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Steam Press – an interview with the Editor

Something exciting happened in late May this year. Steam Press, a brand new publisher of Speculative Fiction, was launched by editor, Stephen Minchin. Curious to find out more, I sent him an email to see if he’d be interested in answering a few questions to give us some insight into what goes on behind the scenes. To my delight, I found that Stephen is a man very passionate about both speculative fiction, and New Zealand writing. Read on to find out more about Steam Press…

It’s very exciting to see a speculative fiction publisher in New Zealand, what made you decide to delve into the world of publishing and start your own press?

I’ve written speculative fiction for ten or twelve years, but it didn’t take me long to realise that very few publishers in New Zealand would even look at a horror or science fiction novel so I put bought a suit and got a job at a consultancy firm. Last year I suddenly realised that I didn’t like my job and I knew that I had to move into a career that I could be passionate about. I managed to convince my wife that it’d be fun to live on instant noodles for a year, quit my job, and managed to get a place in Whitireia’s publishing programme. I’m halfway through the diploma now and am doing part time work at Steele Roberts in Wellington, to help keep out of mischief.

Steam Press came about through my study – specifically, it was inspired by the publishers who spoke with us in the first few months of the course who all said that there was no market in New Zealand for speculative fiction. This didn’t make any sense to me as the major publishers in Auckland are all happy enough to import spec fic, with The Passage, Harry Potter, the Discworld novels, or Twilight all selling tens of thousands of copies when most New Zealand literature, which these same publishers are all keen to print, might only sell a thousand copies. I’m aiming to prove those publishers wrong.

While print is a medium people love, e-books are certainly growing in popularity. Is there a specific format (print or e-book) that you plan to focusing on, or will you be putting out a combination of both?

I will be focussing on print for the launch of Steam Press’s books, with e-books following a few months later. I believe that print books have a future so long as they are produced well – gorgeous covers, beautiful internal design, and quality production. That all adds to the reading of a book. E-books have their place, and as far as selling internationally goes they really are the best option for a small press, but an e-book will never give the reader the same experience.

We know you are looking for speculative fiction, but is there anything in particular you would love to find in your submissions inbox? What really excites you, or what do you think there is not enough of on the shelves at the moment?

STEAMPUNK! Good Lord, what I would give for a brilliant steampunk novel which was set in colonial Wellington. I’d have kittens.

I am really keen to see science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories which are unashamedly set in New Zealand. British authors don’t have any concerns setting their novels in the UK, and most of the American authors I read set their books in the US. A lot of Kiwi authors, however, seem to avoid a New Zealand setting, opting for either a generic northern hemisphere backdrop or a US / UK setting. I am interested in publishing New Zealand speculative fiction, and by this I mean more than the fact that the stories were written by a Kiwi – I’d love to read about people fighting zombie hordes down Lambton Quay, aliens blowing up the Sky Tower, and clockwork-powered engines running amok through the Otago goldfields.

What kind of editorial process can authors who publish with Steam Press expect to go through?

I am reading all submissions and making the first cut. If I find a manuscript that I really like I will trust my gut and respond to the author straight away; if I’m feeling more cautious I’ll run the manuscript past a friend who has agreed to help me with this. For anything that we decide to take further I’ll let the author know if I’d like to see any significant changes (though of course I’m always happy to discuss these suggestions), and once the story is pretty much sorted it’ll be time to get them contracted. Then it’ll just be a matter of hammering out any minor problems with the story, fixing typos etc, and I’ll spend a fair bit of time during this stage trying to pick holes in the manuscript, double checking all the timelines and descriptions to make sure everything lines up, and generally just being annoying.

Once that’s done the manuscript should be pretty tidy so I’ll typeset the book, run the story past a few more people to make sure we haven’t missed anything, and then I’ll run off a first set of proofs. This will lead to a fun and exciting series of second, third, and potentially fourth proofs, a which point everyone should be sick to death of the damn thing. After a glass of two of wine we’ll send the files to the printer for proofing on their machine, and we’ll be checking the cover artwork and design then as well. If that all goes according to plan (we live in hope) that’ll be the book sorted, and the we’ll just have to deal with the clamourings of the press, Peter Jackson, and crazed fans…

Sell yourself! What are three things about you, as an editor, that sets you apart from other editors.

I think the main thing that sets me apart from most editors in New Zealand is that I am passionate about speculative fiction. It’s what I read, and it’s what I want to get into bookstores. If it floats my boat then I’ll be keen to publish it, unlike the major publishers who also have to weigh up the commercial interests as dictated by their multinational overlords.

As well as this, I am a writer as well as an editor so I’ve been on the other end of the submissions process. I understand what it’s like to submit a novel but have no idea if it got through, and wait three or four months hoping you’ll eventually hear back. I acknowledge all submissions when they arrive in my inbox, and I am aiming to respond to all subs within a month. So far, I’ve managed to keep response times down to two to three weeks. And if a writer has any questions, wants to meet me for a coffee, or just wants to buy me drinks, I’m pretty approachable.

I’m hoping to develop a niche somewhere in the middle ground between the small presses and the major publishers, combining the focus of the former with the training of the latter. The Whitireia Diploma in Publishing has taught me a huge amount about editing, design, and book marketing, so I’m confident that I’ll be able to produce a professional text, plus I know cover designers who can make Steam Press books look as good as anything else that’s on the market, and I’m gaining the industry knowledge and connections to get those books into shops.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you to everyone who has supported me so far by sending me their manuscripts and offering to be involved. I’m really excited to be reading manuscripts and starting to talk with authors about getting their stories published. Please spread the word that I’m looking for manuscripts, follow me on Twitter if that’s your thing, feel free to contact me, and keep an eye out for our first book – I’m hoping to have something out in early 2012. Cheers!

Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us, Stephen! It’s highly encouraging to learn more both about you, and the Press. We wish you all the best with this endeavour—and many happy years turning out quality New Zealand speculative fiction.

You can find submission guidelines and contact details for Steam Press here and find them on twitter here.

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