Faces of Publishing: Paula Guran, Prime Books

Paula Guran

Prime Books

Paula Guran is senior editor for Prime Books. She edited the Juno fantasy imprint for six years from its small press inception through its incarnation as an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books. Guran is the editor of the annual Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror series of anthologies and editor of numerous other anthologies including Best New Paranormal Romance, Zombies: The Recent Dead, Vampires: The Recent Undead, Halloween, New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, Brave New Love, and Witches: Wicked Wild & Wonderful. In an earlier life, she produced the pioneering weekly email newsletter DarkEcho (winning two Bram Stoker Awards, an International Horror Guild Award Award, and a World Fantasy Award nomination) and edited Horror Garage magazine (earning another IHG Award and a second World Fantasy nomination). Guran has contributed reviews, interviews, and articles to numerous professional publications and edited/produced for OMNI Online and Universal Studios HorrorOnline. She reviewed regularly for Publishers Weekly for over a decade, was review editor for Fantasy, a columnist for Cemetery Dance, and a consulting editor for CFQ (Cinemafantastique). She also served as nonfiction editor for Weird Tales. Guran’s also done a great deal of other various and sundry work in speculative fiction including editing magazines, agenting, publicity, teaching, and publishing. She lives in Akron, Ohio.

Paula Guran

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to become an editor?

Paula Guran: I pretended to edit a little newspaper when I was just a kid, so I guess that was the first time I thought about it. Then I became the editor of the school newspaper in junior high and continued to edit throughout high school. Maybe if some people are natural writers, there are natural editors? I was burned out on journalism and writing in general by college. In college I discovered directing and technical theatre—scene design, lighting, that sort of thing – so that became my creative outlet and my first career. I didn’t go near writing or editing for a very long time after that. Much later, after I got into genre, I knew that was my ultimate goal.

Alex: How did you get started in publishing?

That is a more difficult question to answer than you might think. I took a unique path. You may not want to go into this except to say: “Nontraditionally.” If you really want to know…as long as it is, this is the condensed version: I mentioned my first career. My second career was being a mom and, eventually, a volunteer education activist. I continued being a mom, but started embracing the weirder part of myself again too. Around 1994, after I got online, I discovered dark fiction. I’d never heard of or read any of these great authors and became sort of an evangelist. I fell into running an online writers workshop with weekly topical chats and interviews and started a weekly email newsletter—which were all new ideas back then. I somehow created this niche for myself with DarkEcho, a newsletter and, eventually, a website. I began writing and reviewing professionally. Most notably, working for OMNI Online, Publishers Weekly, and Universal Studios HorrorOnline. I became John Shirley’s agent on a dare. Someone from the comics industry approached me about editing a zine. We did one issue and the project collapsed. I renamed the zine and got a couple of issues out on my own, but print fiction zines were already dying. Gothic.net tapped me to edit fiction for a while. I got a deal to do an anthology of dark literary erotica. The publisher quit publishing. A small press picked it up, published it, and it got quite a bit of acclaim. The publisher disappeared owing money. Meanwhile I wound up administering a horror award. Someone who published a music zine approached me to edit another print zine that combined music and horror. Then a new publishing company started before the dotcom bubble burst that hired me; I wound up doing a variety of publishing related jobs with them. But that project was over in less than a year. Meanwhile I helped another person start an innovative (for its day) online PDF magazine and acquired and ghost-edited the fiction. The publisher disappeared, owing money. Around January of 2002 I think I found myself with nothing really substantially to say I “did” other than doing a lot of small things: being a one-author agent, an award administrator, freelance reviewer and nonfiction writer/contributing editor. And a mom. I started teaching online. Being a freelancer and award administrator meant I got a lot of free books. So I was able to continue my education in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I was also very lucky to be able to communicate with readers, writers, editors, agents, publishers, and others and learn from them. I also tried a little publishing with print-on-demand. Picked up more skills. An acquaintance, Sean Wallace, sold his publishing company, Prime Books, to Wildside Press. Sean took Prime into national trade distribution and they were looking for another imprint. Juno Books was born in 2006 with me editing the line. Juno became a mass-market imprint of Pocket Books with me attached as editor in January 2009. Mass market as a whole started to decline about a year later. Pocket Juno is still active (I’m editing a title for them soon), but it was no longer a full time job. By that time Sean was back on his own with Prime and needing an editor…and here I am.

