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31 October 2002




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Betty Ballantine: Publishing Pioneer November 2002

Betty Ballantine, born in India to a colonial family, married Ian Ballantine in 1939, and soon thereafter the couple moved to New York and began importing mass-market paperbacks from the UK. They were a team for over 50 years, helping to form Bantam Books in 1945, launching their own firm Ballantine Books in 1952, becoming freelance consulting editors/publishers in the 1970s. Ballantine Books was one of the earliest publishers of original SF books, both in hardcover and paperback, by authors ranging from Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl in the '50s, Anne McCaffrey and Larry Niven in the '60s, the first "authorized" edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's works, and the Adult Fantasy line of classics by H.P. Lovecraft and others in the '70s. Later projects included art book Faeries and James Gurney's Dinotopia. Ian & Betty Ballantine won two World Fantasy Awards, in 1975 and 1984, and Betty received a special SFWA President’s Award in 2002. Since Ian died in 1995, Betty continues to edit part-time. She lives in Bearsville, New York.

Photo by Beth Gwinn

Excerpts from the interview:

“So we got the agency for bringing Penguins into the US-of-A — that was in late June of 1939. At that time, paperbound books were a complete rarity here. A few Penguins had been special-ordered by one or two bookshops, but paperbounds were simply not part of the American scene.

“We started out with a cash capital of $500 — my father’s wedding gift to us. And of course, the physical books, which came to us from Allen, which we didn’t have to pay for until they were sold. So there was Ian, and me, and our stock boy, Bill Halusic: the President, Vice-President, and Warehouse Director, respectively. My 500 bucks paid for rent and salaries for the three of us for about three months, until money began to come drifting in.

“Ian’s stated objective was very simple: he said he wanted to change the reading habits of America, and by golly that’s what we proceeded to do.”


“We really, truly wanted and did publish books that mattered. And science fiction matters, because it’s of the mind, it predicts, it thinks, it says, ‘Look at what’s happening here. If that’s what’s happening here and now, what’s it going to look like ten years from now, 50 years from now, or 2,000 years from now?’ It’s a form of magic. Not abracadabra or wizardry. It is the minds of humankind that make this magic.”


“I didn’t know I would be the editor in the beginning. That simply developed from a lifetime of reading, I guess. I really do love being an editor. My head was always full of questions when I met with a writer, which is the way I always edited. I never said, ‘Do this, do that.’ That would be presumptuous and you can’t do that with a writer. You say, ‘What are you trying to get at here?’ That way you begin to elicit what it is they’re after. To me, the essence of editing lies in helping the author say what he wants to say in the way he wants to say it. Sounds simple. But often they don’t know what they want to say, they’re struggling — so you become psychologist, as well as mother, banker, lawyer: a whole gamut of relationships. And certainly, and always, the author’s champion within the house: I mean you are on their side, no matter what.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the November 2002 issue of Locus Magazine.


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