Monday, January 11, 2010

Underland Press

One thing I have not done much of at all is write about particular publishers. Oh, I have my favorites and different reasons for each of them, but I just don’t write about them. And yes, I do believe that who the publisher is does matter. There are certain expectations of quality and sometimes of content that comes with who publishes a particular book. A reputation.

I’m five chapters into Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch. In a couple of text messages I attempted to convey the sense of atmosphere, the rot of Ambergris that seeps into the mind of the reader. I explained the basic concept of the novel, the grey caps, the rot. Then, knowing that she very much enjoyed two previous novels I recommended, I mentioned that this was the fourth novel from the same publisher of Last Days and The Pilo Family Circus.

That’s when I got the response of “ooh”.

The publisher matters.

I’m talking about Underland Press. Underland Press was created by Victoria Blake, a former fiction editor at Dark Horse. From the publisher's "Mission" page:
WE LIKE STORIES that scare us. We like the macabre-monsters and magic and men with nothing to lose. More than anything, we like to be intrigued and entertained.

UNDERLAND PRESS was started to bring the best of the world’s scary and strange stories to life and to light.

CALL IT THE NEW WEIRD, or fantasy, or dark fantasy. Call it what you want. We like reading by flashlight under the covers at night. We want to make books you can’t put down.
Blake published Underland Press’s first four books in 2009 and it was an impressive debut year. 2010 sees Underland taking over the Best American Fantasy series with the third volume. Both Last Days and The Pilo Family Circus were disturbing and twisted and quite good. I haven’t had the chance yet to read Chaos, but given that Blake published it, I have high expectations – though my stomach is wary.

So, I’m reading Finch. The first five chapters are fantastic and that isn’t a surprise. When I do my Year’s Best lists in late December I only go to the Top Nine because I never know what book I missed or didn’t get a chance to read. It’s early yet, but I kind of think it might have been Finch.

Published by Underland Press.

Oh, and here's a great interview Victoria Blake did with Charles Tan last year.


Chad Hull said...

I'm not familiar with Underland though I've heard of Finch.

I agree that publishers can leave their mark. 'Reputation' essentially comes down to genre: Tor, William Morrow, and Putnam all have a reputation for publishing a certain kind of book.

Quality is a bit more subjective. As readers we've been let down but our favorite author, editor or publisher before. We've also been surprised to find quality where it was least expected. On top of that there are always people who disagree with our opinion.

I used to have publisher preferences (I even took it to the agent level at one point, which I found to be 'safer') but I've been led astray one too many times.

The math certainly works more in your favor to never be let down considering how new Underland is. 4-4 is a grand average but lets see if you still them in that regard when they've published 100 books, 200 books... etcetera.

I can't ignore people raving about VanderMeer any longer, I guess I'll put it on the list.

Joe said...

I think publisher preferences work a bit better with smaller presses than large.

Look at Pyr, Night Shade, Tachyon, Subterranean, and Golden Gryphon. They publish a relatively small number of titles and hold their line for quality high (or, along the lines of what I like).

But, that's easier to do compared to Tor, Daw, and Del Rey because they publisher fewer volumes. The smaller presses focus what they publish a bit more where the bigger presses put out a greater variety of different sub-genres.

That said - Tor puts out more stuff that I like than the other large presses.

Re: your last paragraph - Pyr is probably the strongest small press out there. They publish around 30 books a year, the quality is exceptional, and they tend to consistently publish books that I want to read and that I enjoy when I do. Lou Anders is doing an outstanding job there.

Similar things can be said about Jeremy Lassen at Night Shade and Bill Schaefer at SubPress - they've got great editorial eyes and consistently publish outstanding work.

I expect Victoria Blake at Underland to be right up in that company in a couple of years.

Sure there will be the occasional miss, and differences in taste, but as a general rule - I look forward to seeing what those smaller presses put out.

Chad Hull said...

I can't argue any of your points. In fact, as soon as you mentioned, Tachyon, I have to call "BS" on myself and run into hiding.

I have a hard time not purchasing everything they print.

That said, I think you did well to define 'quality' as 'stuff you like.' There's a difference between the two. A lot of what I like might be called drivel by others, but that won't stop me from buying it! Preferences, like quality, are personal.