Alex: What does an ordinary day look like for you?

I work from home, so the commute is easy. If I think a day is going to be ordinary, it will usually turn out not so ordinary. Small crises arise via email most any day. I do a lot of email. If I am on the first edit of a book, I tend to concentrate fairly intently on the project until done so my train of thought is not derailed. Otherwise it may be contracts, submissions, correcting proofs, working with the art director, or on promotional copy, or a hundred other things. With an independent press I’m involved in almost all facets of publishing a book—many of which the average reader may not even know about.

Alex: How many projects are you usually working on at one time?

Usually working (with the author) on at least one novel and any number of anthologies, plus acquiring ahead for Prime. I’m looking for stories for probably six anthologies at any time and also always looking for new ideas. One story can inspire an entire theme. I’m also constantly looking for stories for each “year’s best” and keeping an eye out for new talent and trends in general.

Alex: How long does it take you to edit the average book?

There are no average books. Some take longer than others.

Alex: How does the editing process work: do you edit the manuscript and send it back to the author, or do it in parts, or meet and work with the author, or something else?

I do a complete edit of the entire manuscript, and then send it back to the author. We may have some points to discuss. The writer then executes changes. I may have more input or ask for other changes and clarifications—or not—at that point. Sometimes there are other matters to discuss a copyeditor might bring up or I might spot at that point. Since I’m in Akron, Ohio, I do everything by email. I do talk on the phone with some authors if they hit a place and they want some feedback. But of all the authors I’ve worked with, only two have lived close enough for us to get together and work in person.

Alex: With the Internet and ebooks, what are some of the changes you’ve seen in publishing as an editor in the last five years?

Publishing is always changing, but people tend to forget that—or never learned it. The basics are still the same. (1) The best way to sell a book is for readers to recommend it to other readers. Now we have the Internet supplying new ways for those recommendations to spread. (2) In order to sell a book it has to be easily available in a readable, portable format. That’s truer today than ever. You can find any physical book you want online and have it delivered to your doorstep or click and download an ebook.

So, for readers anyway, everything has changed and nothing has changed.

Alex: What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Authors may have to turn more and more to self-publishing. It is not a guaranteed route to success by any means, and a great deal of time and effort that has nothing to do with writing is involved. News stories seldom take into account how many writers make the attempt and do not sell many books. Luck, talent, hard work, and a lot of effort pay off for some digital self-published authors — but the same is just as true for the traditionally published.

Still, it’s not as bad as when print-on-demand started and there were companies taking advantage of wannabe authors. There was a lot of misrepresentation. If you wanted to self-publish, that was fine—as long as you had a realistic expectation of the outcome. Too many naive people were expecting to find financial success self-publishing. Few ever broke even.

Alex: What publishing method do you recommend aspiring writers follow?

Overall, I think fewer people should aspire to be writers. It is not a glamorous profession, few people make much at it, and it is hard work. I sincerely don’t understand why so many people want to be authors.

Ten, twelve years ago I would have warned them off self-publishing for the reasons mentioned above. There was also a stigma attached. In fiction, at least, it was not a good way to get started.

Now, I’m not sure—especially with self-publishing either online or in ebook form. You may have as much of a chance as with traditional publishing. At least you are paid SOMETHING if you are traditionally published, but if you don’t sell enough books the first time out, your career can be DOA before it ever starts. Writers are also expected to devote time, money, and effort to promote themselves. And despite all, they might still be told,  “Sorry, your numbers are too low. Bye!”

Alex: Have you or are you interested in publishing your own work?

If you mean fiction, no. I don’t write fiction. I dabbled enough to know I haven’t the imagination for it.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

I sleep.

Alex: Where do you see publishing ten years from now?

Publishing is a business. I make my living at it.  So, if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you. I’d use the knowledge to help some talented authors and deserving publishers—and me—prosper. But, in general, publishing will still be providing stories and information for readers a decade from now. It may be larger or smaller or segmented or go through yet another revolution. People are still going to read. They are still going to want books in one format or another.

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