Small Press, Big Stories – Skyhorse Publishing
We’ve been quiet for a while – blame the day job and an inexplicable desire to hibernate until February – but you can’t stop the signal, so we’ve been having a chat with Cory Allyn, senior editor at Skyhorse Publishing, over the waves there in the US.
Skyhorse is probably the biggest independent “small press” we’ve talked to so far: under the Talos Press and Night Shade Books imprints they’ve published the likes of Richard Kadrey, Martha Wells, Neal Asher, Michael J Martinez, and Michael R Fletcher – and more – and they seem to have done it underneath the radar.
Hi Cory, what’s been the biggest success stories for Skyhorse so far in the SFF genre?
Thanks! We’re lucky to have the opportunity to work with such great authors. A few of our most recent hits are:
1. British author Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St. Mary’s comedy/adventure/history time-travel series. Just One Damned Thing After Another is the first book—there are nine more already published and another one set for next summer.
2. Also-British, previously-mentioned space opera extraordinaire Neal Asher. His recent Transformation trilogy concluded in predictably epic fashion earlier this year; a brand-new polity story arc kicks off with The Soldier next spring.
3. Finally, our Best Science Fiction of the Year annual anthology series with (not British) Neil Clarke—big 600-page doorstoppers from one of the smartest short fiction editors in SF. Volume 3 publishes early in 2018.
Talos has the US rights for Anna Stephens’ Godblind and forthcoming Darksoul – what are the differences in working with territorial rights for a book? Do you have to edit differently to, say, the UK version?
We usually get off pretty easy when we acquire a book that already has a UK publisher, and vice versa when they acquire something from us. In the case of Godblind, full and sole credit goes to Anna and the team at Harper Voyager UK for putting together a killer debut.
In most cases, the biggest change we might make is changing up the cover (not true for Godblind, but we’ve done our own artwork and design for some of the more recent Neal Asher novels). I’d personally feel like I was overreaching if I started tinkering around to make a UK manuscript more palatable for an American audience. The Jodi Taylor books, for example, are overflowing with a very English sense of humour (see what I did there with the spelling?), so what good could I do in trying to make her book less British? In general, I think readers prefer to feel like they’re getting the author’s authentic voice. Sometimes the smartest editorial choice you can make is not to edit at all!
The Girl with Ghost Eyes, by M H Boroson, is one of those titles that I missed when it first came out. Mixing Asian myths, martial arts, and late 19th Century San Francisco sounds like a winning formula for anyone who enjoys a more diverse take on urban fantasy. Will there be a sequel? Do you think that small presses in general are more open to experimenting with concepts and settings that larger publishers might consider less commercial?
One of the great things about working at Skyhorse is there isn’t a lot of push back when an editor pitches a manuscript they’re really passionate about. We publish a lot of books, so there’s always been enough room for those stories and projects that are a little off the beaten path—really interesting ideas that for whatever reason (too “risky,” too “experimental,” not “commercial” enough, etc.) other publishers weren’t as comfortable taking on.
Tom Toner’s The Promise of the Child, or Gabriel Squailia’s Viscera, or Patricia Ward’s Skinner Luce, or The Girl with Ghost Eyes (and its . . . *ahem* two forthcoming sequels)—those are all books I love in large part because they are so different from much of what’s already out there. Unfortunately none of them have sold a million copies (…yet!), but honestly they are some of the projects I’ve been most proud to have worked on.
You also have Master Assassins by Robert V S Redick scheduled for the new year, and it’s great to see him back after the Chathrand Voyage Quartet. What can you tell us about his new series and new world?
The simplest way I can think of to describe it: If the Chathrand Voyage series was a fantasy of epic proportions set on the sea, then Master Assassins, the first in a new trilogy from Robert, is a fantasy of epic proportions set in the desert.
But there’s obviously a lot more to it than that. Without spoilers, the book stars two brothers, both soldiers who, through a series of very unfortunate and unlucky events, find themselves forced to desert their army and flee from their homeland, out into a vast and dangerous desert. These two regular young men, subject to all the normal ups and downs of brotherhood, have been mistaken as “master assassins,” when in fact they’re not even close. But they’ve gone and dug a really deep hole for themselves—hot in pursuit is the entire army they’d ditched, all out for blood—and there’s no option left but to run for their lives.
It’s extraordinarily well-written and plotted, full of vivid worldbuilding, action, a good dash of humor, and just good ol’ fashioned storytelling. I’ve only read the first book, but it’s evident that the world we’re shown is just the tip of the iceberg that Robert has invented. Plus, Patrick Rothfuss, Terry Brooks, and Mark Lawrence all loved it! If you can’t trust them when it comes to fantasy, who can you trust?
Betsy Dornbusch’s Seven Eyes trilogy concludes this month with Enemy – what’s it like to finish a series, as a publisher? Do you and Betsy have any plans beyond the end of the book?
Finishing a series as a publisher is a lot like finishing a series as a reader! Satisfying, bittersweet, anxiety-ridden . . . The best you can hope for is that everything comes together at the end like you hoped it would. Few things are as satisfying as hearing from a reader how much they liked an entire series – it’s like the triple-double of science fiction and fantasy publishing.
Betsy is an incredibly talented writer, and her next book, which we’ll be releasing late next summer, is actually completely different from the epic fantasy of Exile, Emissary, and Enemy. It’s called The Silver Scar, and it’s a near-future, post-apocalyptic tale set in a fortress city in snowy Colorado. There’s a lot of Medieval Ages-esque Crusader imagery, as well as a supernatural Wiccan element. Right up our alley!
Can we find Skyhorse at any conventions or events in the coming year?
We attended ComicCon in New York City a few years ago, and we’ve made several recent appearances at the World Fantasy Convention. Still nailing down our schedule for 2018, but we’ve had a blast at every con we’ve been to, and hope to do more.
And a final, less serious question – if you found yourself stranded in a grimdark world, whose world would you *least* like to live in?
Oh man . . . living in any grimdark world is a little like asking which body part you’d least mind losing. Also, I can just imagine the emails I’m going to get from our authors after this publishes: “What do you mean you’d rather live in my world than theirs? Are you trying to say I didn’t do my job as a grimdark author??”
Here goes nothing, though. I feel like if Arki, the scribe from Jeff Salyards’ Bloodsounder’s Arc, can hack out an existence there, I’d stand a pretty good chance as well, so that’s not a worst case scenario. Rilpor, from Godblind, can be a particularly nasty place, and there are definitely a few people and places I’d steer far away from, but it’s not impossible that I might live to see middle age. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, the answer is obvious: Option C—anything by Mike Fletcher. I wouldn’t last the morning!
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Meanwhile, over here in the UK, Fox Spirit Books has just released the fourth in the highly successful and critically acclaimed Monsters series.
This time editor Margrét Helgadóttir focuses on Pacific Monsters, with fourteen tales from authors with strong connections to Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, and the Pacific Islands. The beautiful, oversized paperback has more original artwork from award-winning illustrator Daniele Serra, and includes stories from Jeremy Szal, Tihema Baker, Tina Makereti, and more.
The whole series is well worth your time, but if you haven’t read one yet, why not dip in here?