For those of you who don’t know, Steam Press is a local (Wellington, but don’t hold that against them) speculative fiction publisher that is, in the words of yours truly, “the kiwi publishers to watch now“.
They’ve already published some truly fantastic titles including The Factory World, Mansfield with Monsters and The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse. I’m not alone in my praise with Steam Press winning several prizes at this year’s Sir Julius Vogel Awards.
I thought it was about time to find out from Steam Press publisher Stephen Minchin a little bit more about how we came to be graced with such treasures from the windy city…
So, Steam Press. How did it happen? How did it come about?
In 2011 I was studying publishing at Whitireia – their diploma in publishing is the only publishing course in New Zealand, and it’s the main way of breaking into the industry – and we had lots of people from the major publishers coming in to talk to us about publishing here and internationally. It really struck me that while a number of those publishers import science fiction and fantasy from their international divisions, none (if any) publish it locally. This means that New Zealand’s speculative fiction authors all find themselves in the strange situation of sending their work to agents and publishers in New York and London, and when it’s published it’s imported back into New Zealand and much of the time you’d never know that the author was a kiwi.
I figured that there might be a bit of a niche there so while I was still studying I established Steam Press and put up a website. I thought it’d probably be a while before anyone sent me anything, and even longer before I found a novel I was keen to publish. That didn’t end up being the case, and within a few weeks I had three books underway. Which was a little bit terrifying, actually…
How are you finding such amazing new talent?
Honestly, I don’t know. Luck?
I think the thing is that there are a lot of really talented authors here but not many publishers who are interested in books that are outside of the mainstream, while sending your work overseas is really time-consuming, it’s hard work, and it’s a bit of a miserable, demoralising job. Those two factors combine to create a situation that’s really good for someone looking for talent. It probably also helps that I used to write so I know what it’s like to approach publishers and try to get them to look at your work – I do my best to make this easier for authors by being more than a black hole into which you throw your manuscript and hope to hear back at some stage. When people email me they actually get a response.
Particularly when I first started, it was amazing to find authors who had faith in me. They gave me their babies. That’s a big thing!
What’s been the highlight in the life of Steam Press so far?
I’d have to say that the highlight has always been cracking open a box of books fresh from the printer and seeing all that work turned into something tangible. A book is probably a couple of years’ work by the author, plus the months that I’ve put in, the work of a cover designer, and everything else. Seeing all of that brought together and made into something gorgeous is just fantastic. I can’t imagine that ever getting old. And most of the authors I’ve worked with haven’t had a book published before so this is huge for them, a culmination of what they’ve been working on for years, maybe dreaming of since they were kids. Seriously – wow. How cool is that?!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say that having all three of the books we released last year shortlisted for Sir Julius Vogel Awards was pretty amazing, and having two of them go on to win was just spectacular.
Are your titles being stocked widely? (Dear readers – take note and go and buy them!)
Yes! They’re stocked by all New Zealand booksellers, and ebooks are available too. I also sell books directly from the Steam Press website.
What’s the future? Are you feeling optimistic?
It’s definitely tough to make this work, and I’m far from making my fortune – I work full-time on top of this, and it’s all supported by my lovely wife. That said, it’s great fun and, I think, a really good thing to be doing. So yes, I am planning to keep Steam Press going for as long as I can.
Frankly, I have plans to take over the world. There’s a lot of potential in selling the books we produce into foreign markets. Working with agents overseas and having Steam Press books represented at the major international book fairs means that the books we’re publishing in New Zealand have a very real chance of being sold into much larger markets (something that we’ve managed to do already for a couple of titles). It’s a tough nut to crack, but my strategy beyond simply selling locally written sci fi and fantasy in New Zealand is to present these brilliantly written and beautifully produced books to publishers in the UK and US. I want the authors I’m publishing here to be huge internationally.