Interview with Winifred Halsey

Interview with Winifred Halsey, publisher of Speculation Press,a new publisher of speculative fiction.

Q: First tell us a little about Speculation Press.

A: Speculation Press is a new publisher of speculativefiction. We’re about 10 months old and have 4 books out. Ourfifth book, BLIND VISION, by Marguerite Krause will be out nextmonth. We will be publishing 5 books per year.

Q: You publish paper books, correct, not e-books?

A: Yes. All our books are trade paperback printed on high-quality paper. I think there is something special about a paperbook. Also because I spend so much time working on a computer,I prefer not to be staring at a glowing screen for relaxation.I guess that’s part of the reason I’m not much of a video gamer.That and clumsy fingers.

Q: The obvious question to ask next is why? Why start a newsmall press publishing house at this point?

A: I would turn that around and say why not? I think this isone of the best times to start a small press publishing house.

Q: Why is that?

A: Because many of the barriers that have held back smallpresses are coming down. Small presses have easy access to massmarkets through Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Also themajor book distributors, Baker & Taylor and Ingrams, have becomemuch more open to accepting small press books in their catalog.This is not to say they will promote them, but the books will beavailable.

Q: But promoting is key to selling books?

A: Yes, but book publishers historically have had to promotetheir own books and build demand. There isn’t anything newabout that.

Q: And your books are available to bookstores through Baker &Taylor and Ingrams?

A: Yes. I was surprised at how easy the process was. A littlebit a paper work, a short wait and it’s done.

Q: Going back to promoting books, you are primarilypublishing new authors, isn’t it harder to promote an unknownauthor?

A: Sometimes I think I make things overly difficult for myself.Seriously, from the beginning that was part of our mission-topublish new authors. Susan Sizemore is the only known author wehave published and she is known in romance circles, not withinscience fiction.

Q: Doesn’t she have a vampire series?

A: Yes, Laws of the Blood, a dark fantasy.

Q: Getting back to publishing new authors. You say that ispart of your mission, why?

A: Because I believe there are a large number of imaginative,well-written books that will never be published as things standnow because the publishing industry is very focused on thebottom line. New authors rarely contribute very well to that.I’m not knocking the publishing industry for that, I’m justsaying that a hard focus on the bottom line creates a majorbarrier for new authors.

Q: Have you seen much resistance to your books because theauthors are unknown?

A: In some cases, certainly. At a launch party at an SF con,one man glanced at the covers of our books and said, “I don’tknow any of these authors” and walked away. He never even pickedup one of the books to read the back cover. There are peoplelike that.

Q: But you think there are enough that are not?

A: I’m willing to take that chance. I believe that there areenough people who will take the time to look at our books andread the first 25 pages online and judge the quality of thewriting for themselves.

Q: Obviously you aren’t as worried about the bottom line?

A: Not at this point. I don’t have to answer to anystockholders. I can’t lose money forever, though. We have athree year window to break even.

Q: Does Speculation Press have a particular focus – a type ofbook that is a “Speculation Press” book?

A: Character-driven is the key point. The books have to have agood plot and good writing, but I’m looking for characters thatare fully developed and that appeal to readers. Not necessarilycharacters who are perfectly good and pure, but appealing.

Q: I’m curious as to how you reached the decision to become asmall press publisher. Did you just wake up one morningand…

A: No, of course not. I thought about it over many years.

Q: Over the years, were there any particular people whoinfluenced you towards this decision?

A: Definitely. Many years ago, I remember Bob Asprin telling meabout his Myth book series before it ever got to print. Hecalled the series a Bob Hope / Bing Crosby roadshow. But hecouldn’t get any publisher to buy the idea. They wantedmilitaristic books from him. I thought it was very odd that thepublishers didn’t want these books because they sounded greatto me. Eventually Starblaze books was formed and the books gotin print. And they did well.

Another person who strongly influenced my decision is LoisMcMasters Bujold. I absolutely love her books! I love hercharacters! But she had a very hard time getting published. Ibegan to wonder how many other people were like Lois, butwithout her persistence.

Q: Would you recommend starting up a small press to anyoneelse?

A: Yes! I personally would love to see at least a dozen moresmall press publishing houses.

Q: Do you really think that’s feasible?

A: It’s not easy, but it can be done.

Q: Can you give any tips to anyone considering starting up asmall press?

A: Start small, focus on quality and keep the print runs small.

Q: You have a virtual company-meaning no real employees,correct?

A: That’s correct. It is concept borrowed from high tech start-ups. Outsource everything that is not truly coretechnology/function. For book publishing, editorial is the onlyfunction that is core. I have a great group of very hardworking part time staff.

Q: Tell us a little about the books you have out.

A: Our first book, TRIBUTE TRAIL, by Terri Beckett and ChrisPower, is sword & sorcery with a twist of romance. It goesbeyond the standard S & S, though, delving into concepts ofcultures in conflict, what happens when a goddess-worshipculture comes up against a god-focused culture.

Our second book, TO KILL AN EIDOLON, by W. F. Halsey, is ascience fiction, medical thriller with a touch of romance. Itpostulates an additional aspect to the disease process, onecontrolled by beings that only some people can see.

Our third book, GATES OF HELL, by Susan Sizemore, hasinterstellar plague, pirates, an empathic goddess healer, anddefinite romance. Susan wrote it years ago. She always wanted todo books that combine the two genres. I’ve known Susan since wewere both about 12 years old.

Our latest book, OF HONOR AND TREASON, by C. J. Merle, could becalled an adult space opera. It has a debauched Emperor, agenetically engineered warrior messiah, and a very wealthy manwho hates the Emperor who orphaned him. It is the first book ina series that focuses on a search for peace by two beings whohave trouble trusting each other.

We will be coming out with BLIND VISION by Marguerite Krause inAugust. It is set in an alternate reality 15th C. France with aduchy on the edge of disaster and a seer who can see manyfutures, but not his own.

Q: One question of interest to readers: are you accepting newmanuscripts?

A: Not just now. Since we publish so few books per year… Itis hard because I would love to publish more. In October wewill be accepting new manuscripts. To get an idea of what weare looking for, people should buy one of our books.

Q: And where can they get them?

A: From Amazon.com, our website, independent bookstores listedon our website, and Barnes and Noble bookstores. B & N carryall our books in their warehouse, so people can order them fromB & N and have them within 2 days. We will be up onbarnesandnoble.com within a couple of weeks.

Q: One last question: who are your favorite authors?

A: As I said above, Lois McMasters Bujold, Catherine Asaro, andC. S. Friedman come to my mind the quickest. Dorothy Dunnett-you have to consider her Lymond books wonderful fantasy. ArthurC. Clarke-his Childhood’s End was the first SF I ever read. BobAsprin’s Myth series. Actually if I keep this up I can keepnaming authors for an hour!

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