Paul Collins has written many books, mostly for younger readers. He is best known for his fantasy and science fiction titles: The Jelindel Chronicles and The Quentaris Chronicles (co-edited with Michael Pryor). Paul has edited many anthologies which include Trust Me!, Metaworlds and Australia’s first fantasy anthology, Dream Weavers. He also edited The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian SF&F.
Paul has been short-listed for many awards and has won the Inaugural Peter McNamara and the A Bertram Chandler awards, both of which were for lifetime achievement in science fiction, and the Aurealis and William Atheling awards. His current adult horror novel, The Beckoning, is available from http://tinyurl.com/ny6urwy.
1. I’ve noticed some fantastic picture books from Ford Street in the past couple of years – what do you find are the challenges and opportunities in producing picture books as opposed to novels for the press?
The first step is choosing them. It’s so much harder than selecting novels. With novels you can soon tell whether the writing is good, bad, medium, or whether it’s salvageable with good editing. Picture books have few words, so it’s more the concept a publisher looks at — certainly more so than the writing, in my opinion. There’s no room for telling not showing. Every line must contribute to the overall book. Text must work in conjunction with the illustrations, too. So for example, there’s no point in saying, Sally was wearing a green dress, because the illustration will show this. Another challenge is changing the text once the illustrations come in — sometimes the illos replace the text. Another focus for me is multi-layered plots. Metaphors are great in picture books — the teachers’ notes can alert librarians/teachers to deeper meanings behind what seems an easily read picture book. Having said all that, our picture book sales far outweigh our novels.
2. Ford Street is producing around ten titles per year at the moment – how do you decide which books to take a chance on?
First of all, for me, it’s the writing. And then the plot. A great writer can get away with a lot — a poor writer with a great plot can’t. It also seems to me that straight out SF/fantasy doesn’t sell as well as contemporary novels. Fantasy is fine if you have a marketing department to get behind that genre, but without that extra push it appears Ford Street’s genre fiction is lagging behind. I also take note of authors who are good self-promoters. If you have someone who can’t public speak, for example, they won’t be good ambassadors for their books. I once had a fear of public speaking, so went to Toastmasters for two years to overcome it. Appearing there at first was quite traumatic, but I knew I had to get over that lack of confidence were I to promote my books as publishers expected me to.
3. On a personal note, your Maximus Black series wound up last year – what’s next on your writing horizon?
Macmillan NZ just published my latest book, The Toastinator. I also have a couple of chapter books from Macmillan Aust in the Lucy Lee series. That will bring that six-part series to its conclusion. I also had an old horror novel of mine publisher by Damnation Books US. The Beckoning actually crept up on Stephen King’s latest novel —just six spots behind him on the Top 10 occult list. I do have a Jelindel novella sitting here, but I’m not sure what to do with it. It could be published as a sampler to The Jelindel Chronicles, or it could be part of a short story collection, an addition to the quartet.
As for what next, I’m not sure. The publishing, speakers agency event managing have all taken their toll on my time. Since February I’ve been renovating a warehouse/office, too. So once I’m in there I will have slightly more time to ponder writerly stuff. Satalyte Publishing is releasing a book I compiled 30+ years ago, though. It contains perhaps A Bertram Chandler’s last piece of unpublished writing. I approached him and many others to write an episodic novel called The Morgan Pattern. It’s a humorous novel for adults, now around 90,000 words. Many of Australia’s biggest names from the 80s are in it, including Jack Wodhams, Wynne Whiteford and David Lake. Later contributors include Sean McMullen, Russell Blackford and Patricia Bernard. So that will be my next “book”, although I only have a chapter in it.
4. Last time we chatted for Snapshot, you told me almost all your reading was for Ford Street – have you had a chance to read any other Australian works recently?
None at all, if I’m to be honest. As you know, I juggle many balls, and as it is these past few months I’ve dropped a few. I daresay if I took time out to read I’d drop many more.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing in five years from now?
The main changes are of course the e-book/POD phenomenon. I haven’t gone down the print-on-demand route as yet, and certainly won’t contemplate it unless I lose mass distribution. Right now I have Macmillan Distribution Services and INT Books. I can still comfortably print 1200 copies of every book I publish, and gradually see all of them sell. As Ford Street’s brand name gets better known, I’ve seen sales climbing gradually. I’m guessing that I’ll be pretty much sure that my publishing MO won’t change during the next five years. With luck, if sales keep climbing, I’ll be able to employ staff. I think this is the next step I need to take.