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SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Author/Editor Lou Anders

To many, Lou Anders is the face of @PYR_Books, where he serves as Editorial Director and Art Director He’s also the editor of acclaimed anthologies, including Swords & Dark Magic co-edited with Jonathan Strahan. A 2011/2010/2009/2008/2007 Hugo Award nominee, 2010 Shirley Jackson Award nominee, 2008 Philip K. Dick Award nominee. 2010/2009/2007 Chesley Award nominee/winner/nominee, and 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee. He’s edited anthologies for Solaris, Gallery, HarperEOS, Roc, Monkeybrain books and Wildside Press. You can find him on Twitter as @louanders or at www.louanders.com and www.pyrsf.com.


SFFWRTCHT: So Lou, when and how did you discover your passion for speculative fiction?

Lou Anders: Several times/places. If I had to boil it to a few key events, I’d say the first was an exposure to the TV show Land of the Lost. I had no idea until years later how many actual Science Fiction authors wrote for that show – Niven, Sturgeon, etc. But it was a show with dinosaurs, wormholes, lost civilizations, micro/bubble universes, curved space. Blew my young mind. I was a kid in the deep south, whose teachers wouldn’t even say the word “evolution” even in context of mathematical theory. A few years later, I found some battered paperback copies of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame volumes.  And then when I was 12 or 13, my dad shoved A Princess of Mars into my hands and ordered me to read it. I resisted of course. “It has a naked woman on the cover.” “I know it has a naked woman, but it’s still a good book.” I ended up reading every Edgar Rice Burroughs I could find over the next year, then moved on to Moorcock and Lieber.

Then I saw Excalibur in the 5th grade. One of my teachers was there too. She held me after class the next day. Turns out she was afraid I’d rat her out. We agreed that the sex wasn’t gratuitous but was necessary to the plot. And not to tell anyone else we’d seen each other there. In the 1990s, when the Land of the Lost script was floating around Hollywood in development hell, my then-script writing partner and I tried to get on it. So upset with the Will Ferrell remake.  It could have been like a Jurassic Park style film, only with a few sensawunder concepts.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you and your partner sell any scripts?

LA: Our first one got passed around. On it, we got hired by a production studio to do a work for hire for one of their directors. That never got made, but then a production company hired us to write another which also never got made. But for a while there was “heat’ on us and we had CAA agents and lots of meetings. Michael Bay’s right hand man wanted him to do 1 of our films. Turned it down as being too close to Armageddon. We shared scenes.

SFFWRTCHT: Ok, so you were an avid reader and even tried writing scripts. What about short stories or novels?

LA: Well, we also had a standing invitation to pitch Voyager. Which we did several times. I wrote The Making of Star Trek First Contact book and over 500 articles for Star Trek Monthly and Babylon 5 Magazine.

SFFWRTCHT: So how did you end up Editorial Director of a SF publisher?

LA: I’ve had a very few short stories published. And I’m on draft 5 of my first ever novel right now. 5 years in LA as journalist on SF TV sets, writing screenplays. So ex-girlfriend, Harvard MBA, hires me to move to SF and be the content person for an online reading startup. Bookface was “browser based reading” that tracked ad revenues and paid publishers for the time people read online. In one year, we had 42,000 users, and thousands of titles in all genres, nonfiction, religion, computing, childrens, you name it.

SFFWRTCHT:  Electronic reading or just people inputting data like Goodreads?

LA: More “Look inside the book” if it has the whole book. We operated on the assumption Science Fiction writers would be most open to new tech. Wrong. Romance authors were. (and mystery authors were afraid of us). So my boss sent me around the country to SF and romance cons signing up authors and publishers. When the ad market died, we folded. And I knew everyone in SF, so I freelanced a few anthologies and magazines (and Gardner Dozois loved my first Roc anthology Live Without a Net. Then Prometheus Books wanted to get into the fiction space, and were advised to pick a niche and chose SF.

I joined in March 2004, shook hands with boss and went to China for a month, where I selected most of first season. We debuted March 2005 with John Meaney’s Paradox.

SFFWRTCHT: Nice. How many books did you release the first year?

LA: I think we did 16 in the first year, mostly SF, mostly hardcover. Thing was, the line had been presented 2 me as being a small specialty line of 8 books year, so I was thinking archival Hardcovers.  Anyway… long story short, chains wanted 16 instead of 8, and saw our positioning as much larger, so we had to ramp up fast. And what I’d thought was a part time job turned into working until midnight, evenings and weekends.

