Rinn: What inspired you to set up your own publishing house?
Colin: Well, that’s a tale. Short version: because I could. Longer version: when I was growing up, Speculative Fiction was the air that I breathed. From PKD to Michael Moorcock – I read extensively and constantly. As I became older, I wanted to write in this world – and write I did. Doing so, I learnt an awful lot about the craft and about the business side of it all. I then became very aware of the trials and tribulations authors faced in regards to rights/ownership of their published materials, as well as the increasingly hard time everybody is having in the publishing biz – authors and publishers alike. There will always be more fantastic books than publishers, so to be able to participate in the sharing of excellent fictions with readers seemed like the perfect way to contribute back into to the ‘industry’.
So, basically, publishing is the result of over thirty years of reading in the genre that has rewarded me time and again with fantastic stories and brain-bending ideas. How could I not say thank you?
Rinn: Can you describe a ‘typical day’ at Clarion?
Colin: If I had a typical day, I’d probably freak out as it would be so unusual!
All days start with the blackest of coffee. Clarion Publishing is actually a division of my main company (I run a business consultancy), so the very first thing I do is that I look at what I need to do for both, and I divide my day accordingly. Depending on the day I might be going through a to-be-published manuscript, making notes to give back to the author – or I might be going through iterations of a cover (depending on what we go for, we might have between three to forty iterations – the latter is thanks to factoring in cover typography). Other days I’m working with editors, or I’m planning promotional strategy and executing on it. Other days see me laying out both the paperback and ebook versions – I’m a stickler for typography and presentation. I want the right font used that both matches the story and reads well on the eyes. I typically use a short list of great fonts for the main body of a book, but I always make sure that the supporting typography connects to the story.
And of course, I email. A lot!
Rinn: Is it a difficult process deciding what to publish?
Colin: For the vast majority of time it isn’t – you find a great book and it just screams at you to be published. If a book isn’t doing that, chances are it isn’t for you. I’ve never had a book that I’ve sat on the fence over.
All publishers publish books that they love, and we are no different. We do however have a slightly different situation to the mainstream publishers in that we are willing to take more chances. Before a book is accepted by the majority of publishers, the number crunching team, using general rules of thumb and occasionally accurate data, can guesstimate based on the size, genre and proposed price-point the high/low of sales and the value of the property vs the investment into the author and the author’s career. Even if a publishing house absolutely loves a work with a mad passion, it can still fall cropper to the hard math.
Thanks to our small nature, we have a radically different infrastructure, which means we can truly publish what we love. Making money and ensuring solvency is always part of the math, but it is so much easier for us than larger organisations!
Rinn: Are you a big fan of the science fiction genre?
Colin: Absolutely. I grew up surrounded by SF and I grew up reading SF, watching SF, talking about SF, and writing SF. In all forms, in all mediums, Science Fiction is part of who I am.
Rinn: What are your favourite things about science fiction?
Colin: As well as the oft-times fantastical elements contained within SF, I’m hugely passionate about humanity – who we are and what we do and say – and what we really do and say. SF can be a mirror on our society and can allow us to look at and understand the world around us – the politics, the ideologies, the human nature – in a new light.
I’m a big fan of the Fool. The Fool in medieval times is often seen as a harlequin-style pratfall master, designed to provoke laughter for the audience of a king. The truth however is different. Thanks to the strictures of society, acquiescence and support for the status quo is a natural bias. In a King’s court, the Fool is to my mind the most important figure. While everybody else worked within the system, the Fool had one duty: to speak truth to power.
Great Science Fiction speaks a truth. It tells us more about ourselves, how we truly are, and we would do well to listen.
Thank you to Colin for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions!
What’s so great about Clarion Publishing? I first came into contact with Clarion last year, when I won a copy of Jaine Fenn’s Downside Girls from Librarything. What really struck me was the personal tone of the email I received – and it definitely was, as it turns out Colin wrote individual emails to each winner! It was one of the first publishers that came to mind to contact when I thought of the idea, and as it happens I won another book from Clarion in August of this year (Feather and Bone by Gus Smith). I mentioned my idea for the event in the email, and since then me and Colin have been emailing about it, and he has worked tirelessly in his own spare time to find authors to take part! I’m so, so grateful to him for all his help, and the reason I find Clarion Publishing so great is the personal approach they take when interacting with book lovers.