On indie press: Jonathan Strahan

I’ve invited a number of people who have worked in indie press and gone on to become professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Today, internationally-renowned editor Jonathan Strahan shares his journey.

Photo by Cat Sparks

I first encountered small presses in the mid-80s when I stumbled across The Space Merchants, Perth’s first specialist science fiction bookstore. The shop carried stock from all of the usual publishers, but occasionally something different would show up. An odd magazine, a rare book. The pages of Locus, which I only ever saw in Space Merchants and was the shop bible for news on what was happening in SF, often featured ads for books from Dark Harvest, Phantasia Press, Underwood Miller. Fine editions of exciting books that I wanted, and wanted quite badly.

I also became aware of an Australian small press scene around that time. Presses like Cory & Collins, Void, and Norstrilia were actively publishing science fiction by Australians that couldn’t find a home at major publishing houses. The 1985 WorldCon was held in Melbourne, and that led to slew of titles being published (well “slew” by the standards of the time), and directly inspired the Australian small press boom of the ’90s.

By the end of the decade I was eagerly reading small press magazines like Mark V. Ziesing’s Journal Wired and Stephen Brown’s Science Fiction Eye, and seeking out small press and hard to find books and magazines. It didn’t seem like such a large conceptual leap to become a small press editor and publisher myself.

Most of my friends attended the 1990 Swancon where we were strongly encouraged to “pub our ish”, to become fanzine publishers. It seemed like a fine idea, but when Jeremy Byrne, Richard Scriven, Robin Pen, Chris Stronach and I sat down to publish a fanzine it quickly evolved conceptually into a mix between Interzone and Journal Wired, a fiction magazine with cutting edge nonfiction as well (we hoped).

It was an exciting time. We worked ridiculous hours, became even better friends, made many new ones, and published a couple dozen issues of Eidolon to some acclaim. At the same time Dirk Strasser and Stephen Higgins started Aurealis, and Peter McNamara launched Australia’s only real professional independent SF press of the last 25 years, Aphelion. It paid real advances, had print runs in the thousands and its books were distributed nationally. It was the real deal, and was the link from the days of Australian small pressdom and the rise of the modern field dominated by Harper Voyager.

My own small press journey took several unexpected directions as the nineties drew to a close. Eidolon was running out of steam, and I’d travelled to the United States to work for Locus in 1997/98. That lead to my leaving Eidolon in 1999 and working exclusively for Locus for a while. I’d co-edited two anthologies with Jeremy Byrne in Australia, and that experience led to me editing anthologies in the US for Night Shade Books, Subterranean Press, and for Locus Press.

My experience with each of those small presses was different. When I first met Jason Williams and Jeremy Lassen at Night Shade they were young crazy pirate publishers who were willing to take a chance on my ‘Best of the Year’ aspirations and who helped to cook up ‘Eclipse’. I’ve always felt that their own indie-spirit was what made those books possible, and I continue to be grateful for that. Subterranean was quite a different thing, which started with my suggesting various projects to my good friend Bill Schafer, and slowly evolved into my editing or co-editing a whole bunch of books for him. And as for Locus Press – I’d edited two books for the late Byron Preiss where were suddenly orphaned. Locus Press was an act of kindness by Charles Brown and Liza Trombi, which saved them and had them see print.

I’m not sure if that really tells you the most important things about my two decades working with small presses. They were important to me because they provided a chance for different voices to flourish and because they were accessible. They were something I could be a part of and could contribute to. I am very sure I would never have become an editor without small presses and I’m equally sure I’ll never stop working with them.

Jonathan Strahan has co-edited The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy series of anthologies for HarperCollins Australia, co-edits the Science Fiction: The Best of . . . and Fantasy: The Best of . . . anthology series with Karen Haber for Simon & Schuster/ibooks, edits theBest Short Novels anthology series for the Doubleday Science Fiction Book Club, and co-edited The Locus Awardsfor Eos with Charles N. Brown. He is also the Reviews Editor for Locus: The Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Fields, and reviews for the magazine regularly. He is currently working on The New Space Opera II.