Interview by Ben Peek
Sean Wallace is the figure behind Prime Books. Recently, Matt Cheney described him as the Grand Poobah, which he likes. Anyone who has been paying close attention to the publishers of collections and novels here, will have noticed a large Prime influence, and shortly, Prime Australia will begin. Due to all of that, I figured it was only fair enough to include him in the 2005 Snapshot.
1) Given the number of Australian authors that you’ve picked up for Prime Books, it’s not surprising to hear that there will, by all accounts, a Prime Australia. Can you give us an insight into how that is going to work, and what brought around the decision to set it up?
The honest truth to your first question: I don’t really know! (I’m sure that you didn’t need to hear that from me.) But I do have a pretty good idea of how I’m approaching the market: our print-on-demand printing-and-distributing company has facilities in the area, which means that any book that I make available here in the States is automatically available in Aussie-land, should I make it so. This means that I could conceivably unleash the Second Coming on all your sorry asses (. . . And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?) . . . but for right now I’m going to go slow and steady, in coordination with Geoff Maloney, with perhaps up a dozen releases this year, a mix of titles from my current backlist and from forthcoming releases. I’m more than confident that I can make it really work. (True, it might be mean the messy elimination of all pretenders to the throne (as there can only be one), but hey, if that’s the price they have to pay . . . *sniff* I’m more than willing to shoulder such a heavy burden, for their sakes. Because . . . well, someone has to do it. It might as well be me).
I’ve always actually been interested in the local Australian publishing scene, ever since I started collecting and researching materials from the early forties up to the late sixties. This grew into a general interest into anything Australian, really, and even though I haven’t had much to do with publishing Australian authors until recently, I have dabbled occasionally in that field, especially in the last ten years. However, the ball really started rolling and building steam, with KJ’s The Etched City, and then Anna Tambour’s Monterra’s Deliciosa, and then I realised, omigodomigodomigod be still my beating heart, that there was a large untapped market of unpublished authors here. This simply was inconceivable! Such a thing could not be allowed to continue. Would not be allowed. And by god . . .
(If you’re a new author and you’ve met me, you know how true this really is . . . “hey, you, you’re unpublished, right? You write short stories? You write novels? You write poems? *slavering and panting heavily* hey, why are you inching away . . . I just want to sniff you . . . *pawing at the author* foooooooooooooooooood *howling* . . . “)
And so here we are . . . in the immortal words of the Brain, we’re just here to “try to take over the world,” one author at a time, one market at a time, one country at a time. So prepare to give obedience to your new publishing overlords, because your sorry asses belong to me, now.
2) POD publishing is not a big thing in the Australian scene. Of the small press publishers here, only Robert Stephenson’s Altair Publishing has embraced it. Still, what are the realities of POD publishing, both pro and con?
The only issue that I can think of are the high unit costs, really, which then impact price points, which then impacts sales, of course. But everything else can be overcome or dealt with, within reason, with attention to marketing and packaging going a long way in helping things along. (I covered much of this in my Locus article. ) The bottom line is this: it’s just another printing technology and anyone telling you otherwise is way out of touch (and increasingly so) with the field. The times a’changing. And that’s god’s honest truth, there.
3) It seems like asking you your impression of the content of the local scene here is kind of pointless, so rather than focus on that, I’m curious as to what your impression is of the work that you have seen. Is there anything that gives it a foreign flavour that is not found in the States?
I’d like to say that I’ve been quite pleased and surprised from what I’ve seen of Australian material, as most seems to be quite literary and professional in approach and structure. I’m not entirely certain that I could say, with a doubt, that there’s a foreign flavour inherent in the stories, as much as the standards seem much higher. These people can write, dammit! However, I really haven’t seen much of this, in the local publishing anthologies or magazines, for whatever reason, with much of it showing up in British and US markets, which is a damn shame. I’d love to see more markets open up, as there is certainly an overseas demand. I just can’t imagine why there wouldn’t be much a local pull, but maybe that can turned around in the foreseeable future. We’ll see.
4) You’re dead. Like many Americans, you were a victim of your health service, and by this, I mean that someone richer than you required a kidney, so you were harvested. After that, someone noticed your eyes, your liver, and so on and so forth, until they buried your remains in a lunch box. Still, dead is dead, and you get to Heaven, and you see God. You say?
“. . . what, you couldn’t have given me just a few more decades? *wheedling* come on, Lord, there’s still a few countries that haven’t seen the glory of the Prime!”
5) Favourite swear word?
I don’t actually use it much, as I’m usually alone with my cats, but I’d say that “fuck” certainly fitsâ€”it’s so damn versatile, though it usually only crops up when I’ve found out that another publishing company got to a project before me, and then I’m, like, so jealous, and then wow step back, out it comes . . . by the time I’ve calmed down, I’m shelved anything to do with . . . ummm . . . breaking kneecaps, hiring hitmen, and car bombs . . . but I mean, yeah, I could probably control everything from behind prison bars, but why chance it?
Just remember this: pro gloria primi. . . and now back to our regular-scheduled activity . . . *slouching slowly towards . . .*