One Horn to Rule Them All: The Story Behind the Purple Unicorn Anthology

When Kevin J. Anderson visited Kobo’s Toronto HQ, he told us about the origins and production behind ONE HORN TO RULE THEM ALL, an anthology published by Wordfire Press, which Kevin runs with his wife Rebecca Moesta. This story is part lesson in professionalism, part demonstration of how efficient the publishing process can be, and we’re excited to share details about how it all came together.

UnknownWhat makes this anthology especially great? First, the stories are wonderful—you can buy the collection on Kobo here. Second, all profits from sales go towards scholarships for the Superstars of Writing Seminars. So you get to buy a great anthology AND support a wonderful cause.

We sent some questions along to Kevin, Rebecca, and the anthology’s editor, Lisa Magnum, who were kind enough to share details about unicorns, editing, and more.

KWL: Where did the idea for the anthology come from?

Rebecca: [Kevin and I have] been giving a Writing Professionalism workshop together since at least 2004, where we tell the class that they always have to do their best work on any piece, even if it’s, say, a purple unicorn anthology. You have to do the best purple unicorn story you can possibly do. That became a joke, year after year, and people kept threatening to do a purple unicorn story for our imaginary anthology. And now we’ve finally done it.

Kevin: When we gave our lecture at last year’s Superstars Writing Seminar and told the story about the purple unicorns, one of the other instructors was Lisa Mangum, editor for Shadow Mountain Books. She was so captivated by the idea that she proposed making it happen for real, and she volunteered her services as editor. One of our other instructors, renowned artist and author James Artimus Owen, volunteered to do the cover, and we published it ourselves at WordFire Press.

KWL: How did you choose which stories to feature?

The WordFire Press table at DragonCon, where the team sold copies of ONE HORN TO RULE THEM ALL to raise money for a Superstars scholarship.

The WordFire Press table at DragonCon, where the team sold copies of ONE HORN TO RULE THEM ALL to raise money for a Superstars scholarship.

Lisa: I had one month to read them all, select the final contents, edit them all, and prepare the file for publication. I started reading right away. Each story was assigned to one of three folders: Yes, No, or Maybe. For that first cut, I didn’t worry about word counts or genre. I just picked the stories that I felt were the ones with the strongest voices, the most imaginative settings, and the most creative inclusion of a purple unicorn… Once I had identified the stories I wanted to include, and made sure I was okay on my word count, I started looking at the genres. I wanted a good variety between first and third person POVs as well as a wide sampling of genres: noir, sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, humor, etc. I organized the stories so that there was a good mix between long stories and short stories as well as a balance to the genres.

KWL: This anthology progressed really quickly from concept to finished books in six months, with the bulk of the work happening within the span of four weeks this summer. Can you map out the timeline from story submission to publication?

Rebecca: Lisa set the deadline as July 1, and she chose her final stories by July 15. She asked for some rewrites and asked the contributors to complete revisions in a few days, and everyone did so. We gave the manuscript to our proofing team and then to our production team for formatting as both print and eBook. Meanwhile, James Owen was working on the cover—but he wanted to include a key image from every single story in his art, so he couldn’t even compose the piece until he knew what the stories were. We received some truly outstanding work from our people, especially Vivian Trask, Quincy Allen, Keith Olexa, Sam Knight, Peter Wacks, and David Boop.

Kevin: We really wanted to have this book ready for two big upcoming conventions—DragonCon in Atlanta and Salt Lake City Comic Con… James delivered his final artwork when our production team was ready to send the book to print and upload—and we sent the finished book to press by August 10, less than four weeks after Lisa selected the stories. We received our finished printed copies in hand by August 25, just in time to drive them out to Atlanta for Dragoncon.

KWL: Are there any drawbacks to such a quick turnaround?

Kevin: The traditional pace of publishing and distribution is glacial, usually taking a year or more to produce and release a book, and that’s how many of the traditional review outlets are set up, too. If you can’t send a book to a standard review publication 3-4 months in advance of release, then they won’t review it…but when WordFire has a book to that stage, we’re ready to put it on sale! So, we have to decide if we want to lose 3-4 months of sales in order to hope somebody might review it. Fortunately, a lot of other review platforms will review a book, even after it’s published. And we certainly didn’t want to lose all the sales on the table at those two big conventions! In those two weekends, we sold enough copies from our own table to fund an entire scholarship to Superstars.

We love this example of teamwork, which demonstrates how publishers and authors can work together (at super speed) towards a shared goal.  Do you have any great stories of collaboration, or unique approaches to publishing? Share them in the comments!

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To help fund additional Superstars Scholarships, buy ONE HORN TO RULE THEM ALL on Kobo. Interested in attending Superstars 2015? Registration for the conference, taking place Feb. 5-7, 2015, in Colorado Springs, is available here. This year’s special guests include Hugh Howey, Toni Weisskopf (Baen Books), and a representative from Kobo Writing Life.

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