One of the exciting things about being a spec fic author and fan here in Australia is the vibrant local publishing scene. We are blessed with a number of high quality independent publishers who continue to put out book after book every year, the quality of which compares more than favourably to anything internationally – dare I say often exceeding it.
When you talk about the Australian scene you cannot go past Ticonderoga Publications. At some point, almost every Australian author of note has had a story or book come out under their label, and they have not only played a part in helping raise awareness of some of this country’s best new talent, they have also made sure that many classic stories continue to be in print. Their books have been recognised internationally for their quality, garnering nominations for some of the big awards.
Given their impact on writing in Australia, it seemed obvious to me that I simply had to ask the founder of Ticonderoga, Russell B. Farr, to come and feature in Wednesday Writers. Knowing he was a busy guy, I expected that it might be hard to pin him down, but instead I was pleasantly surprised by how willing he was to write something for this blog. It’s obvious that, even after all these years, he remains as excited and passionate about publishing as he was in the beginning and was delighted to have a chance to share that passion. So, I am really happy to hand it over to Russell and I know that everyone will get a lot of this great post.
In very kindly asking me to contribute to his excellent Wednesday Writers series, David asked me the following
Given that a large chunk of my audience are writers, and that you operate one of the main presses in Australia, they might be interested to read about what it is that you look for as opposed to what overseas markets look for – because you answer to yourself are you going out on a limb more, taking different kinds of risks? What excites you about anthologies versus collections? What’s your master plan?
It got me thinking.
When I first started this gig, way, way back in the 1990s (kids born the year our first book was published will be finishing high school this year), there was no plan. I had a whole bunch of ideas, a list of fantastic writers I wanted to work with, and it was a case that as one book went off to the printer, I’d hit up my list to see who said yes first. There was a wonderful sense of innocence, naivety, about it all (in between lamenting how much cash it was eating).
Now it’s not like that at all. We have a Master Plan(tm) *cough cough*. To me, a Master Plan(tm) has a goal, an end point, a finite achievement (even if it is World Domination(tm)). While we have a bunch of minor plans and projects, and some goals, we have no end point. There’s no achievement on the radar, or in my imagination, that would mark the ultimate pinnacle.
I guess our Plan That Is Not Quite A Master Plan(tm)(patent pending) runs along the following lines
- Produce the best books we possibly can.
- Make each book at least as good, if not better than the one before.
- Pay all the writers and artists as fairly and as much as we can.
- Foster new talent.
- Make a positive contribution to the genre in Australia.
- Make enough of a surplus to pay ourselves something.
- Keep doing this as long as it’s still enjoyable, worthwhile, and able to fulfil at least items 1-5 without being overly concerned by the shortfall in meeting #6.
If we were going to dream up some sort of business slogan it would be along the lines of “Quality Over Profit”, in that we’re more driven by the desire to produce quality books, the type of books we love and love to read. Beautiful looking books, filled with fabulous stories, amazing novels, incredible new lands, wonderful characters. If we publish a book, it’s because we love it, inside and out, not because we expect it to make piles of filthy lucre.
Though we do hope that, for every title, the world also shares our love for the book and buys lots of copies. I know that this way lies madness, but we’re a little too far down the road to turn back now.
“Anthologies vs Collections” would make a great smackdown panel. In the red corner we have anthologies: cumbersome beasts made up of many writers, involving lots of work, the occasional herding of cats and large amounts of contributor copies. In the blue corner we have collections, a single writer on the cover (unless you’re Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter), a single person to work with, and only one lot of contributor copies and associated postage.
Collections have a lot going for them in the short term: the incidental costs are less, they provide the opportunity to work closely with a single writer so a single clear vision is shared, and the final product has the writer’s name on the cover, giving them a sense of ownership of the book. This in turn gives the writer more motivation to actively promote the work, and also discerning buyers familiar with the writer are drawn to the title.
