Sci-Fi magazine editor and Waukesha City, Public Library Director
by Michael Rene D. Kanoy
We interview John Klima, a former indie editor for online genre magazine Electric Velocipede (2001 to 2013), (who also worked on Asimov's Analog, Tor, the Bulletin which is the SFWA flagship magazine) and currently is also a full-time professional librarian. We ask him how he puts together his short story collections as editor of genre fiction and how libraries are getting by with digital books and audiobooks as well as inventory management.
REACH: Hello John, we first got a look at your work in the anthology, Logorrhea, from a hunch that any collection with Hal Duncan in it should be a must-have addition to my desert island list. Now, I always pick up an extra copy when I find any lying around in bookstores down here. I feel it's still one of the most underrated anthologies for genre fiction out there. Using strange and difficult words as story theme may just be the best idea-soup recipe for genre collections.
Is there a possibility of Logorrhea continuing in the future as a brand aka a series anthology with different difficult word themes? When you run an idea for an anthology like Logorrhea, how did you choose the writers for the project?
Klima: I had always wanted to try and make a young-adult version of the anthology aimed at the spelling bee competitors using popular young adult authors but I was never able to realize the project. Now I don’t have time between work and family. I filled the author list for Logorrhea by asking people at a World Fantasy Convention if they would be interested in writing something. My editor—the person who acquired the book for Bantam—and I added some additional authors from my initial list but it was pretty much set when I sold the book.
REACH: Electric Velocipede was a project you funded out of your pocket before getting indie press, Night Shade Books to help you get the chapbooks out. If it were possible to run EV off crowdsourcing like the Glitter and Mayhem anthology, would you continue the project as a book series? In hindsight, would an artist portal like Patreon or mobile reading app like Wattpad have helped you if they were available during the time you were running EV?
If guys out there want to run an online rag with chapbooks for sale for different pulp fiction subgenres and niches (westerns, space horror, monster erotica and spy-thrillers) what advice would you offer for getting the rag running with good stories?
Klima: I did run a successful Kickstarter campaign for Electric Velocipede intending on launching into Amazon subscriptions and a few other ideas that either closed up—Amazon stopped accepting new titles for subscriptions at the time although I believe they have reopened since then—or just died off before they got started. I suspect Patreon and Wattpad would have been very helpful in keeping EV afloat had they existed at the time.
I have to take issue with the word ‘rag’ as it implies something of low quality. But, putting that aside my advice for people looking to jump into indie publishing would be to really make sure they want to do it, be ready to lose money and time, and look at places that are successful and see where their funding comes from. Most of the successful online magazines had some sort of seed money to start with so they could pay decent rates to authors and artists. Then use every funding source out there: direct sales, subscriptions through places like Amazon and Weightless books, create a Patreon account, sell ads, get sponsors, and so on.
REACH: Short-story anthologies are doing surprisingly well in most English-reading countries right now that many writers (both first-time and established authors) are putting out their fiction work in short story collection format instead of running a novel. Was your online magazine, Electric Velocipede, too ahead of its time and just missed out when eBook and mobile app, chapter-story reading for all niche genres was taking off? Is the short story collection going to be the future of successful fiction projects for all sorts of writers? For both print hardcopy and eBooks?
Klima: I started Electric Velocipede in 2001 as a print zine. I never even considered doing an online magazine. We did print issues through our double issues 21/22 and the first online-only issue was #23. By that point it was 2011 and I had two small children and was moving to a new job. I loved making Electric Velocipede but I just didn’t have enough hours in the day to investigate what options I had to get the magazine out to more readers. I’d like to think I was ahead of the time but I think it just ran past me.
I love short fiction in general. That said, I don’t really know how to answer your question. I think once you’ve published a number of short stories there are a lot of ways you can have a short-story collection come out that didn’t exist ten or fifteen years ago. Self-publishing can be virtually indistinguishable from more traditional publishing these days but an author should be prepared to put in a lot of work. I don’t really know what the future of publishing is. I think SerialBox is doing some really great stuff as is Tor.com with their novellas. There are a lot of amazing short-fiction magazines out there. But they all take a lot of work.
REACH: You are the editor for the Bulletin, the flagship magazine of the Science Fiction Writers of America. How different is the work here as opposed to breaking in new voices in Electric Velocipede? What kind of sci-fi content do the members of SFWA want to read on Bulletin since you took over? Is there a preference for any kind of subgenre—worldbuilding, space opera, cyberpunk, YA themes?
Klima: I was only the SFWA Bulletin editor for about a year-and-a-half. Neil Clarke—editor and publisher of Clarkesworld Magazine—is currently the editor of the Bulletin.
REACH: Glitter and Mayhem looked like a fun project, you and your friends put together along with several genre authors that included Amber Benson writing the intro. While Logorrhea and EV were your serious literary side of sci-fi and fantasy, Glitter and Mayhem reads like a romp that should really continue as a book series.
If fans would pay for it, would you run a goofy genre
book series like Glitter and Mayhem, even if doesn't come out every
year, or is your schedule to tight now that you're doing library work,
and editing for the SFWA magazine? Would love to see Hal Duncan and you
co-editing Glitter and Mayhem together! Was the Kickstarter campaign a
good experience for finding talented storytellers via crowd
Klima: I glad you enjoyed the concept. Glitter & Mayhem is supposed to be all about fun. That was a project that started as silly conversations on Twitter and then led to genuine interest from authors and readers. Before we knew it the project gained traction and became something real. We put the book together in seven weeks, which is not enough time, but it was delirious, crazy fun.
