SFX interviews veteran writer, editor and publisher Jo Fletcher about her new SF and fantasy imprint
With five pages of book reviews in every issue of our print edition, our famous Book Club regular , our annual Summer Of SF Reading plus at least two author interviews each month, you know that SFX is a great place to find out what's going on in the world of science fiction and fantasy literature. Books are very close to our heart so the launch of a new imprint in our genre is a source of great interest.
Jo Fletcher was, until recently, Associate Publisher of publishing giant Gollancz. You may remember her from the invaluable advice for would-be authors she contributed to SFX when we did our last Pulp Idol writing competition. Early in 2011, Fletcher moved to Quercus books where she launched her own science fiction, fantasy and horror label . We caught up with her to find out how it's going, what the future has in store, and how the genre market looks going into 2012.
SFX: Was starting Jo Fletcher Books last year the fulfilment of an ambition?
Jo Fletcher: I'd like to say that having an imprint with my name on it was something I've always dreamed of, but the offer was something that came out of the blue and it was only when I started thinking about the possibilities that I realised Mark Smith and Quercus were offering me on a silver platter everything I hadn't known I wanted. Now I've started, it's much more fun than either of the last times I started lists from scratch, not just because it's got my name on it (although that's obviously not to be ignored!) but because I know a lot more than when Malcolm Edwards, then running the Gollancz list, told Sue Fletcher, who was about to start Headline, that it was easier to teach a journalist who knew the field inside out how to be an editor than the other way round. Then I was learning on the hop.
SFX: What sort of approach makes Jo Fletcher Books different from other publishers of science fiction and fantasy? Are there any publishing houses you aspire to be like?
Fletcher: Well, I have to say Gollancz, obviously, because I spent 16 years there, and it's become what I think is the best genre list in the country and one of the top three in the world. Jo Fletcher Books doesn't yet have the kudos that Gollancz has – but it's nice to think that in 50 years time a writer will say, "It's always been my dream to be published by JFB!" just as new writers do with Gollancz. As for doing things differently, there aren't all that many ways to do things in publishing, so the day-to-day life's pretty much the same as it's always been. I've always had very eclectic reading tastes, and having a small-but-perfectly-formed list means I can indulge those wide tastes as I see fit, not as anyone else sees fit.
SFX: What are you able to do here that you weren't able to do at Gollancz?
Fletcher: Gollancz is now part of Orion, which is now part of the Hachette group, and that means that there are certain things you have to have, contractually speaking, otherwise you're not allowed to take on the project – things like joint accounting, and certain territories, for example. That's not to say I won't try for those same things wherever possible, but I don't have to turn something down from the get-go because I know I won't get it through a publishing meeting. Plus there's the obvious: at Gollancz I had a jam-packed list, and for every new author I took on, I turned down a dozen I would have loved to have published simply because I didn't have room. Because JFB is all sparkly and new, I have the space to take on whoever I think is good enough.
SFX: What book do you think will cause the biggest stir when you publish it in 2012?
Fletcher: Can I answer that in January? Seriously, I do have an answer, but not quite yet!
SFX: Is must be the nature of a new imprint that you've had to find a lot of new authors. Is it easy or hard to find great debut authors at the moment?
Fletcher: Well, there are always hundreds of debut writers out there desperate to get published, and I've always been inundated everywhere I've worked. I have been lucky to find several, with very different subjects and style, very early on after my move to JoFletcherBooks (just as well as I had just nine months to launch the list!) But I've also been lucky enough to have people looking out for me too – so Alison Littlewood came to me via Roy Gray, who I've known for years through Interzone and Black Static . Evie Manieri is a friend of a friend; likewise Tom Pollock – and with both, I got in there just as the respective agents were putting the books out, and I was able to act quickly and enthusiastically enough to secure them.
SFX: What is it you look for when reading new SF and fantasy writing? What do you look for when signing a brand new author?
Fletcher: Exactly the same things anyone looks for in fiction: (a) a plot that grabs me and drags me along, kicking and screaming, whether I like it or not; (b) characters I can really empathise with – or, conversely, love to hate; (c) terrific writing. You get that combination and it doesn't matter how often you've seen those tropes before, you know you want to read to the end. And that's what I look for in a debut author too
SFX: Which authors are you working with now that you've already worked with in the past?
