Meet the Publisher: Cheryl Morgan, Wizard’s Tower Press
Posted on August 9th, 2012
Here at the Robot Trading Company we recently began offering a range of ebooks from Wizard’s Tower Press, the independent publishing house run by blogger, reviewer, editor, Hugo Award Winner and all round genre aficionado Cheryl Morgan. We’re always interested to know what drives and inspires our publishing partners, so we sent Cheryl a few questions, to which she very kindly provided us with the following answers:
Cheryl Morgan: The main thing that I started out to do was to help my author friends get their back catalogues available as ebooks. You can see that in most of the books we have thus far – titles from Juliet E. McKenna, Ben Jeapes and forthcoming from Lyda Morehouse. However, as irony would have it, the very first book I did was brand new, an anthology of stories by local writers from the South West of England and edited by my dearly missed friend, Colin Harvey. I expect to be doing more books by local writers in the future. In particular we have a memorial anthology for Colin in the works.
TRR: What sort of authors and what sort of fiction are you most interested in publishing?
CM: Beyond an interest in SF&F fiction I don’t have any specific preferences for the type of writing. I don’t have strong preferences for authors either, though I suspect I’ll end up working a lot with women because I don’t have any prejudices about publishing them.
TRR: If you could publish any three authors – blindingly obvious megastars like J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Marin aside – who would they be, and why?
Catherynne Valente, for a start. I have been a big fan of her work for years – in fact she told me recently that she thinks I was the first person to review one of her books. She’s a big star now, and I’m absolutely delighted. She is using small presses too, but she’s got a long-term relationship with Neil Clarke dating back to the early days of Clarkesworld, and Neil is a friend so I wouldn’t dream of trying to poach her.
M. John Harrison is another favorite of mine. He’s a much bigger name, and never likely to need a small outfit like mine. But if I had the money I’d be contacting his agent.
Finally I’d like to have some translated fiction. There are many, many really good writers who work in languages other than English who just can’t get translation deals. The person I’m most keen on getting is Johanna Sinisalo who has written far more than the two novels and the handful of stories that we currently have in English. It would make my Finnish friends very happy too.
TRR: What are the most rewarding elements of running your own publishing house and what are the biggest challenges?
CM: The best bit is undoubtedly putting good books in the hands of eager readers. One day I hope I’ll publish something original that does very well and wins awards, but we are not really set up to do that sort of thing yet.
As for challenges, time is an obvious one. Being a small press doesn’t make a lot of money, so I have to fit it in around the day job. Then there’s dealing with huge, impersonal organizations like Amazon and PayPal. Finally, there’s a heck of a lot to learn: all the way from the technical issues of ebook production to legal issues regarding contracts and, of course, how to market your books effectively. You can have the best books in the world, but if no one knows about them then they won’t sell.
TRR: As a reviewer, published author and now a publisher, what do you think are the biggest opportunities offered by the last few years’ worth of changes in the publishing industry?
CM: Most people seem to regard the recent changes in the publishing industry as challenges rather than opportunities. I certainly don’t think there’s going to be any sort of major shake-up beyond seeing a small number of old publishing giants being replaced by an even smaller number of new publishing giants.
Where I do see opportunity, however, is in the increasingly international scope of the business. When I first started Emerald City back in 1995 I was living in Melbourne and it was really difficult for Australian writers to get published outside of their own country. They’d have to print out a manuscript and mail it to the UK or USA. These days anyone who can write in English can email a submission to Angry Robot and have just as much chance of getting published as someone from the UK. You’ve picked up Jo Anderton, Lauren Beukes, Aliette de Bodard and so on. I think that’s very exciting. I’d love to be able to do the same sort of thing.
TRR: How do you see the overall publishing landscape changing in the next few years?
CM: Obviously more I foresee internationalization, and more ebooks. Beyond that it is hard to predict, but Amazon has been running rings around traditional publishers for years, and unless the book-reading public suddenly decides that they don’t like being locked in to a single hardware platform I expect that to continue. The big publishers are likely to fight back by creating their own online bookstores, just like the smart independent publishers have already done.
TRR: What would be your advice to anyone else thinking of starting their own publishing operation?
CM: Don’t be too ambitious. There’s an old joke that begins, “How do you make a small fortune?” The answer, of course, is “Start with a big fortune and go into publishing.” It is all too easy to start out with big expectations and get left with a heap of books that you can’t sell. You go into publishing because you love books, not because you expect to make a fortune.
TRR: What does the future hold for Wizard’s Tower Press?
CM: We have five novels forthcoming from Juliet McKenna, and four from Lyda Morehouse. That will keep me busy for a while. But if there are any authors out there with a backlist they would like to get out as ebooks I’d be delighted to hear from them.