You’re launching a new SF imprint, Saga Press. What’s your vision? Do you have a mission statement, or a particular niche you hope to fill?
I’m working with editor Navah Wolfe on the imprint, so while I do not want to speak for her, I can say that Saga Press is taking the best practices of SF/F imprints, along with select general fiction imprints and children’s/YA publishing, and incorporating them into our business.
Personally, I always like backing a dark horse. I want to explore the challenges of the field and see if there is as much room to grow something in the in-between spaces as I think there may be. In my experience, so many of the greatest successes materialize out of that space that is a trend and taking it slant. My days as a buyer for B&N taught me pattern recognition. My time as an editor may well be spent looking for that one soft spot in the marketplace dragon that I can acquire with a black arrow, again and again.
I also feel fortunate to be here now, starting Saga, in these interesting times. There’s a movement towards change in whom and what we acquire and what our present readers want to see and whom we want to reach in the reading public. A gross generalization is that publishing largely sells fiction to women and teens – yet in SF/F I think there is a lot more to do in marketing outreach to these robust and welcoming readers. So I want to work on that and it’ll be reflected in my acquisitions. A full year in, and as far as frontlist goes – all of which are not announced – Navah and I have acquired parity in male-female authors. I am also very concerned with how our list reflects the demographics of the US and the world in terms of representation of people of color, and the LGBT community. There’s more work to be done, and continuing to be done, but on our first list of four titles, which is obviously too small a subset to extract data from, Navah and I have a wide range of authors and main characters represented. I’m very proud of that and am striving to have that continue to be reflected in my acquisitions going forward.
Before joining Saga, you were a literary agent. Why did you decide to switch from representing authors to publishing them?
You know what’s funny? I get called out now on thinking like an agent by editorial colleagues and agents! The honest answer is that this is my dream job. I really cared about and for my clients, and working with the Barry Goldblatt Agency; I was happy. But when I was 17, I thought, ‘Some day, I’d like to teach English Literature or be an editor.’ Then when I was 31/32, a handful of years on the job as a buyer, Harry Potter was still booming and some of my schemes for YA were panning out explosively well, I began to know enough about publishing and refined that thought to, ‘Some day I’d like to run an imprint.’ So I laid out a plan on how I thought I could get there with my skills and experiences, and started to try to make it happen. And the result was that I failed! My plan took right turns, jug handles (as we call them in New Jersey), full stops, and a u-turn, but then it happened. Anyone who has spoken to me about the industry for any length of time, especially when I get wonky, knows I often say ‘‘When I rule the world I’ll…’’, and here’s my chance to create something, whether it be Xanadu or some evil mad scientist’s lair under a volcano remains to be seen. Fortunately I have Navah’s and my publisher Justin Chanda’s help, not to mention a pair of sharpshooter designers in Michael McCartney and Mathew Kalamadias. So the follow-up statement to this being my dream job is that I now get to roll up my sleeves and try.
In addition to being an agent and editor, you’ve worked as a bookseller and in sales for a publisher, giving you an unusual industry-wide view. What particular challenges does the publishing industry face now, and what new opportunities do you see?
Call me Pollyanna, but I think the industry, including the small press and indie publishing divisions, is so very vibrant and some great works are emerging. Forcing the traditional side to be more savvy, and the indie side to be more professional, is an environment that I think can lead to great work. On the self-published side, I have acquired Linda Nagata’s brilliant The Red: First Light, the first in a trilogy of near-future military fiction that she originally published, as well as Cat Valente’s Six-Gun Snow White, which was published in a limited run of 750 print copies from the outstanding Subterranean Press. Both have racked up nominations as our industry is wise enough to acknowledge great works from a wide set of sources.
As far as other opportunities go, well, we won the war, so here come the boom years. By the war, I mean the perpetual forever war of science fiction and fantasy being respected as art and accepted by readers is over; some just don’t know it yet. The influence of SF/F is everywhere, in so many mediums that you can not deny it. The relatively recent success of Karen Joy Fowler, George R.R. Martin, Diana Galbaldon, Neil Gaiman, Erin Morgenstern, David Mitchell, and the science fiction of Margaret Atwood are the spoils of this war; not to mention children’s and YA SF/F, which is as much a foundation for this victory. Where would we be without Tamora Pierce, let alone Le Guin and Rowling? What will the next level of SF/F be? What will the next generations of SF/F writers achieve? Maybe our massive bestseller written by a woman of color is coming in 2015. It’s enthralling to think and scheme about.
What trends are you seeing in SF and fantasy? What are you (and other SF/F publishers) looking for now, and what are they sick of getting?
I have been laying down the gauntlet that space opera is coming back in 2015 into 2016. From the success James S.A. Corey has had with The Expanse series, Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, John Scalzi’s dominance of all the things from his mainstream breakout in Redshirts to the television shows in development, for all three of these authors, you add a Star Wars movie every year for the next six years and the improbable success of the most space opera pulp film in decades in Guardians of the Galaxy, and you can argue that SF literature is behind the curve! Hand in hand, I think hard SF will also come around, and I’m eager for it, minus the misogyny please!
I also have never believed that Grimdark Fantasy was a real movement as much as a catch-all net that had a hole in it. Abercrombie’s brilliant – he’s our Quentin Tarantino – but this kind of fantasy never went out of fashion as writers like Glen Cook and, later, George R.R. Martin and Steven Erikson, have been doing great work. What we were seeing was a more noir blend of fantasy with nuanced protagonists that were varying shades of grey. Kameron Hurley, Brent Weeks, and of course the stupendously wonderful Scott Lynch are other great recent successes from this movement. But I do think the attention to grimdark fantasy after GRRM’s success has neglected what was a tremendously successful movement, the return of epic fantasy that was just fun, or heroic. I’m speaking of writers like Patrick Rothfuss, Naomi Novik, N.K. Jemison, Brandon Sanderson, Trudi Canavan, Cassandra Clare, and so on. We’re paying attention to this now, and one of the most exciting things around the horizon is (Fanboy alert!) Tad Williams’s return to Osten Ard.
I also hope more socially oriented SF, like Doctorow’s Little Brother and of course, Paolo Bacigalupi’s forthcoming The Water Knife will be coming my way, as I like tilting at windmills.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your work?
Saga Press announced that we’ll be publishing our new titles DRM-free when we launch in 2015! I’m so very excited and pleased that Simon & Schuster is supporting Saga in this experiment. We’re following the good work of Baen, Tor, Small Beer, Angry Robot, and others as the second of the major publishers to do so, and it pleases me to know that our Saga Press e-book readers will be served well by us from the get go.
I am looking forward to sharing the joy I have for this literature with our readers.