Interview: Lou Anders
by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu Interview ISBN/ITEM#: LouAnders
Date: January 1, 2007 /
Publisher: Pyr (Prometheus)
Amazon Search: Lou Anders
Lou Anders came to SF publishing from journalism by way of a number of non-fiction books and articles about media SF. Now he's running Prometheus' new SF imprint, Pyr and month after month we're finding that his efforts are paying off in titles we're looking forward to reading. His interview kicks off our editors series.SFRevu: Pyr Books has been doing an absolutely fabulous job producing new and notable books, and every month we seem to be reviewing more and more titles. This month we've an essay on The Man Who Melted by Jack Dann, in which I contrast it with William Gibson's Neuromancer, which came out about the same time. So you've clearly got our attention. What's Pyr all about? How did it come to be and where is it going?
Lou Anders: No simple question this, but essentially, long-time science, philosophy and nature nonfiction publisher, Prometheus Books, who have been around since 1969 and whose sister company the Center for Inquiry - publisher of the Skeptic magazine and friend to such notables as the late Carl Sagan, the late Isaac Asimov, and Sir Arthur Clarke - was looking to get into fiction, and was advised to pick a niche, and they thought that science and science fiction might have something in common (One would think. Once upon a time, anyway...). Or rather, without necessarily looking for a fictional platform for their rationalist/futurist agenda, they did see the ideals of science fiction as being simpatico with their own views.
Meanwhile, I'd already begun to make a name for myself as a freelance editor and anthologist, so in 2004 they hired me, we launched in March of 2005, and now, here in January 2007, we have some 30 books out. Though, of course, it wasn't as simple to do as it was to say just now, and my wife and I bought our first home and conceived and birthed our first child right in the middle of it all, and the notion of what Pyr is has already been through a few revisions and massive evolutionary cycles in a short while. For instance, we approached Pyr at the start as more of a small specialty imprint, and very quickly - even before our launch - realized that our ambitions were much larger and our initial reception in the chains looked to be much more promising. So we ramped up very fast to where we are now, which is that we are a mid-sized press that publishes around 16 titles a year and have been fortunate to have worked with such wonderful writers as Mike Resnick, Michael Moorcock, Robert Silverberg, Ian McDonald, Alan Dean Foster and many more.
As to where it's going, I'm a bit blown away, even with our raised ambitions, by how well we've been received and how fast we seem to have impacted the landscape in just under two years. The response, from both critics and fans, has been amazing - really way beyond our (or anyone's) expectations. We've already had several award nominations and a win, shown up on multiple best of the year lists, and the feedback from the bookselling community (including buyers and distributors and all the invisible but all powerful people you don't see on the outside but who are crucial) has been tremendous. And we've made a much bigger impression than I ever would have initially supposed. So, naturally, we plan to keep it up, and to continue the trajectory as far as it will take us.
SFRevu: What's your role there?
Lou: I'm the editorial director, which means that everything you see on the shelf has come across my desk at some point. I read all the manuscripts personally (no other editors or slush readers), select, and buy the books, negotiate with the agents, choose and then art direct the illustrators, and sign off on the cover designs, interior layouts, marketing copy, etc... Prometheus has around 40 or so employees, including the uber-competent Jill Maxick (publicity), the extraordinary Chris Kramer (production), the incomparable Bruce Carle (who does our layout), the fantabulous Mark Hall and Lisa Risio (marketing) and the wonderful women in the art department (Jackie, Grace, Nicole), and many other invaluable people. But I oversee everything having to do with Pyr and they graciously put up with my anal retentiveness and obsessiveness as I breath over everyone's shoulder. Charles Stross described Pyr recently as a mid-sized press run with the hands-on-edness of a small press, and I think that's a fairly accurate description. My role then is to walk around my home office obsessing out loud over every detail ad nauseum until my wife, who has her own career goals, could probably put on a Mission Impossible style Lou-mask and run the imprint in my absence if need be.
SFRevu: In a time when fantasy seems to be pushing SF off the shelves, you're focusing almost exclusively on SF. Are you crazy? (If so, you might just be the lunatic we're looking for.)
