Q&A: Liz Gorinsky, Erewhon Books | SF/Fantasy Preview 2019

Liz Gorinsky founded the boutique sf and fantasy publisher Erewhon Books in late June 2018. In spring 2020, the company will launch its first titles. Here, she talks with LJ about starting a small sf/fantasy press and honing the voice of speculative fiction in the literary crossover space. 

Liz Gorinsky is president and publisher, as well as an editor, at Erewhon, a boutique sf and fantasy publisher with a literary bent, founded in late June 2018 and debuting its first titles in spring 2020. Gorinsky previously served as an editor at Tor Books.

Why did you start this press? What gave you the opportunity?
I have a pretty particular voice in speculative fiction that I’ve been honing for a while, in the literary crossover space. You find things that are very high quality, super interesting, super different from other sf and fantasy books out there. We don’t talk too much about the funding situation, but we have committed and experienced funders in the publishing space.

How many staffers do you have, and how many titles?
We have four people full-time, two of them editors, including me. We are doing three books in the first season. We’re still building our fall list. We aim to eventually go up to about a dozen a year, and hopefully stay there for a while. Workman is doing our distribution for both ebooks and print.

How do you define the parameters of literary crossovers?
In an ideal world, everything would be labels, and we would put both labels on everything. There are a lot of cases in which these would appeal to both readerships. But that’s not always necessarily true. Everything is somewhere along the continuum, and if it nudges slightly more toward one side or the other, then we would probably put it in that space, because we want to give the book the maximum possible opportunity.

We’ve got one book by S.A. Jones that is slightly more on the literary side and is published as literary fiction in Australia. We have a debut trilogy by Hannah Abigail Clarke that is definitely going to go in the YA space, though we also think [it’s] adult crossover, and Benjamin Rosenbaum’s first novel that is going to go into the science fiction space. We look at each book on a case-by-case basis.

You went from a very big house to a very small startup. What surprised you?
I worked in publishing for a long time, and I thought I knew a lot of things. I thought I had an idea of how production works, [but] there are so many more parts to it than I would’ve figured. In the past, we had an art department. We had a full legal department. Now, we have a lawyer, but I’m doing most of the contract negotiations. Even with Workman handling the distribution, there are an awful lot of systems that we’re building from the ground up.

Does it influence how you edit, knowing those parts of the business?
No. I’m just editing less because of it. It will be interesting going forward, because the first books that we acquired were acquired off of gut instinct. After a while, you’re like, "I think this will sell at least as many copies that we can justify paying this advance." But I want us to be a place where we can [publish] smaller or weirder books than other places.

How are you building relationships with libraries?
Workman’s library marketing team seems great. They’re really committed and engaged, and they have a lot of cool ideas. They’re guiding us forward, but we’re probably also going to build a bunch of those relationships directly with attendance at the library conferences, which they are encouraging us to send authors to go, to advertise, to engage, and so on.

We have some things that are going to be very cool, like book club contenders and so on. We want to make sure that the author is comfortable with doing that. If they are, we would be very happy to set people up with interested groups. Our website has a contact page, and so anything that comes in, we’ll sort it into the right bucket and make sure it’s seen by the right person.

What are you not getting enough submissions of, what do you want to see more of? Anything you’re seeing too much of?
There’s always a shortage of really good, really smart, big-idea science fiction. I feel I’m seeing a good amount of representation of underrepresented authors, ideas, settings, and so on, which is another thing that I was looking for for a while. I’ve got a lot of that in my pile right now.

I don’t think there’s any particular category that seems to be overwhelming. There’s a lot of secondary world fantasy.

You said you were getting a good amount of representation in terms of authors, characters, and voices. How have you managed that in terms of editors?
There are two of us. Our second editor is Sara Guan from Orbit. We’re both committed to it, but she is obviously more able to do that from personal experience. She found Fonda Lee and Tade Thompson.

What would you want librarians to know that they may not already, about literary science fiction, small presses, or startups?
I always just kind of assume that librarians know more than me about everything.

Be a little patient with us as we build into something that seems like a coherent brand. For a while it is going to seem like we’re doing a bunch of books that are wildly different from each other. But I hope that an aesthetic will emerge that people will be fond of.

For a librarian trying to advise that people who read literary fiction take a step into sf, how would you suggest they go about that?
I always use the "you’re already there" argument. A decade ago we’d have these conversations and I would have to say, "Did you read Frankenstein, did you read 1984?" These days I’m like, "Did you watch Russian Doll, did you watch Game of Thrones? Are you consuming any media today, because if so you are a sf and fantasy fan."

Sometimes people have misconceptions of bad, pulpy sf or fantasy that they read in their youth. Remind them that there are some very beautiful and well-crafted books out there. It’s as good as the literary fiction that they’re already reading, but probably more interesting and with a broader subject matter.—Meredith Schwartz

For LJ's complete SF/Fantasy preview, see "Everything Old Is New Again".

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