Jacob Weisman, founder of Tachyon Publications, turned his lifelong science fiction hobby into a dedicated career when he started the press in San Francisco in 1995 and thoughtfully nurtured it into what has become one of the most important independent presses in the industry.
Tachyon, whose name is based on a Star Trek term indicating the altering or reversing of the space-time continuum, successfully reflects Weisman's editorial sensibility, which focuses on more literary science fiction than the action-oriented kind. "One of our mottos is that we publish smart science fiction and fantasy," says Weisman. "Our books wouldn't be out of place in the regular fiction section of bookstores."
Weisman, 45, was a freelance writer and journalist in his native San Francisco whose assignments included sports writing for the Nation, an internship at Asimov's Science Fiction, stories for the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and copywriting for the Seattle Sonics NBA team. In 1991 he started publishing Thirteenth Moon, a quarterly fantasy magazine. "I was looking at a printer's price list one day for Thirteenth Moon and realized I could probably afford to do a book as easily as I could a quarterly. After that, I mostly figured out book publishing by myself," Weisman recalls. For the first few years he published two or three books annually with print runs of 1,000 copies. "I got lucky," he says, "and managed not to lose money and actually make money on the first few books."
Tachyon was a one-man operation for several years, with Weisman doing everything to publish his books except cover design. He sold his books directly to independent bookstores and consumers. As many of his retail accounts began going out of business, Weisman decided in 2003 to "start the company over from scratch," hiring his first employees, tripling the number of books he published annually, and signing with IPG for sales and distribution. The press now does eight to 10 books a year and prints 5,000 copies of each title. Tachyon's authors include some of the most esteemed in the science fiction and fantasy genres, such as Harlan Ellison and Peter S. Beagle, in addition to a stable of newer, younger writers that includes Nebula nominee Eileen Gunn; Ellen Klages, winner of a Scott O'Dell Award for YA fiction; Michael Swanwick; Nancy Kress; and Brian Aldiss.
Unlike the traditional method of acquiring books via literary agents and writers pitching publishers, Weisman upends the usual transaction. "We tend to publish more by invitation" notes Weisman, "and actively go out and seek what interests us." Weisman reads a tremendous amount and is comfortable approaching writers with a specific book idea in mind, whether it's an anthology of short stories or a novel. Tachyon's anthologies, in fact, are its bestselling books, in particular Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's two Steampunk titles.
Weisman attributes much of Tachyon's continuing success to managing editor Jill Roberts. "Jill does so much more than manage the production of our books," Weisman says. "Her insight and vision of what Tachyon should offer helps us to keep topping ourselves by producing better books each year." In-house publicist Matt Staggs has also contributed to the growth of Tachyon, which now has 78 books in print. Weisman likens the company to a science fiction version of Twelve, the boutique house that limits its output to 12 books annually. "They do one book a month and do a really good job to make each one the best it can be. That's kind of what we do with science fiction," explains Weisman. Although he could grow the company by publishing more books, his quality-control priorities will likely prohibit taking that step. Weisman, who just received his third nomination for a World Fantasy Award for his work at Tachyon, is pleased that the press will likely achieve gross sales of $1.5 million in 2010. "We're still growing," he says, "which is amazing. I'm really excited by our books."
Tachyon celebrated its 15th anniversary with a party on September 19 in San Francisco at Borderlands Books, with over 100 writers, editors, and fans in attendance. "We're a recent phenomenon," says Weisman, "a mid-level niche indie publisher that's directed at a core audience. We're doing books that the New York houses should be doing and aren't, but now we're actually competing in that same market and going head to head with the big guys. Maybe someday I'll be able to fulfill my dream of publishing a book by Jonathan Lethem."