William Schafer is the publisher of Subterranean Press.
PW: Although Orson Scott Card has had his share of bestsellers and you've published his works before, his latest book, Posing as People, comprised of three short stories and the plays adapted from them, seems like something of a risk for any publisher. Books of short stories, and especially plays, don't usually ride the bestseller lists. What made you decide to take on this project?
William Schafer: When we work regularly with an author, we make a commitment to bring enthusiasm to projects that might fall between the cracks otherwise. We've found, honestly, that if the quality is there, the sales will follow. Posing As People poses no real risk for us, and we're grateful Scott brought the book/CD set our way.
PW: When acquiring new titles, do you try to balance out somewhat risky ventures like the Scott Card book with books by authors that are guaranteed to bring in a certain amount of sales (such as those by George R.R. Martin, Dan Simmons, etc.)?
WS: Of course we do. Being a small press, our margin of error isn't the same as for a big publisher. We need to keep a tight rein on cash flow, profitability and scheduling. Planning our releases and print runs with that in mind is essential. Many specialty presses fail because they're too focused on a small group of collectors, without attempting to expand their—and their authors'—audiences at every opportunity. The way I see it, that's like preaching to the choir. I'm after something a little more for Subterranean Press—and for our authors.
PW: With bigger publishing houses buying each other out or incorporating (i.e., Random House/Doubleday/Dell, etc.) and even purchasing small presses like Four Walls Eight Windows, do you foresee more tough times ahead for small press publishers?
WS: Not at all. The more numbers-dependent "big" publishing becomes, the better it is for smaller presses. What's a profitable, satisfying book for us would, in many cases, not be worth their time.
PW: In the 1980s and '90s, small presses that published quality material, like Dark Harvest and Mark V. Ziesing, eventually went belly-up. Knowing this, you still decided to jump into the fray. What was it that compelled you to become a full-time, small press publisher?
WS: I grew up reading everything from Robert Silverberg to Harlan Ellison to Tim Powers to Stephen King. At some point, I decided I wanted to participate in the field, rather than just enjoy it as a reader.
PW: What advantage do small press publishers offer to authors in comparison to brand name, big house publishers?
WS: For Subterranean Press mainstays like Joe R. Lansdale or Charles de Lint, we offer an avenue for projects that are close to their hearts but might not be right for large editions. In Joe's case, he's graced us with a number of wildly strange novels such as his upcoming continuation of the Drive-In series while still writing mainstream historical mysteries for Knopf. We're also about to release the second volume gathering de Lint's early stories, and have teamed him with Charles Vess for a couple of short illustrated novels, with more in the offing.