Joshua Palmatier — What The EDITOR Is Looking For


ZNB logo vertical   Today is the second post here at Magical Words related to the upcoming SF&F anthology release CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs ALIENS, the first book from the new small press Zombies Need Brains.  Again, as I’m the editor of this anthology (and founder of the small press), I’m doing a slightly different take on each of the posts for this series, focusing on what the EDITOR is looking for when reading stories for possible inclusion in anthologies.  The first guest post was about character, since that’s the first requirement of a story if you want to catch my attention.  If the character isn’t interesting, I’m not interested.  After that comes plot, which is what I’m going to discuss today.

OK, so, here’s the thing.  We’re doing THEMED anthologies, which means that there are a certain amount of set parameters that the story must meet in order to even be considered for a particular anthology.  For CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE, it was obviously a take on a steampunk society that gets invaded by aliens.  What I’m looking for, then, is for that story that takes the basic idea . . . and then does something completely different and unique with it.  I don’t want to read the story about the aliens attacking and the society fires their steam-powered cannons and blows them out of the sky.  That might be a good BACKDROP to the story, but if you want your story to make it into the anthology, you’ve got to have something in there that’s surprising, a twist that raises the level of the story above the basic premise. 

ClockworkUniverseCover  When planning the anthologies, I try to pick themes that give enough specifics that the writer knows which stories are going to fit and which won’t, but at the same time give the writer enough leeway to do an unusual take on it.  My goal is to get the writer to take that nugget of a theme and run with it.  So when you get that invite to an anthology—or if it’s an open call—you need to seriously sit back and ask yourself what you can do with the idea that makes it unique.  What is going to make your story stand out from all of the others?  If you can come up with something cool and different in terms of plot, your chances of making it in the anthology increase exponentially.

For example, for the CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE anthology, Patricia Bray and I ran into numerous common elements to the stories:  there were the scientists as main protagonists, lots of stories set in London, and gears, gears, gears.  All good.  But we didn’t ask for an anthology on scientists in London who like playing with gears.  So while we accepted stories with all of those elements in them, the story set in Australia or Africa with the alien as the main protagonist with an interesting weapon that used a strange thing called “electricity” had a leg up on all of those others.  Because it was different.  Because the steampunk society had to figure out a way to defeat the electricity.  Because out of the heap of stories, it stuck out and was memorable.

So, when looking at potential stories for an anthology, I need to be engaged by the character first (as stated in the first guest post here), but then the story’s plot needs to stand out in some way after that.  I need to say, “Cool,” as I read the story.  Or perhaps, “Clever,” as I hit that particular plot twist toward the end.  If you can get that reaction out of me, then your chances of being accepted are high.

Thanks again to Magical Words for having me and Zombies Need Brains as guests this month!  If you’d like to learn more about me or Zombies Need Brains, check out these webpages:

Joshua Palmatier: 
Zombies Need Brains: 
Zombies Need Brains Online Store:

Author Bio:  Joshua Palmatier is a fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics.  His upcoming novel SHATTERING THE LEY (July 2014, DAW) is the first book in a new series, set in the same world as his “Throne of Amenkor” series.  He is also the founder of the new small press Zombies Need Brains LLC, which will focus on producing quality science-fiction and fantasy themed anthologies.  It’s first anthology release will be CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs ALIENS, currently in the production phase, to be released sometime before July 2014.  Joshua has also published numerous short stories in various anthology.  Find out more at and

BenTate  Social Media Info:
Joshua Palmatier:
Twitter:  @bentateauthor
Zombies Need Brains:
Online Store:
Twitter: @ZNBLLC


3 comments to Joshua Palmatier — What The EDITOR Is Looking For

  • One of the things I love about a good themed anthology is the variety of characters one usually encounters reading through the stories. As you say, the backdrops and trappings are going to have lots in common (thinking now of the Ur-Bar anthology), but then that human element is added in, and THAT’S when things start to get interesting. I would imagine (guessing a bit here) that character would also be the single most important thing you look at from an editing standpoint. True?

  • NewGuyDave

    Writing for themed anthologies stretches the writer out of their comfort zones, unless you just happen to have a character and world that fit well. I also had tons of fun writing short stories for themed anthos. Growth and fun aren’t a bad combination. I think I may write some more.

  • David B. Coe: Definitely look at character as the main focus from the editing standpoint as well. A cool idea only gets you so far. The characters really need to make that idea come alive in a meaningful way or it’s just not going to work.

    NewGuyDave: Glad you had a chance to stretch with this one. I hope ZNB has many, many other chances to flex those writing muscles in the future. *grin*