Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Solaris Books has burst onto the scene with an ambitious but carefully crafted focus and mission. Consultant Editor George Mann of the newly formed Solaris Books was kind enough to answer a few questions about this exciting new enterprise for my blog.

What's the purpose of your new imprint?
There are two answers to that, really. In bold and simple terms, the purpose of SOLARIS is to publish great science fiction and fantasy books, to bring a range of high quality, well written novels and stories to the market. But there is more of an agenda behind the imprint too. For a number of years now, we (myself and Publisher Marc Gascoigne) have seen a gap widening in the publishing industry, between what the major corporate publishers are doing on one hand, and where the reach of the small and independent press ends on the other. In both the US and UK book market, particularly within the SF and fantasy genres, there seems to be little or no room left for the midlist. There are so many fabulous authors out there at the moment who can't get a break, or authors whose sales figures aren't quite high enough to keep their books in print. What we've ended up with is a raft of authors who should be in print, and who aren't, and I'm not just talking about talented newcomers either. Look at the number of well regarded writers who have had critical - and even commercial - acclaim in the past, but who don't have an outlet for their work in the current climate. It may be that their sales figures just aren't quite high enough, or they take two years to write a novel - either way, I think, as readers, that we're missing out. Not only that, but it works both ways too; some writers are 'too prolific' for the mainstream - their editor only wants one book a year, but they're writing two. Again, it's left to the small press to pick up the slack. That isn't to say the small presses aren't doing a wonderful job. A lot of these writers are being picked up by limited run publishers who put out gorgeous editions to a collector's market - but that's just it, it's a collector's market and it can't seem to reach any further than that.The small and independent presses don't have the weight of mass market distribution to back them up. I believe passionately that there's room for some of those books to be published into the wider market, and that's where SOLARIS comes in. We publish simultaneously into both the US and UK markets and we have mass market distribution into book trades in both markets. This allows us to take a few risks - to be confident that we can do the books justice whilst being prepared that we may not reach the dizzy heights of 100,000 copies in the first print run.

How do the authors you've chosen embody your mission statement?
Well, we've just announced our first three titles and I think they all embody our mission statement admirably. Take Ashok Banker as an example. Here's an author who has established himself, particularly in the UK and India, as a writer of epic fantasy, an exceptional talent whose career has really taken off in the last few years. His six-volume Ramayana sequence is a retelling of one of the classic Indian myths and has received a great deal of acclaim from readers and reviewers alike. When we began talking to Ashok about Solaris he came to us with an idea for a vast and epic Space Opera, in the mould of Greg Bear's Forge of God or Peter F. Hamilton's The Reality Dysfunction. For Ashok, this is a major change of pace and style - but the work he's producing is outstanding. We've given him the breathing room to do something different, without taking away from his existing work as a fantasy writer. The result is a book - Iron Gods - that I know Ashok is going to be very proud of. We want people to push the boundaries of their own talent, to see us as people who'll listen to their idea that's a little bit off centre from what they usually do. The book still has to tell a great story, of course - but what I'm getting at is the fact that we don't want people to be constrained by the marketing they may have received in the past.

Jeffrey Thomas - an author I know needs no introduction to you - is an author desperately deserving of a mass market break. He's a fabulous writer, an author of stunning imagination and talent - and his short fiction has been causing waves in the small press for years. Deadstock, his new Punktown novel, is very exciting indeed. It's full of all of Jeffrey's usual quirks and neat ideas, full also, of the colour and vibrancy of his Punktown short stories, and someone should have commissioned him to write it a few years ago. I have no doubt that people are going to go mad for this book.

Natasha Rhodes is an author we've worked with before, on the incredibly successful novelisation of the movie Blade: Trinity, amongst other things. She's another one of those talents whose been hidden for too long, who needed a chance to show people what she can do - and Dante's Girl is that book.

And we're also publishing short stories - anthologies full of new and vibrant fiction from some of the genre's best known - and less well known - names.
At the end of the day, we want people to push boundaries. We want people who've become established and marketed as mass market fantasy writers to show us the SF novel they've always wanted to write, and vice versa. Hopefully people will be able to tell from the sheer passion that we're putting into this project that we really believe that. We're doing it because we feel strongly that these writers should be given a chance to show people what they can do.

How are you different as a publisher from other editors and publishers in the UK?
I think one of our main strengths - and points of difference - comes from the fact that we're both a UK and US publisher at the same time. We buy rights for both territories and then publish simultaneously into both markets, through our excellent distribution partnership with Simon & Schuster in the US and Hachette Books in the UK. This means we get exposure in both markets, directly to the bookshops that can make a real difference. It also means our risks are shared across both markets, so we can be a bit more willing to try something than a mass market publisher in one of those territories may be a little nervous of. We've also got a lot of experience - through our other imprints, Black Library and Black Flame, we've sold over 3 million units of books in the last three years.