Anthologies are quite the opposite: it’s a case of dealing with 12 or 18 or 30 writers, not as closely, and requiring more organisation and time. The final book has the editor’s name in big letters, and few editors have the kind of name that will sell by the box. At the same time, each writer only feels 1/12, 1/15 or 1/30 of the ownership, individual promotion is harder, and unless the anthology has a “name” contributor like Gaiman or Harris, it’s a harder sell all round.
That said, without original anthologies it’s pretty hard to have collections.
There’s a bit of a current trend for to fill collections with as much original material as possible, and most of the time I disagree with this. It can work for the occasional tightly-themed book, where each story benefits closely from its shared context. I don’t think it should become the norm, as mostly reprint collections allow the writer to be paid twice for the one story, and anything that pays the writer is a good thing.
Anthologies (and magazines) provide the first home for the story. They are a place where the writer gets to flex their finger muscles, are challenged by themes, and is where they often do their real work. Many writers rise to prominence through these markets, they provide opportunities to hone skills, experiment, work with different editors. Few, if any, short story writers are born with a collection ready to go.
As an editor (with open submissions), anthologies present the great unknown, the opportunity to find fresh new voices, to work with tomorrow’s stars. They have a sense of great potential, the lure of undiscovered treasure. There is the opportunity to read incredible tales from writers you’re not familiar with. Sometimes there’s also the opportunity to work with writers you really admire, as established Australian SF writers are generally a generous bunch.
If I’m building a themed anthology, it’s always great to see how writers have interpreted the theme. See where the spark of inspiration has taken them. To be confronted by multiple points of view, all creatively expressed.
Every book is a risk. Any time we put out a new title, a title that we are heavily emotionally invested in (if not also financially), there is the potential for bad things to happen. Emotions and money become tied together, dozens of review copies go out, some never to be heard of again. The frustration of knowing that a book is truly awesome, so why isn’t it selling by the thousands? Why aren’t more people buying and loving and sharing and talking about this incredible work?
Each book is putting passion on the line. Not only ours, but our writers. When you’ve worked closely with a writer to produce something everyone agrees is pretty special, when the process has involved sharing hopes and dreams, we really want the work to do well. We want to be able to give lots of good news and positive reviews back to the creator. We feel honoured that these writers want to share their work with us, to allow us to be part of the journey in sharing their art, and we really do want the best for all.
It’s a wonderful thing when it all goes to plan. Great reviews coming in, solid regular sales, hearing the stories from people who’ve bought and read and loved the book. This is what makes it worthwhile.
What do we look for? Character-driven first and foremost. We want to love and hate and feel and fear and smile and experience what’s going on. We want to experience the world through the protagonist’s eyes (though if doesn’t have to be first person narrative). Good story-telling is also important, we want to be put in the situation where we can’t not turn the page. Genre isn’t overly important, anything speculative is good. We’re not too keen on gratuitous violence, or gratuitous anything (though the occasional gratuitous explosion, car chase, or kitten is okay). Tell the story, show us a new world.
Russell B. Farr is the founding editor of Ticonderoga Publications and has published more than a thirty titles. His recent anthology, Belong, explores the concepts of home and migration, and he edited the award-winning Australian vampire anthology Dead Red Heart. In 1999 he established ticon4, now Australia’s longest running semi-professional science fiction webzine. Previous works as editor include the award-winning anthology Fantastic Wonder Stories, award-winning collection Magic Dirt: the Best of Sean Williams, and Australia’s first work-themed anthology The Workers’ Paradise.
As editor of Ticonderoga Publications, Russell has overseen the publication of landmark story collections by Simon Brown, Stephen Dedman, Terry Dowling, Lisa L. Hannett, Angela Slatter, Lucy Sussex, Steven Utley and Kaaron Warren.
Russell was born in Perth, Western Australia in 1973, where he lives in the northern suburbs with his wonderful partner and a sociopathic cat.