Mar's Market Report Interview: John Joseph Adams

Vision 65

Mar's Market Report

Interview: John Joseph Adams


Margaret McGaffey Fisk

Copyright © 2011, Margaret McGaffey Fisk, All Rights Reserved



Continuing the interviews with editors mentioned in the survey I conducted for the January-February 2011 issue of Vision, John Joseph Adams has agreed to give us some insight into his approach toward editing both magazines and anthologies.


--Margaret McGaffey Fisk


A little about John Joseph Adams:


John Joseph Adams ( is the editor of Lightspeed Magazine and Fantasy Magazine. He is also the bestselling editor of many anthologies, such as Wastelands, The Living Dead, By Blood We Live, Federations, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Brave New Worlds, The Living Dead 2, and The Way of the Wizard. Forthcoming work includes Lightspeed: Year One, Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom, Armored, and The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination. In 2011, he was a finalist for two Hugo Awards and two World Fantasy Awards. John is also the co-host of The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which airs on


MMF: You first started editing anthologies when you were the assistant editor for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. What led you to make that jump?



Anyone who gets a job in editing at an assistant level is, at some point, most likely going to want to get a chance to wear the crown--to be the one making the decisions what goes into the magazine, etc. As soon as I started working at the magazine, I immediately loved it, but once I learned the ropes it didn't take long for me to hope for the day that I'd be the one making the call on which stories to buy. I knew that it was unlikely I'd ever get a shot at doing that for a magazine, so I turned my attention to anthologies.


The first anthology I tried putting together was an original anthology of post-apocalyptic fiction. I talked to folks like Gordon Van Gelder and Ellen Datlow, and got their advice as to how to go about editing an anthology. I recruited authors, wrote up a proposal, and even got a couple of acquisitions editors to look at it. But no one was biting, and so I gave up on that idea for a while. A couple of years later, I saw that Bison Books had re-issued the anthology Beyond Armageddon, which was at the time basically the only anthology of post-apocalyptic fiction around that collected the best of that subgenre. But it came out in 1985, and there had been a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction published since then, so it was then that I conceived of Wastelands. I had originally intended it to be a kind of follow up to Beyond Armageddon, and really put the proposal together specifically for Bison Books, not thinking that anyone else would be interested in it. Bison passed, but my agent (at the time) thought that she could sell it elsewhere--and she did, to the next place she submitted it, Night Shade Books. Wastelands went on to be a huge success--both commercially and critically--and thus got my anthology career off to a great start.


So what I really wanted back then was to edit my own magazine, but because I couldn't, I turned my hand to anthologies. But now my success at editing anthologies made it possible for me to edit my own magazine, so it's kind of like coming full circle.


MMF: How has your magazine experience, first at F&SF, and now with Lightspeed and Fantasy Magazine, differed from the anthology work? What are some of the unique challenges in anthology editing?



When editing anthologies--at least for all of the anthologies I've done--you have a specific theme you're working with, so that's very different than editing a magazine, which generally has a much broader focus--in the case of Lightspeed, it's the whole genre of science fiction, with Fantasy, the whole genre of fantasy. But with anthologies, you'll focus on a much more narrow field, generally. Like with Wastelands, I focused on post-apocalyptic fiction, The Living Dead is about zombies, my new anthology Armored is military SF about power-armored soldiers, etc. A magazine is much more free-form, and in many ways feels like a purer way of editing, because you're just buying stories you love, and you're able to choose from a much wider pool of material, so that often leads you to find some of the most interesting stories.


Anthologies can be more challenging because you typically have to recruit a lot of bestsellers and award winners to take part so that the publisher will find the book to be marketable enough, and it can be quite difficult to not only get these very busy authors to agree to write a short story (since short stories pay so much less than novels). But also you can find yourself in quite a bind if they drop out after initially promising you something, because the publisher made an offer on the assumption that those authors would be in the book.