Lou: You may be right, I may be crazy. But it's not accurate to say we're focusing exclusively on SF. Although we have done a higher percentage of science fiction titles than fantasy ones, we've already produced quite a few fantasy novels, including Fiona Avery's historical fantasy, The Crown Rose, Charles Coleman Finlay's ERB pastiche The Prodigal Troll, Michael Moorcock and Storm Constantine's Silverheart, and Sean Williams' ongoing fantasy quartet, The Books of the Cataclysm (which began with The Crooked Letter). We've also got Justina Robson's upcoming sci-fantasy series, Quantum Gravity - the first of which, Keeping It Real, is out this March and is about an essentially bionic woman assigned to bodyguard the elven lead singer of a rock band (with fey back up singers), and Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself, which is traditional quest fantasy with wizards and warriors, reads tonally like Scott Lynch and should be, ahem, cough cough, (sotto voce), the next GRRM.
That being said, it was clear from the start that Prometheus, as the leading rationalist publisher, wanted a high percentage of science fiction and that's what we've done, in part because of their own agendas and in part because, while I have no objection to publishing traditional fantasy - as Joe Abercrombie's brilliant work attests - it's taken me a while to find as much fantasy as SF that really turns my crank. But I'm starting to now, as Joe Abercombie's brilliant work attests. Did I mention he was brilliant?
SFRevu: What does the editorial process consist of? Can you walk us through a recent book you've worked on? Do you look at unagented submissions?
Lou: I do not look at unagented submissions. I did when we started, and was quickly buried under a mountain of drek. And while there may be and probably are many gems in that mountain, I'm one man, with a family who doesn't see enough of me as it is, and my time is much better spent acquiring from agents with whom I have an ongoing relationship and who know my tastes, my needs, and my budget, and can usually offer me works that will have a better chance of being what I need than the million-to-one odds of the slush pile! It's harsh, but as I've said before, the point of publishing isn't to service the world of wanna be writers out there, but to find the best books for my company and my readers, and, as Robert J. Sawyer has said elsewhere, any time spent reading manuscripts that you are less than 100% certain you are going to acquire is time spent wasting your employers money, because you are paid to publish books (and usher those books through the publishing process), not read works you have no intention of publishing.
As to the editorial process, let's take Kay Kenyon's marvelous Bright Of The Sky, the first book in her sci-fantasy quarter The Entire and the Rose.
The manuscript came in from her agent Donald Maass. I knew Kay through her short fiction (she's in Live Without A Net) and through conventions, but had not read her novel length work before so was excited when it came in. I read the manuscript, and was blown away.All of this, of course, happens while everything else is happening too. So in a given day, I might talk to one artist about a cover concept or look at preliminary artwork, talk with production about the page layouts, work with the art department on a cover treatment, advise sales on sample comparative buys or marketing copy, eyeball the proposed back cover of an arc (hi Pat!), field some questions from either our copy editor or in-house editor (marvelous Peggy Deemer), work with publicity on a press release, blog about some good reviews or other news, and chase up needed marketing information from a writer. I'll also get two or three unsolicited pitches and have to write (hopefully polite) no-thank yous, and exchange random emails with a stable of very talented writers about seemingly unrelated trivia that I assure my wife is essential to the correct performance of my job as it is filed under "relationship maintenance," of which one cannot do enough. Periodically, I may spend three or four weeks hammering out the finer points of a contract but that tends to come in waves. If I'm lucky, I get two or three hours of reading time in there somewhere, and if I'm really lucky, that involves Starbucks. Generally, I add in another few hours from 10pm to midnight after my son goes to bed.
SFRevu: What's your "editorial vision" anyway?
Lou: That quality and commerciality are not mutually exclusive. That a book can have depth and meaning and still have kick ass robot girls leaping out of flying cars, machine pistols blazing. That Sensawunder and Senso' Adventure can co-exist in a narrative that doesn't insult my senses. Broadly, I'm looking to publish, not literary fabulism or new wave experimentation or cross genre slipstream or mainstream with watered down SF tropes (though there's nothing wrong with that, he says in his best Seinfeld), but what has been described by reviewers as "pure quill" or "pitched down the middle" traditional science fiction and fantasy, recognizable to a genre audience as such, but with the quality dial set to "High." I enjoyed the recent Locus interview with Ginger Buchanan, where she came forward as unabashedly commercial, but also said her tastes slash current territory of influence at Roc ran towards hard SF. Amen to that.
