If you've read an exciting/edgy book of short SF in the past few years, there's a decent chance it comes from Tachyon Publications. We talked to publisher Jacob Weisman about niche publishing, and Thomas Disch.
Tachyon focuses almost exclusively on short fiction collections (with the occasional novel or novella thrown in) and a list of recent publications includes books by Terry Bisson, Peter S. Beagle, Nancy Kress, Harlan Ellison, Tim Powers, Michael Swanwick, Cory Doctorow, James Patrick Kelly and many others. The publisher also has put out some acclaimed (and hot-selling) anthologies, including The New Weird and Steampunk (edited by io9 contributors Jeff and Ann VanderMeer) and Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology (edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. And Tachyon has posthumously published two books by Thomas M. Disch: a novel called The Word Of God and a story collection called The Wall Of America.
We talked to Weisman about the journey from zinester to short-fiction impressario.
How did Tachyon get involved in posthumously publishing some of Thomas Disch's work? Was this something that was in the works before his death?
Unfortunately, the books weren't supposed to be published posthumously. I didn't even know initially that there was a long lost Disch manuscript out there. The Word of God was turned down by several major publishers and all of the sf magazines. Disch even lost his agent over the book, who called it an insult to publishing. But when I got the manuscript from Tom I was relieved to find a well-written, cogent book that reminded me of his classic works like Camp Concentration and "The Squirrel Cage."
The book I was after was The Wall of America, which turned out to be Disch's final short story collection. Tom didn't trust me enough, at first, to select and pick the order of stories, to shape a book that needed to represent the second half of Tom's career. I'm not sure he would have trusted anybody. But meanwhile the book wasn't getting published, either.
What Tom did have was what he believed was a finished manuscript of The Word of God, waiting to be published, no editing required. In the end, of course, some small amount of editing was required, and gradually I won his trust enough to publish both The Word of God and The Wall of America.
Tom lived long enough to see The Word of God in print and an advance review copy of The Wall of America. I gave him the galley of Wall the last time I saw him at his Union Square apartment. I was worried because Tom hadn't seen the cover yet. Luckily Tom loved the cover, said it was the best cover he'd ever had for any of his books.
So how many books is Tachyon doing per year nowadays?
We publish about ten books a year. Ten years ago, we published two books a year in limited print runs and sold the bulk of the books though science fiction specialty stores, many of which are no longer in business. We’ve had to roll with the times, sell our books through chains stores as well as independents, print more copies, and offer larger discounts. It seems to be working.
I didn't realize until recently that Tachyon started out as a zine publisher. How long did your zine 13th Moon come out? What was its focus?
I was hooked on magazines early, probably why I have such an affinity for short stories. I started my first magazine, a fanzine devoted to comic books, in the first grade. I worked for every newspaper at at every school I ever attended, majored in journalism and creative writing, and wrote for magazines as diverse as Realms of Fantasy and The Nation. When I found myself with free time during the last recession, I started my own magazine and bamboozled all my friends and family into writing for it.
The Thirteenth Moon ran fourteen issues between June 1992 through May 1996. An earlier incarnation was produced irregularly, three issues all dating from the early 1980s. The version from the 1990s typically ran two or three short stories, poetry, an occasional essay, as well as book and record reviews. We featured stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Lisa Goldstein, Paul Di Filippo, Michael Bishop, David Nemec, Mary Soon Lee, and Wayne Wightman.
What's the reasoning behind mostly doing short story collections? It seems like most publishers are leery of doing single-author collections, but Tachyon does a lot of them. Is that just a niche that nobody else was serving, or was there another reason?
We're all about niche publishing. Short stories, while important to us, are only one of the many things we do. As we gotten bigger and better we've added more original projects, novels and anthologies to our list. The anthologies have been particularly successful for us.
I seem to remember hearing that the Steampunk and New Weird anthologies were among your top sellers recently. Is that true? Why do you think they've been so successful?
Steampunk is the most successful book we've ever published. The book has found a home with the Steampunk community and should be going into a third printing within a few months. The New Weird, also edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer has also done really well for us, as have Rewired, and Feeling Very Strange, two anthologies edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. These have been timely, extremely well thought-out explorations
of our genre.
Recently you've branched out into doing non-fiction books. Is Cory Doctorow's Content your first non-fiction collection? How did that come about? Do people ever question your role as a publisher (who profits from intellecutal property) putting out a book of essays questioning copyright protections?
Content is the second non-fiction book we've done (The first was the The Best of Xero, a reprise of Dick Lupoff's Hugo Award-winning fanzine from the early sixties) But Content is, in fact, a radical departure for Tachyon.
I don’t think there is any contradiction with us publishing a book for sale about intellectual property rights, since the book is available for free on Cory Doctorow’s website. The customer is paying for the old fashioned delivery system, printed paper pages bound between color covers. (some of us Luddites still prefer to read that way.) The availability of the electronic version, meanwhile, is mentioned on the back cover of our edition.
Our next non-fiction book, Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer, is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2009. This should be the first writing guide of its kind, taking into account viral marketing and blogging, as well as more of the nuts and bolts aspects of writing.