John Gregory Betancourt is publisher of Wildside Press, which published The Chronocide Mission.
PW: How did Wildside Press get started?
JGB: In 1989, I published a collection of Fritz Leiber's essays for a science fiction convention. Wildside was meant as a one-shot, but I enjoyed it, so I kept going. At first, I released signed limited editions by writers like Anne McCaffrey and Greg Bear—whose fans support affordable, limited edition hardcovers. When I tried trade paperbacks, our distributor went bankrupt, costing me $35,000. I took a few years off to write everything I could get a contract for and used that money to pay off bills.
PW: Wildside is basically a print-on-demand publisher, right?
JGB: We've published about 90 books via traditional printing and more than 600 using POD. As older books go out of print, I roll them into POD. Because POD doesn't tie up working capital like a conventionally printed book, I can put the money I save toward more books.
PW: Based on your Web site, you specialize in 19th- and early 20th-century fantasy, reprints of midlist SF and short fiction by talented newer writers like Jeff VanderMeer and Bruce Holland Rogers. How do you choose the books you publish?
JGB: I've reprinted titles because I feel they ought to be available to modern readers. It's a disgrace that an important authors like Algernon Blackwood is largely out of print. Another goal is, yes, rescuing midlist authors. Unfortunately, many have a limited audience, so POD meets their annual sales needs better than traditional publishing. Lloyd Biggle Jr. is a good example. Wildside's third goal is to publish good books that ordinary publishers wouldn't touch such as short story collections.
PW: Lloyd Biggle Jr., a successful midlist SF writer in the 1970s, is now, at 79, back with a new novel. How did that happen?
JGB: Biggle never went away. He's been writing well-received mysteries for a decade now, and when I began reprinting his early novels, it rekindled his interest in SF. He remembered The Chronocide Mission [see review, this page], dug it out and finished it. It's a great book, and I think it will help him find new readers.
PW: What are Wildside's future prospects?
JGB: Over the last three years, I've tried to grow the company toward a mainstream presence, advertising heavily in genre publications. We've had a 300% revenue growth in each of the last two years. We're getting incredible support from everyone—authors, agents, booksellers, the chains. I've watched bigger players come into POD and throw around a lot of money and promises, then limp off the playing field, defeated. POD isn't like regular publishing. You have to build up your presence in one specific niche until you own it, and you can't do that with traditional spending habits. You have to target your audience.
PW: What are your thoughts on the future of small press genre publishing?
JGB: The consolidation of SF and fantasy lines has been a disaster for writers and readers. Good books still get published. But just as many go begging. The small press takes up some of the slack. I tell our authors to try to sell their books to larger publishing companies first, then come to us if they can't. And, if they do sell them to big New York houses, to come back to us in five years, when their books are out of print. We'll still be interested.