Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Editors: Pete Crowther

PostScripts magazine is now a well-established cross-genre magazine publishing a high calibre of authors. I tracked down editor Pete Crowther on the centre court at Wimbledon and we batted some questions back and forth. Well, we actually sent emails back and forth. Not at Wimbledon.

GDJ: More than any of the UK's other genre magazines, you publish a wide variety of stories, not necessarily of an overtly speculative nature. What is it you look for in a story?

PC: Oh, that's almost too easy: quality and style. Both Nick Gevers and I know exactly what we're after: storytellers working at the top of their game. Doesn't matter whether it's SF or Fantasy or Horror . . . good work will out. The way I always figured it, we read across genres: I do and all the people I know do. That's why magazines such as the much-loved old Saturday Evening Post scored so well -- they mixed genres. Mags such as Playboy did the same. In either of those you'd have the likes of Ed McBain and Hemingway and Bradbury rubbing shoulders . . . westerns alongside police procedurals alongside colonisation-of-Mars stories, together with maybe a Dobie Gillis college tale from Max Shulman and possibly even a war story . . . and articles from Art Buchwald and Woody Allen. How wonderful. We're not quite so eclectic yet with Postscripts but we're keen to broaden our readers' outlooks. So far it seems to be working.

But actually within the story itself, we watch for good description, believable characterisation and dialogue, and tight plotting . . . a sense of wonder and awe, of mystery and imagination, and the all-important frisson of unease. Is that too much to ask for? Well is it?

GDJ: What was the inspiration for producing the hardcover collectors' editions of Postscripts?

PC: Don't forget, we're a collectibles house, a specialist publisher. Our customers like that little extra something. I love getting my books and mags signed by contributors but it's a drag carting bags of them around to various conventions looking for those elusive signatures. It's good to get them all done for you. Believe me, it can be a nightmare . . . and there are times I wish we had never started it. But they are so popular that we simply could not consider dropping it now.

GDJ: You also run PS Publishing, which now publishes quite a number of books per year. Does that give Postscripts a stability that other independent magazines might not have?

PC: Postscripts 'stable'?! My word! But yes, I guess it probably is . . . though, of course, everything is relative. Being a part of a much bigger picture -- ie being part of PS rather than being just a magazine and nothing more -- probably does imbue Postscripts with a greater sense (or appearance) of stability and security . . . makes it slightly less exposed and less isolated in a way. And, naturally, we take every opportunity to promote the mag in our books and, similarly, to promote our books in the mag. In that regard, Postscripts is an essential -- indeed, the primary -- element in our advertising strategy.

But, to be fair, the mag's success is purely down to Postscripts itself . . . and, more specifically, to Editor Nick Gevers. Nevertheless, when that wonderful first issue appeared in 2004, Postscripts had some five or six years' worth of publishing triumphs on which to draw its strength. Then we started to worry about issue # 2 . . . and then double figures with # 10, then # 13 (unlucky for some) and now the 180,000-word monster that is # 15. After that I suppose it'll be # 20 to worry about . . . but heck, as any parent will readily confirm, you always worry about your kids!

GDJ: Postscripts seems to be well regarded and attracts an impressive array of authors. What's the secret to developing a magazine to this status?

PC: There isn't a secret . . . but, hey, if there were one then I wouldn't tell you now would I? It all comes down to this: we -- that's Nick and me -- publish what we like. When we come across a writer whose work we enjoy -- whether that writer is a household name or a brand new discovery -- then we'll get in touch and ask them to try us with something. If we like what they send us then we'll buy it. We reach a decision quickly -- usually within a matter of days -- and we pay immediately, even if the story isn't scheduled for a couple of years. So maybe that's the secret: treat people professionally and pay promptly.

GDJ: Do you think you could eventually compete with the big-selling professional mags, or would you even want to?

PC: I didn't and still don't set out to compete with anyone, either as a publisher or as a magazine. I set out to publish exactly what I wanted to publish. Let's not forget that we're small fry next to the likes of F&SF, Asimov's and Analog but yes, we'd like to build our reputation so that some of the readers of those fine titles decided to try our wares. But I don't want any success for us to result in a reduction in take-up for them -- we need more mags not fewer, and there's room for all of us. We need to get back to the halcyon days of many, many venues for the short-form.

GDJ: Are you likely to increase the frequency of publication, or do you think quarterly is the optimum for this type of magazine?

PC: I think that, at least for the forseeable future, four issues each year is about as much as we can manage. We'll see. I certainly wouldn't rule out going bi-monthly -- my preferred frequency -- but there are no current plans to do so.

GDJ: Which magazines or authors do you enjoy reading?

PC: I love F&SF -- that's the only mag I still never miss (I have them all, from # 1). There are occasional stories in other magazines that press a lot of the buttons but I'm afraid I can't get through as many as I used to manage, so my opinion as to what constitutes the best story in a given year should not carry the weight it perhaps once did.

As for authors, well . . . the same as it's always been: Bradbury, Campbell, King, Robert B. Parker (Spenser) and Richard Ford are five who spring to mind most readily but there are lots more. I also enjoy reading DC's re-issued comicbooks from the 1950s and '60s.

GDJ: What plans do you have for this year for Postscripts or PS Publishing?

PC: More of the same, on both counts. And that goes for next year and all the years thereafter. We all of us get a big charge from putting out the books and issues of the magazine. If that were ever not to be the case then I'd stop in an instant. But the general consensus seems to be that people like what we're doing . . . and heck, we certainly do love doing it!

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