‘‘First comes the story. But if the story can do good, it’s a nice plus. It’s a great thing if we can stimulate good ideas and future action by the young – if they’ll read this and then maybe go out and build it. Key people in NASA management believe many of their people got into sci­ence because they read science fiction when they were young and said, ‘Yes, I want to do this.’ They believe good SF today will motivate many of our young to do the same. The way it works is, if we have ideas, we can bring them to NASA, and they’ll give us consultation. One of their missions is to interest the youth of America in science and technology. Because we need to produce more of our own homegrown scientists and mathematicians, they’re willing to work on appropriate books in order to promote that, give us free consultation, and promote the books in schools with their educational arm. We’ve always been very good at getting things onto English class reading lists, but we’ve been less good at getting books onto science and math reading lists – those teachers don’t assign much fiction. We thought NASA’s credibility could be very helpful with get­ting us onto those lists. We will work with them every time we have an appropriate book, and we’d love to have more of them.”

“I saw surveys for years that said, ‘Where do we get our new custom­ers’. From satisfying the person waiting for a pre­scription in the pharmacy, buying from a revolving rack as they waited. The person walking down the supermarket aisle to buy a pound of coffee, seeing the books, and sampling them. When you pleased them often enough in that impulse situation, they went to a store where there was more selection, and it was just a chain feeding. You had a lot of people buying impulse, but some of those people became core readers. You had the same thing with the mall readers. I saw a recent survey that asked, ‘Do you miss the Waldenbooks that was in this shopping center?’ The answer was, ‘Yes! We’d come to buy a sweater or a pair of shoes, and we’d almost always have time to walk in. If we walked in, we usually bought a book, often several.’ ‘When was the last time you bought a book?’ ‘Oh, yeah, we have to go to a bookstore soon.’ If you don’t put books where people are, you lose a lot of the market, and equally bad, you lose the sampling that hooks and begins to create the committed reader. The decline of mass market wasn’t all about e-books, it was a distribution breakdown.”

“The Internet is great if you know what you want. It’s time consuming to recognize good new authors, and you’ve got all this self-publishing. Some self-published books are great books, but there are many more that are not good books. People have a bad experience and buy fewer books. An editor fulfills a real function. Some authors are very good at seeing their own mistakes, but most people don’t see their own mistakes. If you work very hard on a book for a year, you’re so intimately involved that things that seem obvious to you are frequently not obvious to the first-time reader. Often, you need an editor to talk with the author about that, and say, ‘Wouldn’t it help if we brought out this?’ The copyediting, the proofreading, the sales, and the marketing matter too. At Tor.com, we have between a million and a million-and-a-half unique visitors a month, and it’s very hard for an author to build that kind of reach for themselves. There still are places we can get the book in front of people’s eyes. The combination of things we do as a publisher we do because we think they are valid and necessary to the continued enjoyment of reading.”

‘‘I think we publish around 350 books a year. That’s in all editions. Many of them are repubs of books in hardcover that we’re doing in paperback. It could be a trade paper or mass market. The trade paperback has always been around, it just was a much smaller part of the market. E-book originals are now also a factor. We’re trying to make up for the loss in mass market sales. It’s been a problem for us and for authors. You can’t lose so many retail­ers and keep the same sales unless you innovate.

‘‘We’ve got to be of value to our authors, too. We’ve had a huge investment in Tor.com to get to our million-and-a-half monthly uniques. What we lost in retail, we gained over on the net. It’s a bloody shame we can’t have both, but that’s the kind of thing we’re doing now: more social media, more networking, more school marketing, working with organizations like NASA, getting as much display as you possibly can, without counting on the display to be the prime motivator. Display is still important, but you’ve got other motivators, which are now equally important.’’

Read the complete interview in the February 2016 issue of Locus Magazine. Interview design by Francesca Myman.