The Miracle of the Purple Unicorn

A Guest Post by Kevin J Anderson

Unicorns are magic, so how can a book about them not be magic in its own way? And if the unicorns are purple, it has to be even more special.

This is a story about a joke comment, then a crazy idea, then a group of people who wanted to make that idea happen—and teamwork, full support of writers, an editor, an artist, and a publisher. And a little magic. And a scholarship.

For more than a decade, my wife Rebecca Moesta and I have given lectures and workshops on professionalism for the writer. One of the things we teach is that a writer must always deliver his or her best work; you are not allowed to “phone it in,” no matter what the assignment.  Even if you get asked to do a story for, say, a silly anthology about purple unicorns—if you accept the assignment, you can’t blow it off. You have to do the best damn purple unicorn story you possibly can.

Every once in a while, a writing student would come up to us jokingly and offer to write a purple unicorn story, just to prove it could be done. But, no, we weren’t really intending to put together an anthology about purple unicorns.

We have also run the Superstars Writing Seminars for the past five years, and last February in Colorado Springs, Rebecca and I gave the same lecture, with the same purple unicorn anecdote. Some of our students again jokingly suggested that they were going to do a purple unicorn story someday. But this time in the audience was Lisa Mangum, an editor for Shadow Mountain Books. She loved the idea and approached me afterward. “Why don’t we really do this?” She volunteered her services as editor, to read and select all the submissions.

Another thing that changed is that Rebecca and I now have our own publishing company, WordFire Press. And if I’m the publisher, I can do whatever books I want. After brainstorming with Lisa, we decided we would put together the purple unicorn anthology; she would donate her services as editor, with submissions drawn from among the nearly 200 past and present alumni of the Superstars Writing Seminars. WordFire would publish the book, and all profits would go into a scholarship fund to bring a disadvantaged student to the next Superstars.

And that just got the ball started.  All the members of the Superstars “tribe” got behind the project and dove into writing their stories, which they would donate for the anthology. When New York Times bestselling authors Todd J. McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye heard about the project, they each donated a new story to add some star power to the table of contents. Todd, in fact, had so much fun that he wrote two stories, one to open the book and one to close it.

But wait … did someone say Unicorn? You can’t say unicorn without saying Peter S. Beagle, author of the classic The Last Unicorn.  And, yes, Peter S. Beagle agreed to give us a story for the book.

One of our main instructors at Superstars is New York Times bestselling author and award-winning artist James A. Owen. So I asked him if he’d be willing to do the cover art. (Crazy, of course, but you never know unless you ask.) He said yes.  But even better than that—he wanted to wait to do the cover art until he could read all of the stories, because he intended to include an image from every story in the wrap-around cover art.  Oh, and he also agreed to design the cover as well.

B&W Cover Design

Lisa suggested the title One Horn to Rule Them All. We all loved it.

That’s all cool and exciting, but it’s only the first part of the miracle. We had two major shows coming up, DragonCon over Labor Day Weekend and Salt Lake City Comic Con the following weekend. We all had a lot of fans, and a lot of Superstars tribe members at both shows, and Peter S. Beagle would be at the Salt Lake show.  Both were tremendous opportunities to sell copies of the book and raise money for the scholarship. We didn’t want to miss those deadlines.

But Lisa wasn’t even receiving the story submissions for her consideration until July 15. That meant we had one month for the editor to read through the slushpile, make her choices, do her editing, and then WordFire had to put the files through our proofing team, our formatting and production process. James Owen had to read them all and then do his amazing wraparound cover from scratch.

Now that’s a miracle.  Lisa read through the stack, made her choices, worked directly with the story authors for any rewrites or revisions (which they had to do within a day or two). Because WordFire is a new-model publisher using cutting-edge technologies that weren’t available to traditional publishers a few years ago, we had ways to accomplish book production that common wisdom says is simply not possible.

Many members of our WordFire Press team are also past attendees of Superstars, so they had a double incentive, not only to prove that WordFire could meet the impossible deadline, but also to help out the scholarship fund.  Keith Olexa and the proofing teams took the manuscript and immediately started combing through it for typos. I wrote an introduction for the book, explaining the whole crazy idea. Quincy J. Allen did the text formatting and a very snazzy design for print and eBooks. Vivian Trask, our Production Team leader, was the air-traffic controller to make sure every step happened on schedule. James Owen did indeed read all the stories and managed to include an image from every single one in his cover art. Once the page layout was done, we could get the spine width, and James adjusted the cover layout accordingly. The moment all the pieces came together, James Sams uploaded the eBooks on all platforms and submitted the print version to the printer, reviewed the electronic proof the moment it was available, did a few necessary fixes, and then pushed the green button. David Boop did the specialized task of getting One Horn to Rule Them All up in the iBooks store.


We ordered cases of the books to be delivered in time for DragonCon, and more cases of the books for Salt Lake City Comic Con the following week.

Let me go over those dates again:  The editor received the slushpile submissions on July 15.  We had finished, printed copies on sale at our table at DragonCon on August 29.

And if that’s not enough of a miracle—with all of our tribe members talking about One Horn to Rule Them All at the conventions and helping us sell, we made enough profit in only two weekends to fund an entire Superstars Scholarship and half of a second one (I don’t doubt that by the next royalty period or two, we will have the second scholarship fully funded.)

There’s magic in those purple unicorns—I knew it!

Kevin J. Anderson

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Kevin J. Anderson has published 125 books, more than fifty of which have been national or international bestsellers. He has written numerous novels in the Star Wars, X-Files, and DC, and Dune universes, as well as a steampunk fantasy novel, Clockwork Angels, based on the concept album by legendary rock group Rush. His original works include the Saga of Seven Suns series, the Terra Incognita fantasy trilogy, the Hellhole trilogy, Captain Nemo, The Martian War, and his humorous horror series featuring Dan Shamble, Zombie PI. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta are the publishers of WordFire Press.


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