Not only is Ian Whates a successful author, he also runs Newcon Press, a prolific and multiple award-winning publisher of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the UK publishing genre landscape without Newcon.
1. What effects has Covid-19 lockdown had on Newcon Press?
From a personal perspective, lockdown has had little impact. My normal routine will see me go several days working slavishly at the computer without venturing into the outside world; this has just been an extension of that – somewhat extreme, admittedly. Regarding NewCon as a business, I was genuinely concerned at outset. Events we had invested in heavily, such as London Book Faire, were cancelled with little prospect of recouping our investment, and we’d sunk a substantial amount into commissioning and printing books for launches and conventions that were no longer happening. Thankfully, we’ve worked hard to turn that around, organising virtual book launches, discount sales, and other incentives. As a result, we’ve actually seen a healthy return during the past few months. The only lingering effect to date has been a delay in releasing some titles, which was necessary when the pandemic first hit to help ease cashflow pressures, and that’s had a knock-on effect with our publishing schedule.
2. You’ve mentioned you started Newcon ‘by accident’. How did that happen?
Ah yes… I helped organise a convention, NewCon 3, in Northampton in 2003, at a time when I had yet to discover the SF community. It was a great little con, but none of us knew what we were doing and it lost money. To recoup those losses, I hit upon the idea of publishing a one-off anthology as a fund raiser. Somebody said, “You need to think of a publisher’s name to publish it under.” Since this was never to be repeated, I simply opted for the name of the convention. The book came out and was well received, selling out and pretty much covering the debt. The rest, as they say, is history.
3. Having started, what was it that made you decide to carry on, and keep going?
Short term memory loss. When I held the finished book in my hand, all the woes, the mistakes and anxieties that had gone into producing the volume disappeared, and I thought: “I could do this again…”
What’s kept me going? A combination of stubbornness, the pleasure in bringing out books I feel genuinely proud of, the ability to work with writers whose work I’ve long admired and also the joy of discovering or helping to promote emerging authors. The privilege of working with really talented writers and artists lies at the heart of it, but also the question: if I wasn’t doing this, what the heck else could I do?
4. You write, you edit, you publish. What’s a typical week look like?
Honestly? There’s no such thing. I would love to say that I have a regular routine, that I write for a set number of hours and then edit or read submissions, and I seem to recall it started out that way, but now… Not so much. NewCon has grown far beyond anything I imagined, with over 140 titles published to date (23 of them in 2019 alone, which is a ridiculous number). In essence, each morning I get straight down to whatever job is the most urgent: if a cover needs to be designed and laid out, I’ll do that; if contracts need to be drawn up and sent to the authors for an anthology, I’ll do that. If payments for stories, cover art etc need to be made… if a novel needs to be line edited… if the text for an author’s collection needs to be laid out… if royalty statements need to be calculated, typed, and sent out… if printers need to be chased up… Whatever is most pressing, I’ll tackle first. I start work pretty much when I get up (anywhere between 6.00 and 7.30 am) and work through until 5.00 or 6.00 in the evening; weekends I tend to ease up a little and just work five or six hours a day. There have been long periods (often stretches of many months) when my own writing has had to go on hold, in order to keep NewCon commitments on schedule. That was never the plan, but it has become the reality.
5. Favourite Colour?
Purple; which, I understand, is said to be a non-colour, one that we all perceive differently. I had no idea that was a thing when I decided at a very young age that I liked purple, but it does seem fitting, given the nature of much that I write and indeed publish.
6. Please tell us about your own latest work.
In May I released Dark Angels Rising, the final volume of a space opera trilogy that began five years ago. At its time of release, the first volume Pelquin’s Comet became an Amazon UK #1 best seller, and, flatteringly, it returned to the top of sales charts with the third book’s appearance; in fact, at one point, all three volumes in the series were in the top 50 for ‘space opera’, which was completely unexpected. The series takes a couple of SF tropes and turns them on their head – most notably the idea of humanity making it to the stars with the aid of caches containing ancient alien technology – and is a combination of swash-buckling action, tight-knit character interaction and a dash of humour (with added aliens). The first book drew comparisons with Firefly, and the final book ventures into superheroes in space territory. I had a lot of fun with this series, which garnered some great reviews from the likes of the Guardian and the FT, and I’m sad to say goodbye to the characters.
Next, I’m turning my attention to a literary fantasy inspired by the artist Holbein, which has involved a great deal of research. The story has required me to create a number of different societies, basing some on historical periods and settings and dreaming up others from scratch, letting my imagination run wild in both instances. This one’s pretty much written – a standalone novel – but I need to rework various aspects following feedback from my agent.
7. Why do you want to tell the stories you do?
I have no idea. I’ve always told stories. As a young boy I loved to read, finding wonder in books that no film or TV programme could match (this was long before computers or more sophisticated media), because a book allows me the space to fill in the gaps with my own imagination, whereas in a film the director and producer have already done that for me. English was my favourite subject at school, essay writing the only homework I truly enjoyed. I always felt that I had something to say, my own accent to bring to the long tradition of story-telling, whether simply to entertain in one instance or make a point about society or humanity in another. Whether anyone cared to read my words was another matter, but I suppose I was vain enough to hope they might.
8. What’s the best advice you can give, or have been given, about writing?
Two things: don’t take rejection personally. Just because an editor or agent turns your story or novel down doesn’t mean it’s bad; it simply means this isn’t what they were looking for at that time. The second is to get feedback and genuine criticism from your contemporaries, from people who are not your friends or family. I did this via a writing group, and found the input invaluable, if not always enjoyable. You can learn a lot from critiquing the work of others, as well, from spotting a recurring fault in their writing and thinking: “Hey, I do that too.”
9. What are the best bits of writing and publishing?
Publishing: all of it. The process is akin to a tapestry, with threads interweaving and supporting each other. Pull one thread out and the whole thing can unravel. There’s satisfaction to be had in every aspect – returning edits to an author and having them agree to the suggested tweaks (and even thanking you), completing the layout of a cover and knowing that it works, delivering files to the printers… I suppose the best bit is holding the finished book in your hand. Of course, positive reviews always help as well…
Writing: finishing a story or a book and feeling satisfied, feeling that you’ve done justice to the idea that inspired the tale. I’ve heard it said that no story is ever truly finished, that an author can always go back and tinker with the wording here or the phrasing there, and I can appreciate the sentiment, but the law of diminishing returns kicks in and there comes a point where you know any further tweaking would just be cosmetic. Reader reaction is vital and can be very gratifying, but being content with the story I submit is at least as important, and is about as good as it gets.
Thank you, Ian!
Ian’s own books are available in print and e-book formats. And please do take a look at NewCon Press, which is packed full of good reads. And if you’re quick you might be able to take advantage of a slightly secret special offer on some NewCon books that Ian’s currently running.