Concat interviews Jane Johnson


Jane, British SF & Fantasy commissioning editor, has had a lengthy career in SF & F book publishing. Indeed Concatenation first met Jane back when we started as a print zine back in 1987. Then she was working for one of Britain's last major independent publishing giants, Unwin Hyman, whose authors included one J. R. R.Tolkien. When Unwin was bought up she moved on to the new owners and for the past decade has been publishing director of Harper Collin's Voyager imprint.
Jane maintains a good working profile at major British conventions, especially if the con venue has rocks nearby (such as the Jersey Eurocon) as she enjoys climbing. This year Voyager was 10 years old and it marked this anniversary both in Australia and in the UK. The UK celebration took place at Interaction, the 2005 Eurocon-Worldcon in Glasgow and appropriately, for a fantasy imprint about to launch a major book set on the high seas, Temeraire, on The Tall Ship sailing vessel behind the Scottish Exhibition Centre and on which she agreed to give
Concat a few words...


Concatenation: What would you say was Voyager's greatest achievement over the past 10 years?

Jane J.: I'd have to say the creation of Robin Hobb as a bestselling author from what was pretty much a standing start. We launched Assassin's Apprentice 10 years ago, in hardback, which in itself at that time represented a major commitment; and sold around 3000 copies initially. By the end of the 9-book series, we'd seen that hardback figure leap to over 35000, with paperback sales for the series of over 500,000. And they are such great books: I am very very proud to publish them.

Concatenation: And Voyager's best new SF/F author discovered?

Jane J.: Since I've already talked about Robin Hobb, I won't count her as the 'discovery' author and instead cite our brand new star, Naomi Novik, who will be bursting onto the fantasy scene next year (Jan 06) with the extraordinary Temeraire. Stephen King describes it as a cross between Susanna Clarke and Patrick O'Brian, and he's spot on -- it's the first in a series charting the Napoleonic Wars, with a difference: dragons as Air Corps. Beautifully done, affecting, lyrical, and reads rather like Jane Austen: an astonishing achievement for a first-time American writer.

Concatenation: The Voyager imprint seemed to start off as one of both fantasy and SF but now seems exclusively fantasy. Is this correct? Or intentional?

Jane J.: We do still publish SF, of course (after all we have Asimov and Clarke and Dick and Bradbury on the backlist); but given the lack of support for this sector of the genre from the bookshop central offices we've had to disguise the SF we do still publish -- like Kim Stanley Robinson and Greg Bear -- as general fiction, publishing them alongside Michael Crichton as near-future thrillers. It does mean we sell more copies, but it's not an ideal situation. I do believe the readerships are different, though; and we carried out the only major piece of market research in the genre 2 years ago which supported this.

Concatenation: Has Voyager any strategic plans for the future?

Jane J.: Just keep on publishing the best books in the genre, building the authors we have, keep an eye out for startling new talents like Sarah Micklem (Firethorn), Sarah Zettel and Naomi Novik.

Concatenation: How are you coping with the duality of being an editor and an author (Jane also writes fantasy as Jude Fisher)?

Jane J.: It's tough sometimes, especially in terms of sheer time available; but it's stimulating and has positive effects on both jobs. As an author, I can appreciate the position of my publishers and their strategies and time restraints; as a publisher it's made me a lot more sensitive and useful as an editor, since I now understand what it's like to be wrestling with intangible problems in a text. It means I can give specific advice where it's needed and not apply the wrong sort of pressure to a difficult situation.

Concatenation: Congrats again on your 10th. Unwin Hyman seems an age ago.

Jane J.: Thank you: it was -- an entire different era of publishing!

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