Stephanie Smith has been an editor and publisher for some 20 plus years, and for 17 of those years she worked on the Voyager science fiction and fantasy list for HarperCollins Publishers. She left HarperCollins at the end of March 2012 and will be moving to Hobart in the next few months. She is now a freelance editor and proofreader and will forever remain a fan of the genre and a member of the sff/speculative fiction community in Australia.
Most people will know you have recently stepped down as one of Australia’s best known and loved spec-fic editors. What book was your farewell gig for Voyager?
I’d have to say The Devil’s Diadem by Sara Douglass as it was the last book I edited while at HC even though it was published well before I left the company. Because there are such long lead times in publishing many of the books that we were working on were still in production or just being published when I left. I recently finished a freelance editing job for Voyager for a book that we acquired last year, for instance.
On your recent resignation, your publishers called you the ‘Voyager Queen’, signaling the vital role you have played in the growth and support of Aussie specfic in the last twenty years. I won’t ask you to name favourites, but thinking back, what books or experiences stand out for you?
Lovely to be called the Voyager Queen; I think the new Voyager publisher, Deonie Fiford, will quickly establish herself as the Voyager Queen in her own right! It was wonderful to be able to be at the forefront of SFF/speculative fiction publishing in Australia for 20 years. When I started on Voyager, Louise Thurtell had already commissioned Sara, Sean Williams, Traci Harding and Simon Brown. So the groundwork was there and I was proud to be able to acquire authors such as Fiona McIntosh, Jennifer Fallon, Russell Kirkpatrick in those early days, and others such as Kim Westwood, Kim Falconer, Duncan Lay and Paul Garrety in later years. I’d love to list all the authors as stand-out experiences, but I’ll spare you that! It is amazing to be able to phone someone and say that their book has been accepted for publication by HarperCollins … the delight on the other end of the line is always very heartfelt and warming. A standout experience for me personally was receiving the Peter McNamara Achievement Award in 2004 … that sort of support and feedback and appreciation from professionals in the genre was and always is appreciated by those receiving such an award.
This is not the last we will hear of Stephanie Smith the editor however…?
I’m freelance editing and enjoying getting back into the rhythm of hands-on copy-editing. It was one of my favourite parts of the job in the early days … as time went on, I didn’t have the time to do this and most of the books would go to freelancers. Now I’ve come full circle and getting back to the basics. But as well as copy-editing, I’ll be taking on proofreading jobs, or structural editing … whatever comes my way, really, that uses the skills I developed while working for HarperCollins and managing the Voyager list. I’ll allow a few ideas to percolate and see how life develops.
I also want to get onto the Voyager blog and other internet sites and be more communicative. But it’ll be a slow and gradual phase, that one, as various other commitments have taken precedence. I’ll be better organised once I shift and settle into Hobart, I’m sure! (And that’s sometime in the next few months, I hope).
What Australian works have you loved recently?
Now you’ve got me. I’ve been busy with house activity in preparation for shift to Hobart since leaving HC, and a couple of freelance jobs, plus I have been in NZ for the past few weeks … had to come over suddenly for family reasons. Fortunately, I was able to bring my computer and finish my freelance jobs while I’ve been here. And that’s all to say that I haven’t been reading a lot recently, let alone Australian … although I have just read Kate Forsyth’s historical fiction Bitter Greens which I loved. My to-read list is growing enormously, including Claire Corbet’s When We Have Wings, the series by Sean Willliams and Garth Nix, catch up with Karen Miller and Trudi Canavan … and so many others. I did read a new Australian crime novel, Promise set up around Noosa, which was interesting for a local perspective, but didn’t fully grab my imagination as a story. I am looking forward to finally reading George RR Martin’s A Dance With Dragons … not Oz I know, but it’s been sitting there for some months now.
Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
I think that would have to be the explosion of e-books once e-readers became easily available in Australia. It’s a challenge for SFF writing and publishing as much as for any other writers and genres. We still want our stories, but the means by which we read those stories will vary. Personally, I still want a book in my hand and I love to browse through bookshops which I do at every opportunity. But I will also be looking around at the e-readers and deciding on which one to buy (haven’t taken the plunge yet!). So I figure I’ll be mixing the formats in which I read, depending on where I am and whether it’s easier to take the book or the e-reader. But it is undoubtedly hard for new authors to get the attention of readers without also still having a physical book in the shops; that’s probably changing as I type, so observing changes over the next few years.
I have an idea that the market is ready for more very adult science fiction — most of the explosion of dystopian fiction being YA; although very adult friendly also — but that readership seems, on the whole, to be small and difficult to publish to unless the writer is also a general fiction or literary author with good sales behind them. I’m thinking of a writer like Margaret Atwood or, on the local scene, John Birmingham, for instance. Voyager has tried to push the market’s boundaries with Steve Wheeler’s space-opera style scifi, and the wonderful Kim Westwood’s novels in the post-apocalyptic tradition and it may be that they will gradually shift perceptions.
I always believe that any terrific story will find its place, no matter the genre or the ups and downs in the market. We need our stories and we love to feed our imagination, whether through fiction or non-fiction. Each writer gives us a wholly different perspective from which to view our world and our communities.