[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Dispatches From Smaragdine columns.]
All's Quiet in Smaragdine
Spotlight on PS Publishing
All's Quiet in Smaragdine
It's been very quiet here for a long time, because every fourth year, Smaragdineans take a month of silence, rather than a moment
of silence, to commemorate their great military leader Saloment III. Saloment was without his tongue for most of his life, and
thus the silence. As far as I can gather, Saloment saved Smaragdine back in the seventeenth century from the mighty Turkish
hordes using only a piece of string, a flower pot, and a pebble. Most people are here are rather mum about how this saved the
then city-state, but Horia Ursu tells me it also involved a large quantity of gold coins and a bad land deal, which provides
some clarity at least.
Spotlight on PS Publishing
Long before Peter Crowther started PS Publishing, he was a successful writer of dark fantasy and horror. It might be in part
because he approaches things from an editor's and a writer's point of view that so many of the writers who have had books out
from PS Publishing have heaped praise on both the publishing company and its founder. Another aspect of PS Publishing that
fascinates me is the wonderful cover art. Every PS Publishing book has a distinctive look-and-feel, and because they usually
publish limited editions not destined for wide-spread chain bookstore distribution, they can afford to do interesting things
with cover designs. At least one cover didn't even sully the art with the author's name and the book's title. I find that
attitude refreshing and unique.
In recent years, PS Publishing has expanded to include Postscripts magazine, a special edition of which debuted at the last
World Horror Convention to wide-spread acclaim. Contributors to Postscripts have included everyone from Stephen King to
Michael Marshall Smith.
I spoke to Crowther about PS Publishing recently, via email. (In the interests of disclosure, I do have a book, The
Situation, coming out from PS in 2008.)
What's PS Publishing's main focus?
Top quality (in terms of both the work and the production values) collectable limited edition books, fiction and non-fiction,
covering a fairly broad range and available at affordable prices. (Hey, that's almost a slogan! Not very succinct though...)
What do you feel have been some of your most successful books?
I love all of our titles (naturally, I suppose... or I wouldn't have bought them) but the most commercially successful have
been the Steven Erikson books, the Stephen Baxter books, Postscripts #10, Mike Moorcock's Firing the
Cathedral, China Miéville's The Tain, Stephen King's The Colorado Kid, Mike Marshall Smith's
The Vaccinator, the Bradbury books, Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, Peter Hamilton's
Watching Trees Grow... and right now it looks as though Phil Farmer's and Danny Adams's The City
Beyond Play, Lucius's Dagger Key, and our new try-out series Showcase (#1 being stories by
Gary Fry) are selling well even before they're actually available. So I guess the answer is that pretty much most of them
are or have been successful.
What differentiates you from other publishers?
I think the breadth of the nature of the material we put out gives us an edge. We're eclectic in what we publish simply
because we're eclectic in what we read. In any one month, for instance, I'll read (purely for pleasure, irrespective of
whether we publish them or not) Ramsey Campbell, Paul McAuley, John Updike, Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, Anne
Tyler, John Irving, Stephen King, Paul Auster, Joan Didion, Ray Bradbury, Martin Amis, Bill Bryson, Connie Willis,
Spider Robinson, Ed Gorman, Steve Baxter, Garrison Keillor, Peter Straub and so on... plus graphic novels etc. from
Vertigo (pretty much any title/author), old DC Comics collections (notably Eisner's The Spirit) and
my bound volumes of various Archie titles and funny animal books such as Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck
or Carl Barks's Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. Plus, at any one time, all of the authors we've published or from whom we
have work listed on the schedule. Nick Gevers is the same, and he has a particular love of historical fiction.
Of course, there's some wonderful work out there from other specialty presses -- Bill Schafer's Subterranean and
Rich Chizmar's CD over in the US, plus Andrew Hook's Elastic and Guy Adams's Humdrumming in the UK. Those four are
my faves... some beautiful stuff coming from them. But for sheer diversity, I truly believe that PS takes the biscuit.
How has the press changed over the years?
Well, we're doing more for a start. We began with four books in 1999 and we've got 31 (plus four issues of
Postscripts) scheduled for 2008. Aside from the volume, I'd say the production qualities have gone forward
in leaps and bounds. This is due to the simple fact that I'm no longer designing the books myself -- they're now designed
by true craftspeople, usually Robert Freeman Wexler, our chief designer, or at least under his watchful eye. I'd
also say that we're bringing in a lot more SF people whose work I'm not as acquainted with as I should be, and this is
down to my right-hand man, Nick Gevers. Then there's the website, a phenomenal piece of work from Ariel, who's also handling
our advertising and promotion work. And, of course, my wife Nicky, who left full-time teaching to handle the day-to-day
office admin, payment- and process-chasing and generally keeping me sane and enabling me to get a few hours off here
and there to do some of my own writing (for instance, I managed to write a new novel this past year -- unheard of a
couple of years ago) and I'm hoping I'll get even more done in 2008).
Any amusing anecdotes from the early days?
Nothing too side-splitting, alas. But we have had a couple of splendid typos creep into our books -- like
Ramsey's The Darkest Part of the Woods, which we put out with a cover-spine saying The Darkest Part of
the Wods! Or Lisa Tuttle's name appearing on the title page of My Death as Lisa Tutle... and so
on. (We're already working on ways to mis-spell VanderMeer -- lots of possibilities there!)
What have you learned from running PS Publishing over the years?
I think that, primarily, I've learned that great quality in writing does not necessarily translate to great success in
terms of sales. If it did, then Ramsey Campbell would be one of the wealthiest writers alive. Similarly, of course, I'm
constantly reminded when I read the book-performance charts every week that sales success does not necessarily mean a
work is particularly good.
Every publisher has ups and downs. What was your low point? How about a high point?
I don't really feel I've had a particularly low point as such. Sure, I've had occasional disappointments but they really
weren't any more debilitating than that. And high points? Well, every book is a high point and every author we've worked
with has been a wonderful experience -- these people are not just hugely talented... they're wonderfully nice as
well! But I've particularly enjoyed working with Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell, three great gentlemen
whose PS titles (notably Ray's Dandelion Wine, Steve's The Colorado Kid and all of Ramsey's titles -- we've
now got seven of them on our list!) have them working at the top of their game. And it was particularly gratifying to see
Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts receive such praise... and every single word of it hugely deserved. But I guess my
highest high point was launching Postscripts magazine. That's really how PS got started -- on the back of a
desire to do a new Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which I've admired for the best part of fifty
years. So that's my finest hour, I guess -- Postscripts... issue #12 going to the printers in the next
couple of weeks and issue #13 still scheduled for December release!
I'll be filing a report about Utopiales in France, catching up on books with some
short reviews, and keeping you up to date on what's going on in Smaragdine.
If you would like to send me things for review, or even complaints, hints, suggestions, or other feedback,
please do so via email at
or via my U.S. snail mail address:
c/o Smaragdine Dispatches
Tallahassee, FL 32315
There will be a delay of about a month from receipt at the post office box to the arrival of your missive in
Smaragdine, but to send direct would be folly as my stint at the hostel runs out at the end of the month
and I don't know where I will be after that.
Copyright © 2007 Jeff VanderMeer
Jeff VanderMeer's reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly,
The New York Review of SF, Bookslut.com, and many others.
VanderMeer writes the graphic novel/comics summation for The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror
(St. Martin's Press) and is a guest editor for Best American Fantasy. Monkey Brain Books
published his non-fiction collection Why Should I Cut Your Throat? in 2004.