In the Future, Tense

April 25, 2009

Interview with…

img_0014As part of this blog emphasis on the reading and writing life, I’m going to be including interview with people from all aspects of the publishing industry.  This will include writers, obviously, but also editors, agents, artists, musicians, and people in what I call the meta-industry, that is people who publish about publishing.

So, for our first interview today, we’ve got David Pomerico, editorial assistant at Bantam Books, and the editor for my forth-coming SF novel BITTER ANGELS.

Originally from Long Island, David graduated from Binghamton University with degrees in English and History.  Although he earned a Masters degree in Teaching from Washington University in St. Louis to get a Masters in Teaching, although I’ve yet to teach.  After a few years “knocking around” retail, both in Lancaster, PA and back on Long Island, he returned to school at NYU where he earned a second Masters, this time in the Humanities.  David says, “Somewhere between retail and NYU, I got an internship at Bantam Dell, got chosen for the Associates Program at Random House, and finally got hired as an Editorial Assistant for Spectra.”

CLA: Why did you decide to become an editor, as opposed to say, a writer?

DP:     Have you ever tried writing?  It’s really, really hard.  Like, I’m assuming, most editors, I do write when I can, but between time and talent restraints, I just don’t see it in the cards for me right now.  That said, I do want to be part of the process—I want to be physically part of making books people are going to love—and editing is a wonderful chance to do that.  Also, it beats my old job, which was running a Sports Authority warehouse.

CLA: What is the biggest challenge facing SF publishing today?

DP:     The biggest problem facing SF today is the biggest problem facing the industry as a whole: the economy.  A few years ago, great, experimental sci-fi by unknown authors was still being acquired by the major publishing houses.  Now, we’re a bit more constrained about the chances we can take, which means that, while traditional fantasy, paranormal and urban fantasy, and space operas are still doing fairly well, the more avant-garde proposals—the New Weird, the really hard sf, the more speculative fiction—are having a harder time reaching the marketplace.  That said, sci-fi is a very resilient genre, and the experimental fiction isn’t going to just stop because of a slower marketplace.  We’re just being a bit more choosey.

CLA: How do you see the ebook revolution affecting traditional publishing?

DP:     Right now, I don’t see it affecting traditional publishing as anything more than an addition to the traditional model.  For the most part, the production of e-books is almost exactly the same as the hard copy editions.  I believe this is because we want to make sure e-books are really a viable money-making venture.  As the Kindle, Sony Reader, and the iPhone improve their technology (and their user-bases), the more your going to see e-books having a stronger presence as far as the market goes.  In turn, while not abandoning the traditional publishing model (there are way too many bibliophiles out there, as my apartment can attest), I think you’ll see smaller initial “print runs,” because a large enough percentage of readers will be buying their books in electronic form.  I think the big thing publishers are waiting for are the numbers—once there’s a statistical set large enough to start making actual changes in the business models, you’ll start seeing not only more e-books and readers, but also more features in those e-books, such as hyper-links, video, games, and other interactions.  And then we’ll be talking about a new medium, which is pretty cool.

CLA: What do you see for the future of the science fiction genre?

DP:     The big thing I’m waiting to see take off is steampunk.  We’re right there—right on the cusp of that becoming a powerful genre in its own right.  Once that one book comes out—that one canonical work that blows open the marketplace (and, I won’t kid myself: a movie could pretty much do the same thing)—then I think that’s going to be the next avenue authors explore with a gusto.

The great thing about sci-fi, though, is it’s already about the future, so as long as there are imaginative people looking forward and pushing the envelope, sci-fi is going to continue to develop.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how tied into the present sci-fi is: much of what was coming from writers in the 50s and 60s was based on a Cold War mentality (and a world where space flight was still a dream); the 80s saw the Cold War heightened and Conservativism start to blossom, and sci-fi reacted in kind.  I think sci-fi has consistently been the literary watchdog of society, and as long as there are wars and politicians and scientific discovery and social upheaval—in other words, as long as there’s society, there’s going to be something new in sci-fi.

CLA: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to new writers?

DP:     Don’t try so hard.  So often I’ll see proposals where I’ll think to myself: “This is a great idea, but the execution just isn’t there.”  I think a lot of that comes from wanting to write a book, as opposed to telling a story.  Yes, the technical skills should be there, but first and foremost, you’re a story-teller.  I don’t care if you’re writing sci-fi, romance, history, or a cookbook—tell the story.

Related to that: read.  Read everything you can.  Read great writers, but also read writers your friends say are terrible.  Read them and ask yourself “why is this bad?”  There’s a reason you love the books you love—identify them and emulate them.  Play with them, until they work for your own particular voice.

Finally (sorry, realize you asked for one, but couldn’t resist):  Proofread.  When you’re done writing, but the piece in a drawer for at least a week.  A month, even.  Go back to it and read it again.  Don’t be disgusted when you realize that commas don’t go there.  Then, find a proofreader.  This person should not be a friend or family (I don’t care how objective you mother is, she’s your mom, and she’s going to say she likes your writing, and even if she does give constructive criticism, it won’t be complete).  Remember, even great writers go through drafts.  Even great books were edited.  If you keep writing, and catch a break, your book could be edited, too.


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