SFFWRTCHT: You’ve talked about the uniqueness of taste in what makes a book right for PYR. Can you describe that for us?

LA: Uniqueness in taste? Hmm… hard to describe. I like really damn good books. I don’t like bad books. I buy the good ones. In fairness, there are marvelous books published every year by every house. I have an advantage in that we publish 30 a year. That allows us to be super picky, buy only the best, in a way we might not be able to maintain if we published 200.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you look for more literary than commercial?

LA: “Commercial” is not the dirty word some critics want to pretend it is. “Commercial” means “Your words are communicating effectively with many readers” – surely the goal of writing. I like Elizabeth Bear’s recent comment that SF is not literature of ideas so much as the literature of testing ideas to destruction. This takes the emphasis off novelty for its own sake and back on what Bacigalupi calls the fun house mirror aspect.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the process for buying a book? A committee? Slush readers?

LA: Process: I have a slush reader for unagented submissions named Rene Sears. She also reads some agented work for me. I read only agented work and work I’ve sought out. When I find something I like, I write up report, which sometimes goes to a comittee but mostly now goes straight to my boss.

SFFWRTCHT: How much research do you do on an author in the submission phase?

LA: Varies. But a good website with good info on it, that I can look up from reading manuscript, very good.

SFFWRTCHT: Obviously you’ve worked with a lot of authors as an editor. What do you see as your role in doing so?

LA: Role as editor: it isn’t to dot t’s and cross i’s. Everytime you tell someone you are an editor, they either apologize for their grammar or ask for help on their term paper. Anyway, when I hear people say “I don’t know how to vote for the Editor Hugo; how do I know what editing was done on this?” I say it isn’t just the stuff you don’t see, it’s whether the book you are reading was selected to be published at all. I think when you vote for an editor, you are voting for their line, a vote of approval for the list they’ve built.

SFFWRTCHT: When you request a change, can a writer ever argue with you and win?

LA: Yes -ultimately it’s the writer’s book. It’s also fun to gloat when reviewers point out the section as the only weak spot.

SFFWRTCHT: For writers who might not know, how does the path to publication proceed? What steps and time frame should we expect?

LA: Steps to publish: Manuscript bought. Get my notes. Manuscript rewriten. Get copyedits. Manuscript proofed. Approve. We work about a year out. We have about 50 folks in company. Pretty much all of them work on every title.

SFFWRTCHT: Switching gears a bit. Do your anthology projects originate with you or the publishers?

LA: Anthologies originate with me. My last two were sold to Eos and Gallery.

SFFWRTCHT: How did the opportunity to work with Jonathan Strahan on Swords & Dark Magic come about?

LA: Strahan and I both wanted to explore resurgence of Swords and Sorcery but didn’t want to step on each other’s toes.

SFFWRTCHT: I loved that story in the “Clockwork Jungle Book” edition of Shimmer. Any others in that world?

LA: No plans for it. I have another steampunk western in Chris Roberson’s Adventure Volume 1 I’d like to revisit though.

SFFWRTCHT: What exciting projects do you have coming up for us to look forward to?

LA: No anthologies upcoming. Took a year off to write my own stuff. Just signed James Enge for a “proper trilogy” that tells Morlock’s origins from his birth to his exile. In September, KV Johansen’s Blackdog. Stand alone fantasy that blew me away. Big, lush, epic. Coming of age for a goddess. Andrew P. Mayer’s The Falling Machine. Steampunk superheros in Victorian era Manhattan. Joel Shepherd’s Haven last book in what Tor.com called his “Criminally underappreciated” series that everyone compares to George R. R. Martin. Also, Jon Sprunk’s second novel coming out this summer. And Ari Marmell’s The Goblin Corps which is The Lord of the Rings from the Orcs Point of View.

SFFWRTCHT: How is Pyr Books adjusting to meet new publishing business realities?  I know you spend a lot of time on getting your ebooks right.

LA: We took charge of our own conversion, which takes longer, but the results will look hell of a lot better. We are at work digitizing about 75 titles in the Pyr backlist now. Rene Sears is on Quality Control. Our books do a lot with interior design, which is what is taking so long turning them into ebooks – preserving that.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the forthcoming space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.