One of the questions I’ve been asked a number of times in the weeks since I bought Bundoran Press is: why have you decided to focus on publishing science fiction? After all, my questioners add, fantasy and the paranormal are the bigger markets. Hardly anyone reads science fiction anymore. And if you have to publish science fiction, shouldn’t you focus on young adult books?
It’s true that some of the biggest sellers of recent years have been fantasy – Harry Potter and Twilight are prime examples. At the same time, science fiction has had its successes, too. Hunger Games comes to mind. And the largest circulating genre magazines are Analog (exclusively SF) and Asimov’s (mostly SF). Some of the free on-line mags may do as well but for fiction people are actually willing to pay for, science fiction is doing fine. What’s more, according to some booksellers, hard SF is making a comeback.
Besides, most books don’t become million sellers (sadly). For a small publisher, the best strategy is to build a market of loyal fans, people who will look for your next book and who are willing to try new authors because they trust your imprint. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know the folks at Chizine Publications. They’ve done an excellent job at creating a brand – you can immediately spot a Chizine book on a shelf. Quite apart from the physical appearance of their books, they have also created a genre brand. While they produce a tremendous variety of writers and books, there is a common “darkness” to the stories. Many readers will try a new author from Chizine because they are fans of the “dark side.” It’s a great model and, I think, one worth copying. Like the saying goes: if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.
So the business reason for focusing on science fiction is clear: I want to create a reliable brand that readers can trust. My goal is to reach the point when fans of science fiction will know that if they pick up a Bundoran Press book, they will be buying quality science fiction. It won’t happen overnight – my backlist will continue to feature fantasy and paranormal books, and, indeed, one of the books published this year will be the third in Neil Godbout’s fantasy trilogy. Still, by the end of 2015, when more than a dozen titles in a row have been pure SF, I should be on my way.
Of course, there are personal reasons for my decision, as well. I’d never been a huge fantasy fan and I stopped reading it altogether about ten years ago, though I continue to read science fiction on a regular basis. For me, fiction is about a conversation we have with each other and with the world; science fiction is a conversation we have with the future. No matter how far away in space and time, science fiction is in the realm of the possible – decisions that we take, individually and collectively, will either bring that future about or prevent it from happening. Fantasy, on the other hand, is in the form of a wish, or even a dream, about worlds that never have and never could exist. No decision I make can defeat Voldemort or destroy the One Ring. While parables and lessons are embedded in fantasy, some very powerful, it’s hard, for me, to see how they apply to the world.
Lots of people hold different views. Far be it for me to say they’re wrong. After all, some of my best friends read and write fantasy with joy and passion. But it’s my publishing company, and, more importantly, my money – so why would I publish what I don’t want to read?