Ana Grilo and Thea James, of The Book Smugglers, are no strangers to the publishing industry and good story telling. Since they first started smuggling, way back in 2007, and reviewing in 2008, Grilo and James have nurtured one of the finest speculative fiction blogs and were awarded for their hard work this year with as Hugo Award finalists for “Best Fanzine”. Now, the talented duo are set to apply their passion and eye for fiction to a new venture: Book Smugglers Publishing. I caught up with Ana and Thea to chat about the new venture, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, and why the speculative fiction community should be so excited for this new short fiction market.
In 2014, Grilo and James co-edited Speculative Fiction 2013, the follow-up to the Hugo nominated and British Fantasy Award winning non-fiction collection, Speculative Fiction 2012, and the experience opened up a whole world of options for the Smugglers. “It just seemed like such a natural progression for us,” said Grilo. “Unlike many of our fellow bloggers, we have no interest in becoming writers, but we do love stories and the publishing world.
“We’ve been editing our own blog for seven years, and during that time we’ve had the opportunity to beta-read a lot of novels. After our experience editing Speculative Fiction 2013, we felt ready to take the plunge into publishing short fiction as we felt we could make a contribution to the SFF world–by publishing diverse, feminist fiction. True Fact: we had not talked about publishing anything until this one day when we were having a discussion about What Comes Next™ for The Book Smugglers, and we both at the same time said, ‘let’s do short stories.’ And then we did.”
Short fiction markets live and die by the quality of their fiction. “Our readers can expect a bit of everything,” James told me, explaining how important it is for Book Smugglers Publishing to embrace the breadth and diversity that speculative fiction offers. “One of the things we were adamant about from the get-go was to pick a broad range stories. Our inaugural list comprises diverse stories from all over the world, for both adults and young adults (and even a middle grade story)! The stories span horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. We have sad stories, and happy stories, and we have quite a few bloody stories, too. (We seem to like bloody, for some reason.)”
Not all of the surprises have been so pleasant, though, Grilo is quick to admit, “We did not expect to receive as many submissions as we did for our first submissions call. We received around 500 stories within a very short period of time (3 months). Of course, this meant we had to read all of the stories and decide which we wanted to publish within the short deadline we set ourselves.”
It was a “good challenge,” though, Grilo said. The Smugglers saw a blessing in disguise, and took advantage of the challenge. “Unsurprisingly, we couldn’t stick to the original plan to publish three short stories and decided to go with six instead. It was exhausting, but super amazing work.”
“We were overwhelmed, floored, humbled by the amount of support, encouragement and positive feedback we’ve received,” Grilo said of the rewarding surprises they’ve faced while launching a new short fiction market. “And seriously, to be able to do what we are doing, to publish these stories we have fallen in love with, is a reward in itself.”
Grilo and James recognize an opportunity to publish their stories as multi-dimensional experiences, embracing many different forms of narrative. “Beyond the story itself, we also wanted to create a combination experience of art and extra materials. For example, with each story, we will have an essay from the author on their inspirations and influences, including an explanation for their development of the original story idea and the themes subverted and explored within their work. Each eBook (because we are publishing the stories as eBooks available for purchase, as well as making them available free on the blog) will also include an exclusive Q&A with the author.”
Book Smugglers Publishing recently revealed their first cover, for S. L. Huang’s “Hunting Monsters”, and published an essay by the author exploring her inspirations and the themes running through her story. “In retelling or riffing on old folk stories the most compelling part for me is finding the little nubs of what-if and turning them into full-blown questions and repercussions that reverberate through the characters’ lives,” Huang says in her essay.
The Book Smugglers were excited for the opportunity to commission cover art from some of their favourite artists, and some newcomers, as well. “For this first round of stories, the process was quite straightforward,” said Grilo. “We commissioned art from a couple of artists we already knew, including Jacqueline Pytyck (the amazing artist who designed our header and logo), and noted author and artist Sally Jane Thompson. Our third cover artist, Kristina Tsenova, we commissioned through deviantART. This is actually another thing that is important to us: as with our authors, we want to find and publish new artists from around the world, and we plan to make an open call for artists soon.”
The first of the stories, the aforementioned “Hunting Monsters” by S.L. Huang, debuts on October 7th, and it’s the first of many that Grilo and James hope will resonate with their current readership and beyond.
Book Smugglers Publishing is currently accepting submissions for their next wave of short stories. This time around, they’re looking for stories about “first contact”. How that theme applies is up to the writers. “While we are huge fans of aliens and would very much like to receive submissions featuring first contact with aliens,” they described when they announced the new theme. “We would love to receive a broader pool of stories and traditions. We welcome authors to subvert this theme, to expand horizons and adapt the prompt to other possible connotations and genres within the Speculative Fiction umbrella.”
The Smugglers are accepting “first contact” stories until December 31st, 2014. The accepted stories will be published between April and June of 2015. So, get writing, get reading.