SFRevu: It seems to me that you're a good example of a new wave in SF fans, equally at home with literature and media forms, whereas previous generations have considered media to be a poor man's genre. Has this form matured, and what's the relationship between the written and otherwise displayed word? Where can we find the virulent essay you wrote damning Hollywood for all time?
Lou: You won't. I love Hollywood, spent 5 years working there, still have a lot of friends in the industry and might gravitate back there one day. I've come out before as looking like I'm against the media tie-in novel, though I've grudgingly admitted they can be a gateway drug for new readers and acknowledged I've seen some good ones. As I've put it before, I've nothing against them as long as they're well-written, but Star Wars doesn't need our love and the non media tie-in work does, so if I'm going to proselytize one side of the fence it'll be the one that needs the support. But as for cinematic and television media itself - I think we're in a golden period, where Hollywood has produced a slew of good film adaptation with unprecedented respect for their source material (Batman Begins, Lord Of The Rings, Spiderman I, II and probably III, X-Men I & II, Harry Potter, Narnia, Casino Royale). It's never been a better time to be an obsessive fan and see the object of your affection writ accurate and large. My three favorite shows on television are Heroes, Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who (currently in that order, but they flip flop), and I was blown away by The Prestige. I don't have an ounce of format prejudice in me. I love good writing, whether I find that in a novel, on television, or in a comic book. I'll never damn anything for its medium of delivery. I will, however, damn poor writing of any sort loudly and unapologetically.
(Aside: the closest thing to the essay you want is my blog post: "Lou vs. the Media Tie-in". The feedback in the comment section to this has actually informed my thinking moving forward.)
SFRevu: You came to fiction through journalism and writing about media SF, which I gather you somewhat fell into. Does that make you see fiction differently than editors that came up through literary tracks?
Lou: I don't think I want to speak for how other editors see their field. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the editors at other houses (particularly Simon Spanton at Gollancz!), but speaking solely of myself, I came into the field from media SF at a time when Hollywood SF was in the declining swing of the pendulum, Star Trek was floundering and Xena was all the rage and I intersected the literature as the "pure stuff," the source from which all goodness flows, like following a river up into the mountains and finding the spring. I think I hold literary science fiction in a bit of a sacred light as a result. I've got no patience for people who want to slag it off as just entertainment. Mind you, the entertainment aspect must be there as it must be in all fiction, but our genre is never only entertainment and them's fighting words to suggest it is to me.
SFRevu: You were senior editor for the 2003-4 revival of Argosy magazine which ran fiction stories from a mix of genres, like the original magazine in it's heyday. How did that come about, and is Argosy Quarterly an offshoot of the same effort? Oh wait...you've already answered that elsewhere and pretty much begged not to be asked again. Ok, we won't ask. Feel free to thank us for not mentioning it.
Lou: Thank you.
SFRevu: Having done one anthology (Future Washington) myself, I now have a much greater respect for anyone who enters that arena. How did your first (Outside The Box) come about and what was doing it like? How many have you done so far?
Lou: Well, between Hollywood and publishing, I worked in the Online Publishing space for the very last year of the dot com bubble, for an outfit called Bookface.com of which no trace remains, but who were there before Google Print or Amazon's Look Inside the Book or any of it. And I was the Executive Editor tasked with signing up authors, and, on the assumption (correct) that SF writers would be more open to new technologies than most, they sent me around to conventions to buy people drinks and sign them up. And when the bubble burst, I found I had a whole lot of friends among the SF & F crowd and that I liked working with writers. So we put Outside The Box together quickly as a tribute to what was, and on the strength of that and some faith in yours truly, Jen Heddle, then of Roc, bought my next pitch Live Without A Net, for which I will be eternally grateful. Futureshocks followed, though under Liz Scheier rather than Jen Heddle (who'd moved on to Pocket), and in between we did a close-to-my-heart but totally unregarded nonfiction anthology of essays - Projections: Science Fiction In Literature & Film thru Chris Roberson's Monkeybrain. It was horribly panned in the few reviews it ever got, and I have been royally spanked for daring to think that my concept - aggregating some SF writers' essays on their craft that I enjoyed and wouldn't mind seeing assembled into something handy - was anything but wildly misguided. Finally, we'll be launching Fast Forward 1 in February and... oh wait, look at your next question:
SFRevu: Next month your new anthology, Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction From The Cutting Edge comes out (which we'll be reviewing) what's it about? Who's in it?