Fletcher: Stephen Jones was the first (editor, rather than author) – I've worked with Steve for a very long time now, on all sorts of projects. Together we came up with the idea for the Gollancz Black Books, and his Conan and Lovecraft volumes are all selling up a storm, even years after they were first published. I'm a big fan of horror, but it's been virtually impossible to sell anything dark for more than a decade; I'm starting up a new list just as horror is rearing its head again. The launch of a new list gave me the opportunity to do A Book of Horrors – the first non-themed horror anthology in the UK for a long time, and thanks to some brilliant work by the editor (Steve got me a brand-new Stephen King story, and the first story by John Ajvide Lindqvist ever written for an English-speaking market) there's been a lot of interest from the specialist publishers so there's a limited edition run from PS in the UK and Cemetery Dance in the US and a massmarket US deal, and between them they've already covered our costs. I'm hoping the sales will also be good enough that we can do more, in due course. And I'm also putting out a project Steve and I have wanted to do for some years: the complete MR James stories will be out in May, sumptuously – and I do mean sumptuously – illustrated by Les Edwards.
I'm also thrilled Charlaine Harris has followed me to JFB with her new project, a graphic novel series, Cemetery Girl , written with comics great Christopher Golden, and I've also taken on the anthologies Charlaine edits with Toni LP Kelner that I started at Gollancz. And I'm looking forward to 2013 when I get to publish Sarah Pinborough again, this time with a Victorian horror/crime crossover. And watch this space; I'm just negotiating for another old favourite of mine...
SFX: What fiction trends do you see?
Fletcher: Horror is making a bit of a comeback; I just hope publishers don't do what they did last time: spot the trend and all rush to publish without actually knowing much about the genre. "YA" seems to be surging ahead right now, and that makes me smile a little – of course, YA is not just for genre fiction, but a large percentage of what's currently out there is fantasy or horror, or even SF. And a lot of what's currently bring put out as "young adult" fantasy could equally well be published for the adult market (as it has been for all those years when there was no such thing in the UK as YA). I don't know what's going to happen to all those paranormal romance readers, but it's looking like the vampire thing is beginning to die back a little . . .
SFX: A new imprint is a good sign for the industry, I would have thought. So is the SF, horror and fantasy market growing?
Fletcher: New imprints are certainly good for the agents! [Laughs] It looks like the mainstream houses have looked around and said, "This George RR Martin chap, this Charlaine Harris, they're shifting a good few copies. We should get in there too..." And as a result one genre list will be doubling in size next year, one has just started to make the most of the American genre fiction its parent company puts out, and at least two publishers have brought in editors to start completely new lists... so as of next year I've got twice as much competition!
SFX: How are you planning to deal with the ever-growing phenomenon of ebooks - has Jo Fletcher Books had a digital strategy from day one?
Fletcher: Absolutely; Gollancz has obviously been at the forefront of the ebooks in the genre, and I would be mad to ignore the platform. Quercus already has a very proactive ebook publishing team in Wayne Davies and Iain Millar, and JFB books have been included right from the start. I think ebooks are going to be increasingly important in the marketplace – even now I see kids reading on smartphones, and last week there were five ereaders in a row on the tube – and that's before the release of the sub-£99 models.
SFX: Where will our readers get to see you and your authors in person next? Will you be at any of the big UK events?
Fletcher: Conventions are an important part of the science fiction and fantasy field, and whilst I have to find the time to attend in between running a brand-new list, I always find it's worth it. Some of my authors with be attending the SFX Weekender in Wales (and I may well pop in myself). I'll be at Eastercon and Fantasycon , and the World Fantasy Convention , and maybe the World SF convention . From time to time Phil Rickman invites me onto Phil The Shelf – that's always fun! – and I'm always looking for ways to promote my authors, so all invitations and suggestions welcome!
SFX: Thank you Jo Fletcher!
You can find out more at the official website of Jo Fletcher Books . Be sure to read SFX every month for interviews with debut authors and established novelists alike - and remember you can meet about 20 authors at the SFX Weekender in February. You can read an interview with Jo Fletcher Books' latest debut author, Alison Littlewood, in SFX issue 218 on sale from Wednesday 11 January 2012. Subscribe to SFX online .