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SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Editor John Joseph Adams

John Joseph Adams–called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes & Noble.com–is the bestselling editor of many anthologies, such as Brave New Worlds, Wastelands, The Living Dead, The Living Dead 2, By Blood We Live, Federations, and The Way of the Wizard. He is a 2011 Hugo Award-nominee for Best Editor (Short Form), and he is a three-time nominee for the World Fantasy Award. Former Assistant Editor/Slushmaster for Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, he is also the editor of Fantasy Magazine and Lightspeed Magazine, and is the co-host of The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. He can be found on Twitter as @johnjosephadams, on Facebook and through his website at www.johnjosephadams.com. This coming week, during the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno, Nevada, he will be marrying Christie Yant, a fellow editor and writer, who recently had a story appear in Rich Horton’s The Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy 2011. Congratulations to them both!


SFFWRTCHT: Would you like to tell us a little about Way Of The Wizard and Brave New Worlds?

John Joseph Adams: Way Of The Wizard released in October 2010 at World Fantasy Convenion in Columbus, Ohio. Brave New Worlds released in January 2011. The website is live at: http://www.johnjosephadams.com/brave-new-worlds. It collects the best dystopian short fiction all in one volume. First of its kind I believe. My first anthology with no originals, I think. All the others have at least one original snuck in. It includes stories by Bradbury, Vonnegut, Shirley Jackson, Ellison, Bacigalupi…all the classics plus some future classics. I tried, as I usually do, to balance the classic (maybe obvious) stories with stuff not everyone would be already familiar with.

SFFWRTCHT: Was Brave New Worlds something you pitched or did Night Shade approach you with the idea?

JJA: After the success of Wastelands, Brave New Worlds was the next thing I pitched to NSB. Other projects kept cutting in line though.

SFFWRTCHT: How long does it generally take you to put an anthology together?

JJA: It takes three to four months for a reprint anthology I guess, although I sometimes work on more than one at the same time so it’s hard to say exactly. For an original project it would take longer, obviously, since original stories have to be written. It also depends on how familiar I am with the theme before I begin. For Wastelands, I picked 95% of the TOC off the top of my head in two to three days because I knew the genre really well. For Brave New Worlds I’d guess I was familiar with maybe half the stories prior to starting my research.

SFFWRTCHT: What was the hardest anthology you’ve worked on in terms of both theme you were least familiar with and work involved assembling stories?

JJA: I did the most research for By Blood We Live because there’s just so much vampire fiction out there I hadn’t read yet. Brave New Worlds was probably the hardest in securing permissions; I ran into a lot of complicated rights situations.

SFFWRTCHT: So how do you approach research? Read a lot of other magazines and anthologies? Ask other editors?

JJA: For research, I solicit recommendations online, talk to other editors, and target certain authors who I suspect have stories that fit. I’ll just email some authors I’ve worked with and tell them about the anthology then see if they have anything I should consider.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you ever get opinions from those who are well read in an area you are not as familiar with?

JJA: Sure! I’m not afraid to ask for help from experts.

SFFWRTCHT: How many anthologies do you think you can realistically work on in a year given your other duties?

JJA: I don’t know…three or four? This year might test that and give us a definitive answer.

SFFWRTCHT: Is it any different approach to editing a Mike Resnick or Robert Silverberg verses a beginner?

JJA: Well, I haven’t edited originals by Resnick or Silverberg as of yet … But sure, I think you probably edit with a lighter touch when working with established pros.

SFFWRTCHT: In terms of retail success, how do anthologies measure up to novels? Or short story collections by same author?

JJA: Generally anthologies and collections don’t sell as well as novels but I think it depends on the theme and hitting at the right time.

SFFWRTCHT: What factors besides tone do you use in selecting stories?

JJA: I always like to showcase a range of what the theme is capable of encompassing, so variety is important.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you ever find stories for anthologies via the Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine or Lightspeed submissions queues?

JJA: I haven’t yet, at least I don’t think so, but I do keep my eye on that. Although there’s a story in my mad scientist anthology for Tor that may have been subbed to me originally for Lightspeed but I’m not sure.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you create the list of invitees as part of pitching an anthology or does the publisher do that?

JJA: The anthologist creates the list of invitees, gets commitments from them, then pitches the anthology to a publisher.

SFFWRTCHT: When stories from your anthologies get selected for recognition, like Year’s Best, do you submit the anthologies for consideration yourself?

JJA: Yeah, I make sure that the Year’s Best editors get copies of the anthologies, and I provide them with word counts to help out.

SFFWRTCHT: Could you pick a favorite out of your anthologies?

JJA: Hard to pick a favorite. At the moment, Brave New Worlds is the one I’m most proud of, I guess.

SFFWRTCHT: Wastelands is post-apocalyptic, and Brace New Worlds is dystopian–for those who don’t know, want to explain the difference?

JJA: Sometimes post-apocalyptic and dystopian overlap but not necessarily. Post-apocalyptic is about the end of civilization as we know it, whereas dystopian is all about oppressive societies and whatnot. The book’s intro sums it up pretty well.  Certainly dystopian has broader meaning than post-apocalyptic. I think Brave New Worlds has much more variety than Wastelands.

SFFWRTCHT: The link between post-apocalyptic and dystopian can vary; is it because post-apocalyptic is often “the end” where dystopia is not? Meaning that dystopia is part of the process of civilization, the rise and fall, that can lead to a bad end.

JJA: An apocalypse can involve dystopia, but they aren’t necessarily connected. In dystopian fiction you need a society, whereas often post-apocalyptic is the absence of society. Sure, sometimes dystopias lead to the apocalypse and vice versa, but sometimes there are dystopias with no apocalypse in sight. Many people use dystopia incorrectly to encompass anything that’s a dark future. It has a more specific meaning than that.

SFFWRTCHT: There’s been some declaration that zombies are ‘done’. Would you weigh in?

JJA: Everyone keeps saying that, but my Living Dead anthologies keep selling, so it doesn’t seem done to me. The Walking Dead is a huge TV series right now. I think we can expect zombies to stick around as long as that does at least. The Living Dead, by far, has been my bestselling book. I’m told to never expect any other anthology I edit to ever do that well.

SFFWRTCHT: When did your first issue as editor of Fantasy Magazine come out?

JJA: My first issue of Fantasy (featuring my editorial selections) was March 2011. I started working on the back end long before that, of course.

SFFWRTCHT: Does the change in editors have much effect on the types of stories selected? Besides taste obviously?

JJA: Besides editorial taste? I’m not sure. I guess we’ll see after I get some issues under my belt. I get the impression I’m doing more soliciting than Cat was, so that might be the kind of thing you mean. And of course now Fantasy will be using half as much original fiction since we’re doing 50/50 originals/reprints like Lightspeed.

SFFWRTCHT: Are you soliciting for the reprint side or the original fiction side mostly?

JJA: I’m soliciting for both. Although I think all of the reprints have been solicited; not many get submitted though.

SFFWRTCHT: Can you tell us anything about some future anthologies you’re working on?

JJA: I’ve got the Lightspeed: Year One anthology coming out in November, Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom coming out from Simon & Schuster in February, Armored from Baen in April, and The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination from Tor next fall.


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.