Lou: Fast Forward 1 is about science fiction. What it is, what it's for, where it's going. As I've said elsewhere, science fiction is the genre that looks at the implications of technology on society, which in this age of exponential technological growth makes it the most relevant branch of literature going. And the front line of SF is the short story. The field has a long history of producing famous anthologies to showcase its distinguished short fiction, but it has been several years since there has been such an ongoing series. So, Fast Forward 1 is offered in the tradition of Damon Knight's prestigious and influential Orbit, and Frederik Pohl's landmark Star SF. (We're very happy to have Pohl's permission to open the book with his brilliant definition of SF, and to have Gene Wolfe - contributor to the original Orbit - in the first book as well). If there is a specific theme or manifesto - it' s Pohl' s definition, but broadly it's science fiction itself and the rapid pace of technological evolution. I'd call the book Accelerando except that I think someone has done that recently, haven't they?
Who's in it? Why, none other than Kage Baker, Paolo Bacigalupi, Tony Ballantyne, Stephen Baxter, Elizabeth Bear, A.M. Dellamonica, Paul Di Filippo, Robyn Hitchcock, Louise Marley, Ken MacLeod, Ian McDonald, John Meaney, Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, Justina Robson, Pamela Sargent, Mary A. Turzillo, Robert Charles Wilson, Gene Wolfe, and George Zebrowski, that's who.
SFRevu: What's on your editorial calendar that we should pay special note to?
Lou: The aforementioned Justina Robson series, the first of which - Keeping It Real - comes out in March. This book blew me away and has the delightful potential to appeal to everyone from fans of Charles Stross and William Gibson to fans of Kim Harrison and Jim Butcher. And how often can you say that? You've really NEVER seen anything like it. Like Power Rangers meets Shadowrun meets Neuromancer. Trust me on this one. I giggle out loud at its daring when I read it.
Then there's Kay Kenyon's upcoming quarter, the Entire and the Rose, the first book of which, the aforementioned Bright Of The Sky, appears in April. We're drawing a lot of comparisons to Dan Simmons' Hyperion here, but it's basically a truly epic adventure, and reads to me like a sophisticated retelling of Flash Gordon - enigmatic human thrust into alien landscape, full of wonderful characters who make you laugh and cry, as the protagonist sets about inspiring the subjugated populace to.... But don't let me spoil it - you have to check it out for yourself. I've just done my second read of book two and I think this series is going to be landmark. The cover, again by Stephan Martiniere, really does do it justice and gives you a feel for the scale and scope of the stunningly realized alien world within.
And, of course, Ian McDonald's next masterpiece, Brasyl, out in May. It does everything for Brazil that River of Gods did for India, but it's no Rog2, because, hey, Brazil isn't India. Rather, this is the ultimate cross-time, cross-dimensional novel, with cross dressers discussing quantum physics as they battle with magic swords and Brazilian martial (dance) arts. Really has to be read to be believed and will, I am sure, be on the Hugo ballot in 2008 or there's no science fiction god and no justice.
SFRevu: Do you set goals for yourself? New Year's resolutions?
Lou: Yup. I set four yesterday. The only one I want to share is to lose (another) twenty pounds. But one is related to Pyr and it will be pretty definitively answered yay or nay by this time next year. Happy to discuss it then.
SFRevu: Happy New Year, and please keep up the good work. Ern
Lou: Thank you. Since it's after midnight here, I'm going to go keep up the bad work of taking out the garbage and the recycling and thank you for keeping me from it for a bit. But seriously, always very, very happy to talk up the brilliance of our writers, in the shadow of whose talent I stand in perpetual awe, and appreciate your efforts in spreading the word about these marvelous people.