Unfortunately there’s just too much work involved in running campaigns and doing the administrative/legal side of anthologies for it to be something that I can fit in my schedule. Kickstarter is a great tool but it’s exhausting. Finding talented storytellers came from the minds of my talented co-editors—Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas—and myself.
REACH: Apps like Wattpad have allowed all wannabe writers to put together collections of shorts for fans every fiction genre. Chapterized stories are now in vogue as reading candy for almost everyone who reads off a mobile device. As a librarian working with both eBooks and online Cloud reading as possible mediums for your community, how have people in your local community and your reading friends taken to eBooks and reading Cloud stories off an app on mobile?
Klima: For the most part eBooks have been extraordinarily popular with our patrons. We use a service called OverDrive to deliver electronic content to patrons. We take part in a state-wide contract with OverDrive to provide a wider range of titles than just my library could provide. Electronic content checkouts work just like traditional books: one copy to one patron; if that copy is checked out no one else can read it until the patron is done with it. This is part of the contract that OverDrive has with publishers. My local library system is also able to add additional copies of popular titles for just our patrons or copies of books that the state contract doesn’t have but for which we have local interest.
REACH: As a professional librarian, in this age of the modern library, are audiobooks a big part of the U.S. library reading list and how deep is the title list for fans who love having a story narrated to them on a media player? Is an audiobook available for loan or download sale from U.S. libraries or is an audiobook just allowed for use onsite using library facilities?
Klima: It’s been different at different libraries where I’ve worked. At my current library they are moderately popular. We offer both physical audiobooks for checkout—both on CD and mini media players—as well as electronic audiobooks through OverDrive. Most libraries that offer audiobooks in the US have them available for checkout from the library. They tend to be more popular in the summer at my library as people go on vacation and take long car drives.
REACH: It is a big issue over the web news right now that some U.S. libraries are actually dumping thousands of books into the trash to pave way for new books and because Obama-era government cut funding for local community libraries. Is that true with libraries around your area of operations? Are local libraries ill equipped to move out inventory to make way for new books? Local thrift book shops in our country are making a killing buying second hand books and ex-library tomes from the U.S. Hearing some libraries in your country putting thousands of books into the dumpster sounds appalling. How are professional librarians trained to deal with old books (fiction and nonfiction) in inventory ?—I know some libraries hold bulk book sales.
Klima: Wow, that’s a lot of different questions. I’ll address things one at a time. I’m not aware of libraries disposing of thousands of books in the trash but if you’re looking at all libraries across the US—almost 120,000 libraries counting schools, academic, and public altogether—that number could be true. Even if all the libraries only disposed of one book each that would still be thousands of books thrown out.
Where I live we have been fortunate enough to not be hit with major budget cuts. I do not believe that any libraries are ill-equipped to move out inventory. That’s a natural process of how libraries work and a major activity of library staff. I suspect that there are more books thrown out and destroyed by bookstores and publishers than libraries. (I say this having worked in bookstores and publishing houses)
Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics but we don’t think of it as inventory. Most of the titles in our catalog we only have a single copy of. There is no inventory like a bookstore would have. It’s not a simple process. In the US most librarians have a master’s degree in library science. In my coursework, weeding was something we talked about in collection development classes. You don’t have space for every book and new material is continually coming out so you have to have a way to decide which old books to get remove from the collection.
The process of taking books out of the library collection is called weeding. It starts with the basic premise of whether the books are getting checked out by the public. For example, you would start with books in a subject area that haven’t been checked out in five years. Then you would assess those books based on physical condition, rarity, local interest, etc. From there you might begin to have a set of books to remove.
If the books are in decent shape we put them into our Friends of the Library book sale. We do an ongoing book sale where some libraries do an annual larger book sale. We’ve worked with Better World Books and other companies as places to send our weeded books. The books that are left are disposed of. Often they are in such poor shape that they have no value.
REACH: I know you are a big fan of Hal Duncan too, and I would love to see both of you working together on some collaboration for a book series, preferably a short story collection. His Caledonia Dreamin' is a riff off Logorrhea with Scottish words as thematic stuff. Hal has a zany and warped sense of humor that I believe all Englishmen are born with (except for Illuminati) and it would be awesome for you guys to put out another goofy book in the mold of Glitter and Mayhem or Escape from Hell. Or a wordplay story collection like both Logorrhea and Caledonia Dreamin'.
Klima: That would be fun but it’s not something my schedule would allow for.
REACH: Is library use in your local area, among readers young and old, still a healthy and robust part of American life? Or are kids rarely coming over unless their school asks them to? Are adult Americans still patronizing the library as an important place for getting vital information and resources for improving their lives and livelihood or are people in general just living off whatever their mobile device can grab for them off the web? Do you have the same kind of kids that Neil Gaiman was like—sneaking into the library at every opportunity to devour genre fiction then coming back for more?
Klima: My library does an amazing job of connecting with preschool and school-age patrons. Our children’s department ran more than 660 programs last year. We have a middle school—ages 11 to 13—across the street so we get a huge influx of students immediately after school. The library—including children’s—held more than 860 programs last year with about 46,000 program attendees. We get almost a half a million visitors each year, making us the most popular building in the county. While our patrons tend to skew towards children, teenagers, and parents, we do see a lot of adult patrons using the library, too. Some people come in once in a while. Some people come in to get their card so they can check out electronic books from their home. Some people are in every day. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to interact with the public due to the nature of my job, but I hear reports from department heads and I know that we are valued in our community.
Thank you, John Klima for granting us this interview, we hope our readers get plenty of insight into editorial work and a library director's mission in a community.