You’ve recently joined Voyager. What’s your vision as an editor? Do you have a particular niche you hope to fill?
Well, as I stare at the computer more, my vision is getting worse and worse….
Oh, I think you mean something else.
Seriously, my vision is to help continue the great science fiction and fantasy tradition at Harper Voyager. Voyager has been doing such an amazing job in terms of fantasy, being the publisher of bestsellers like Kim Harrison, Richard Kadrey, Raymond Feist, and Robin Hobb. So I think one area that I’m really excited about is expanding our list a bit, specifically in terms of science fiction. I joined a Voyager list that had some great authors (and authors to be published) in that genre, such as James Smythe, Ian Douglas, Emmi Itaranta, Nick Cole, and Mel Odom, but it’s an area I specifically love, and wanted to see more of. I like the idea of having a balanced list – something for every kind of speculative reader – so being able to already add authors like Jay Allan, Elizabeth Bonesteel, and Warren Hammond on the sci-fi side (and Michael Fletcher and Sarah Beth Durst in fantasy), to name a few, will really help grow Voyager.
Before joining Voyager you were an editor at Amazon’s SF imprint, 47North. How did it differ from more traditional New York publishing houses, in terms of opportunities and challenges?
Probably the biggest difference is just the business model itself. At 47North, my job was mostly as an acquisitions editor, finding projects I thought would be a good fit for the imprint and then facilitating the production and sale of the books without always being the hands-on editor of the specific project. There was a focus on analyzing data and using that to get my authors’ books into the hands of the most readers – and there was something very satisfying about the way I was part of that process, constantly evaluating what was or wasn’t working, and adjusting accordingly to maximize a book’s potential.
Perhaps the biggest misconception in the industry, though, is that there is that big of a difference. Yes, I’m editing more. Yes, print is a larger component of the model at Voyager than at 47North. Yes, our ideas about marketing and publicity and distribution are different. But, overall, my job is very similar: find books that excite me, find authors that I’m excited to work with, and then connect those books with as many readers as possible.
One thing I’ll note that isn’t different: I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the best teams in the business. And that passion for the genre and the books, and the commitment to my authors has definitely continued here at Voyager.
I’ll also note something else that isn’t different, and that’s that I’ve had a number of people ask about my various jobs in publishing. I always answer the same way: it’s unbelievable that someone pays me to read science fiction and fantasy!
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?
Trends are a tricky thing, since most of them started years before actually coming to fruition. That said, I think one of the biggest trends is the slowing down in the urban fantasy market. I think we’ve had enough time playing in these worlds to see publishers focusing on what we have, and taking less chances on new projects in the paranormal sub-genres. For Voyager, Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim is an established character and brand, and we couldn’t be happier seeing his audience grow with each new book. That’s not to say, of course, that publishers are done with urban fantasy, just that we’re being more selective. A book like Caitlin Kittredge’s Black Dog (10/28/14) struck a chord with the team here, feeling fresh and different.
Too, trends often mean more of a shift in SF/F publishing, rather than a more binary situation. So, where urban fantasy seemed to take up much of the space formally occupied by horror, a ‘‘new’’ subgenre like dark contemporary fantasy is moving into UF’s space. For instance, a novel we’re really excited about is Alex Gordon’s debut, Gideon (1/6/15), which is in that in-between place of horror and supernatural suspense – and utterly amazing. And consider Sarah Remy’s Stonehill Downs (12/2/14), which has a touch of high fantasy mixed with police procedural, or Laura Bickle’s blend of modern Western and fantasy, Dark Alchemy (3/24/15). It’s that genre-bending which I think we’re seeing more of. And that’s what it comes down to for me when it comes to trends: sales are clearly important, but great story and great writing is always what we’re looking for first.
What particular problems does the publishing industry face now, and what new opportunities do you see?
I think the problems are pretty apparent, so I’d rather focus on the opportunities, because ultimately, that’s what excites me. The digital arena is clearly an area where many opportunities exist, and it’s a major reason we launched Voyager Impulse, our digital-first sci-fi and fantasy imprint, this past July. The idea of getting novels out quickly, with dynamic pricing – while still maintaining the physical editions through emerging print technologies – is a way for us to build Voyager authors in a new way. With the addition of the recently revamped HC.com and increasingly active social media allowing us to interact more directly with consumers, we’re moving away from the idea that publishing houses are removed from the readers.
I’m hoping, too, that these emerging print technologies (as mentioned above) will allow us to streamline the physical process, making it easier for bookstores to keep books in stock and take a chance on shelving our books. Print-on-demand quality, for example, has improved by leaps and bounds since I first started in the business. We’re truly at a point when it’s going to be impossible for a book to be ‘‘out of print’’!
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your work?
I’ve had a bit of a motto during my time in sci-fi and fantasy publishing: everyone is a fan of the genre… they just may not realize it yet. As you see other mediums – TV, movies, video games, comic books – explode with SF/F content, it’s apparent that these are the kinds of stories audiences are connecting with. Our job in publishing, then, is to help them make those connections. You liked Guardians of the Galaxy? Why not check out this space opera book? Like the show Game of Thrones? Have you tried this other author, who touches on similar themes but in a very different way? The fact is, there’s something for everyone (heck, the Chuck Wendig novel, Zer0es (8/18/15), is as much for fans of The Bourne Identity as it is for sci-fi readers)… and that’s so cool.
In addition to this opportunity, though, editors and publishers also need to lead. We’re the genre that’s supposed to speculate, to look forward, to spin metaphors into myths and create universal stories. We have to focus our sights on great, marketable projects, but also focus on diversity – on gender and race and politics and sexual orientation and language. My biggest challenge (I know – I said I wasn’t going to talk about challenges!) is pushing the genre forward while mitigating risks. A bit paradoxical, I realize, but not impossible. Publishing has always been about taking chances – even the most commercial submission can fail – and so I (and many of my other colleagues throughout the industry) are working hard to ensure we never fall into a paint-by-numbers situation. In other words, my goal at Voyager is to not just observe and react to the genre, but – ultimately – help move if forward.
Ambitious? Yes. Fun as hell? A big yes.