thanks for your time Alex and best of luck with UFO.

 * * * * * * * * * *

That’s what I’m hoping–and I’m not alone. UFO Publications has a Kickstarter set up with a goal of $5000. To date, Alex has raised $3599 toward this goal. If you aren’t familiar with Kickstarter, it’s a means of donating money toward a project — and that money doesn’t leave your possession until the goal is met.

If it’s met.

You’ve read the fine print–the bit about the deadline? Alex has 8 days left to raise another $1401. Until Saturday September 1st, we can help fund a new anthology and grow a new professionally paying science fiction and fantasy market.

Write Happy, Edit Happy, Read Happy.



One response to “UFO Publications’ Alex Shvartsman

  1. Cool! I might have to add this to my table of sci-fi and fantasy paying markets on my site. Check it out!


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