Guest Blog: Joshua Palmatier

When Joshua Palmatier emailed me to ask if I'd be willing to share the Kickstarter for his small press Zombies Need Brains, which produces all-original SFF anthologies, I invited him to write a guest blog post instead.


Genesis of a Small Press

By Joshua Palmatier

Zombies Need Brains is a small press I created in 2013 with the intent of producing SF&F themed anthologies. Since then, the press has released seven anthologies with themes ranging from steampunk vs aliens to Death personified. Along the way, it has published New York Times bestsellers alongside authors where their ZNB story was their first professional sale. Recently, the press has been recognized by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) as a qualifying market and one of its stories—“Radio Silence” by Walter H. Hunt (published in ALIEN ARTIFACTS)—is a finalist for the Washington Science Fiction Society’s Small Press Award. It continues to grow, reaching a wider and wider audience each year, but I thought it would be interesting to go back to the beginning, to see where it all started and how it all began.

So, close your eyes and imagine a book signing at a Barnes & Noble in New Jersey in 2010 (or thereabouts). This was a group signing, with seven SF&F authors gathering in the hopes of peddling their newest books. The signing went fairly well, and afterwards, we all decided to hit the bar at a restaurant nearby. Somehow, while drinking and talking shop, the topic of anthologies came up—in particular, themed anthologies. I joked about doing an anthology centered around a bar. Someone else said what if the bar represented the epitome of all bars at that time and that as soon as that magic of being the best, the most popular, passed, the bar would shift to a new location—in essence, traveling through time. And then Patricia Bray jokingly said, what if the bartender was Gilgamesh? He found his immortality by taking over (being tricked into running, actually) the bar.

Most of the time when things like this happen, that’s the end of it. The writers go home and wake up the next day going about their usual business. But this time, I went home and wrote up a proposal for what would become AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE URBAR. It was pitched by Tekno to DAW Books and they liked it and published it, along with another anthology Patricia Bray and I created called THE MODERN FAE’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY. Patricia and I enjoyed editing these anthologies, bringing them to life, and so we wrote up more proposals—

But then there was an upheaval in the publishing world. I’m not sure exactly what caused it—ebooks were having a significant impact at this point—but whatever it was, the publishing world began cutting back. Editors at houses shifted. Houses merged. And DAW Books cut back their anthology line to only a few anthologies a year, when before they were doing six or eight. It made sense—anthologies rarely earn out or make money for the large traditional houses. But it still cut Patricia and I off at the knees, right when we were settling in as editors.

I had hopes that the publishing world would settle down and DAW would bring back their anthology line. But after a couple years, it hadn’t happened. Yet I still wanted to edit anthologies. So I began to plan: I researched what it would take to set up a small press, what the expenses would be, what the legalities would cost, and then I researched crowdfunding platforms, because I certainly couldn’t afford to set up the press and produce an anthology on my own. I ended up deciding that the only way it would work is if I ran a Kickstarter that would produce the first anthology AND raise the money to pay for setting up the small press. I sat on the idea for even longer, mulling it over. Was it worth the risk? Was it worth the time and effort? Was I insane?

And then I pulled the trigger.

Zombies Need Brains’ first Kickstarter ran in August of 2013, featuring the anthology CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK VS ALIENS with the (self-evident) theme of aliens invading a steampunk Earth. I set it up so that half of the anthology would be filled with well-known authors, what I called anchor authors. These authors helped promote the Kickstarter and drew in enough backers that the Kickstarter was a success. The other half of the anthology was filled by a call for submissions from some of the writers lists that Patricia and I are part of. So it wasn’t a completely open call, but it was one step away from that. We ended up with some great stories and—with a few “learning curve” mistakes made by me as a new crowdfunder and publisher—the anthology was released into the world.

The original plan was to run a Kickstarter every year for one anthology for five years, and then sit back and see where things stood to see if I’d continue with Zombies Need Brains. That changed after the second anthology. When I hit the third year, I decided that I could risk going to two themed anthologies. That worked so well, in the fourth year I did three new anthologies and I expanded to additional editors.

And now we’re on the fifth year. The Kickstarter is currently active and we’re over halfway to our goal. We’re shooting for three anthologies again. THE RAZOR’S EDGE is a military SF&F anthology featuring stories about that fine line between being a rebel and an insurgent; GUILDS & GLAIVES explores the sword & sorcery genre; and SECOND ROUND brings everyone back to the time-traveling bar tended by Gilgamesh first seen in AFTER HOURS. We’ve got some stellar anchor author lined up, names I can guarantee you’ll recognize. And you can help bring these three anthologies to life by supporting our Kickstarter at We have special pledge levels featuring tuckerizations in some of the anchor author short stories and signed copies of some of our anchor authors’ books. You could be drawn as a cartoon hamster by Esther Friesner. There’s even a pledge level that will catch you up on all of our past anthologies!

What’s in store for the future? Well, hopefully at some point Zombies Need Brains will be able to produce anthologies without the need of a Kickstarter. We aren’t close to that yet, barring me winning the Powerball in the next week. But that’s the hope. And beyond that? I’d like to expand beyond anthologies, into original novels.

But that’s far future, the land of hopes and dreams. Right now, I’m focused on the Kickstarter and the hope that I can produce at least three more anthologies, bringing ZNB’s total publishing list up to ten in just five years. Not bad for something that started as a joke: Seven authors walk into a bar …

Check out the new Kickstarter here:

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