One of the great things about Solaris, however, is the close knit group we have working on the range. Aside from Marc Gascoigne and myself we have two very talented Commissioning editors, Christian Dunn and Mark Newton. We tend to work by committee too, if you're talking to one of us, you're talking to all of us, and we all share responsibility for what we buy and publish and what we don't. It's a very healthy atmosphere and it really means each book is getting attention from everyone.

How do you think your prior experiences in the book business helps you as an editor?
I think it's invaluable. Both myself and Mark Newton worked at UK book chain Ottakar's for many, many years and it's given us a real perspective on what the book buyer wants to see. It means we have a commercial sensibility that allows us to market our books to the right people, and also means we know how to get them on book shelves in book stores too. Not only that, but over the ten years I spent working in the book trade, I was exposed to so many different ways of publishing and promoting a book, and so many different authors too. It's had a very positive impact on the list, to be able to call those authors and see if they want to work with us. It's also shown me that if people really care about a book, and if they can pass that passion and enthusiasm on, they can make a book a success. It's about how much time and energy you're prepared to spend backing a book that you really believe in. To me, that's the core of SOLARIS; it's about books that we believe in and are prepared to go out on a limb to promote.

What are your plans for 2007 and beyond?
Well, we're launching in Spring 2007 with a season of five titles, and this will be followed with one or two books a month for the first year. We're looking at some great books at the moment, a real mix of core fantasy and science fiction, as well as some other, more challenging stuff. In a few weeks we hope to announce another few titles and we'll then be in a position to talk to people about the shape of the launch and the books we're going to be promoting in the first part of 2007. Our website will get a massive overhaul. And we'll be talking to more authors at conventions around both the US and UK - so look for us at Eastercon and Worldcon too. The future's very exciting for SOLARIS.

Sunday--added a 9-mile walk along Lake Jackson. Lovely, lovely hike, with some incline.
20 minutes of abs work (crunches, machines, etc.)
Pull down lat - 3 sets at 135 lbs
Upright row - 3 sets at 135 lbs
Incline leg press -
3 sets high at 660 lbs (14 reps each)
3 sets middle at 660 lbs (10 reps each)
3 sets feet together high at 660 lbs (6 reps each)
(each high, middle, together sets done without rest btwn)
followed by (without rest following the last feet together set)
1 set of 12 reps high position at 500 lbs
1 set of 12 reps middle position at 400 lbs
1 set of 12 reps high position at 300 lbs
1 set of 20 reps legs together at 200 lbs
Leg Extension - 3 sets at 200 lbs (one to-exhaustion set after 3rd set at 100 lbs)
Leg Curls - 6 sets at 60 lbs, 3 sets each leg individually (no rest between sets)
Seated plates for calves - 6 sets of 20 reps at 150 lbs (plus leg weight)
Assisted squat - 3 sets of 8 at 250 lbs (30-second rest between sets)
Leg raise for calves - 3 sets, own weight, straight toe, facing in, facing out, 20 reps each
(no rest btwn end of last leg extension and first leg curl; ditto between curl and seated plates, plates and squat, squat and raises)
3-mile jog around track
3 windsprints, 1/12th mile each, to finish
hobble downstairs to collapse

Man, that was a killer leg work-out. Probably the best I've ever had, just in terms of going one right into the other, no more than a minute rest between sets on any one machine. My legs were like spaghetti afterwards. Very satisfying. I skipped the chest stuff because I think I've been lifting too much weight for my shoulders to bear--in terms of lifting the free weights into position. So I'm switching to barbells for bench press for now, and taking a few days off in the meantime. Will strengthen shoulders, etc., in the meantime.

Raj asked if I'd gotten a trainer involved. Actually, a friend who is heavily into weight lifting got me started--showed me the ropes. Then I bought three books on the subject, read those, triangulated info, and came up with a routine that worked for me. At first, it was lower body and back and then on other days, upper body. Now it's full-body for the most part to mix it up.

Late last year I did hire a trainer for four sessions to show me how to use all the machines and possible free weight stuff, so I could mix-and-match better.

In another four weeks, I will switch it up again and do different machines and a few different free weight lifts so my body doesn't get used to things.

When we get back from Europe, I'll hire a nutritionist to get my diet optimum, rehire a trainer for a few sessions to show me a few more things and check my technique, and then start work on the ultimate goal: to be at my optimum weight, diet, and musculature by the time I'm 40. I think that'll be probably mean building more muscle in abs, forearms, shoulders, back especially and getting down to about 205 lbs. We'll see.