The other challenging thing is, when you're working within the confines of a theme, that you need to get as much variation on the theme as possible, so that the stories don't feel too similar. It can be very tricky to ensure variation while at the same time keeping everything constrained enough that readers won't be upset over the fact that a story doesn't fit the theme. And then there's always the possibility that authors will be late on their deadline, or not enough people will come through with acceptable stories...with a magazine, there's always a flood of material to choose from, but for a theme anthology, you're probably only going to be considering 20-30 stories all together. Unless you have an open reading period, which complicates things a lot, since only about 15-20 stories will fit into most anthologies--not only does an anthologist maybe not want to read 900 stories to find his 15-20 (not when you can solicit stories directly instead), but then if you have a very specific theme you don't necessarily want the market flooded with 900 stories on your theme, some of which might sell elsewhere and be published before your anthology even comes out.


There are other challenges as well, of course, but those are the ones that leap immediately to mind.


MMF: If you could put together an anthology on any theme in the world regardless of market viability, what would you choose?



I've been lucky enough to be able to do those anthologies for the most part--Wastelands, Brave New Worlds, and my new anthology Armored...those are all themes that I was just thrilled to explore in an anthology; if I hadn't already edited those, I surely would have cited those three themes in answer to your question.


MMF: What is your favorite part about editing, and is it the same for anthologies and magazines?



For the magazines, I guess my favorite part is probably discovering a really great story by a writer I've never heard of before--that's always really exciting.


For anthologies--for original anthologies anyway--I guess the most exciting part is when the authors you solicited turn in their stories and they turned out even better than you'd been hoping for, and then you get that swelling of pride because you realize that this amazing story exists--in at least some small part--thanks to you.


For a reprint anthology, my answer would be similar to my answer about magazines: I'd say the most exciting part is finding a story that fits your theme that's amazing and must be included, but is by an author you weren't previously familiar with. Of course, it's also quite exciting when you secure permissions to include classic stories or just stories by your literary heroes.


MMF: What would you say the advantages of anthologies are for a new writer, or would you recommend magazines as a better goal for submissions?



The answer to this question would vary wildly depending on the kind of anthologies and the kind of magazines we're talking about. Magazines like Analog, F&SF, or Asimov's--generally their readership is going to be larger than the readership of almost any anthology, so if having the largest number of readers for your work is your goal, then that might be the way to go; stories from magazines also seem to get nominated for awards more often than stories in anthologies, so if that kind of recognition is important to you, that's something to consider as well.


On the other hand, some anthologies sell very well, and anthologies that do sell well usually pay the authors a royalty share, so if you publish in anthologies you could potentially not only reach more readers, but make more money off of your fiction as well. I will say, though, that anthologies that sell that well are very much in the minority, so I don't know how much of a factor that should be in determining where you send your stories. It is not often a possibility to submit to many anthologies, of course, since many editors do not open their anthologies to unsolicited submissions. To get into those books, you may have no choice but to submit to magazines first, so that those editors will take note of you and perhaps invite you to submit.


MMF: What do you look for in publication credits, and do anthologies and magazines carry different weights?



Publication credits don't matter much to me when I'm reading unsolicited submissions; when I'm soliciting authors, of course, I'll be soliciting them partially on their publication credits and partially on their fan-base. But assuming you're specifically asking about the slush pile, they really don't matter much. I mean, if I see a writer I'm not familiar with recently sold something to Asimov's or F&SF, I might perk up and my expectations for that story might go up a notch, but in the end I still need to be blown away by the story, regardless of where else the author has published.


As for anthologies vs. magazines carrying different weights, as I mentioned earlier, it really depends on which anthology and which magazine you're talking about. If you had a story in an Ellen Datlow or Gardner Dozois anthology, that'll mean more to me than if you had a story in a micropress anthology full of authors I've never heard of (or just full of writers I've rejected numerous times). But those top of the line anthologies basically are equivalent to the top magazines--Asimov's, F&SF, Clarkesworld, etc.--in terms of making me sit up and take notice that the story I'm about to read is probably going to be pretty good. In the end, however, that's all that the publication credits will do, though I suppose in some exceptionally rare cases, if I was on the fence about a story, the fact that an author has published widely (and thus probably has something of a fan-base) might be the deciding factor in whether or not to take it.


And there you have it. A glimpse into the editorial world through the eyes of John Joseph Adams, including some aspects of anthology editing you might not have known.


--Margaret McGaffey Fisk