Anne Sowards is a senior editor at Penguin Group (USA) Inc. She has worked on Ace science fiction & fantasy since 1996, and on Roc science fiction & fantasy since December 2003. She edits a number of great authors, including (but not limited to) Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Anne Bishop, and Karen Chance. When she’s not reading, she listens to Chinese rap and spends way too much time playing video games.
Q: Anne, can you share with us the vision of the ACE imprint? What are the types of books that are being published under that imprint? Maybe you could explain the difference between Ace and Roc and whether the imprints signify a certain type of book?
A: At Penguin, we have two science fiction & fantasy imprints, Ace and Roc. To explain the difference, such as it is, I’m going to need to go into some boring publishing history, so bear with me! Around nine years ago, the publisher Putnam Berkley was acquired by Penguin’s parent company and the two publishers were merged. Ace was Berkley’s SF/F imprint, while Roc was the SF/F imprint of Penguin’s NAL / Signet line. Until 2003, Ace and Roc were separate editorially and the difference between the two was a matter of editorial taste. But towards the end of 2003, the editor who ran Roc left to pursue her own writing, and the editor in chief of Ace was put in charge of both lines. Subsequently, the science fiction and fantasy editors, whether they are a part of Berkley or NAL / Signet, work on both Ace and Roc titles.
Since Ace and Roc are no longer separate editorially, there’s no real difference between them anymore other than that Roc publishes fewer titles each month , keeping in mind that Roc authors from the time before the merger remain Roc authors, and the same for Ace authors . As we acquire new titles we decide which imprint they should be published in based on our schedule, with the goal towards having a balanced list.
At Ace and Roc, we publish science fiction and fantasy for the adult market (along with the occasional Young Adult crossover), but within those categories we publish urban fantasy to military science fiction and everything in between.
Personally, I am a very commercial reader and I look for a can’t-put-it-down story and and terrific characters. (In fact, one of my coworkers jokingly calls me a reverse snob, because if a book won a literary award that makes me *less* interested in reading it–I would choose a thrilling story over pretty writing any day. Of course, having both gorgeous writing and a great story is the best, but those two things are not always found in the same novel.)
Q: What books are selling best for ACE (i.e., high fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction, futuristic) and are you looking for books like that or is there a sub-genre you think that readers are hungry for that the market is not yet meeting to its fullest?
A: Ace and Roc’s bestselling subgenre is urban fantasy, and we are very proud of our list in this category. We publish some of the best authors writing urban fantasy today, including bestselling authors Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Simon R. Green, Karen Chance, Rachel Caine, and Kat Richardson, along with up and coming authors such as Jeanne Stein, Ilona Andrews, Mark Del Franco, Phaedra Weldon, Kelly McCullough, Faith Hunter, Chris Marie Green, and Rob Thurman.
Right now, readers seem to have a voracious appetite for all sorts of urban and contemporary fantasy. We are lucky in that we have so many strong authors in this area, so while we are continuing to acquire more urban and contemporary fantasy, we look for the very best new authors to add to our list.
We are also very strong in science fiction, and we’re proud to publish “hard sf” authors such as Jack McDevitt, Alastair Reynolds, Joe Haldeman, John Varley, Charles Stross, and Allen Steele. We also have some great post-apocalyptic science fiction authors, like S. M. Stirling and debut author Jeff Carlson. I personally find books that explore how we survive and build a society after a major disaster absolutely fascinating. In S.M. Stirling’s case, the disaster is that technology simply stops working; in Jeff Carlson’s, a nanotech plague kills off everybody living below 10,000 feet. We have also been seeing success with military science fiction, such as the novels of William C. Dietz, Mike Shepherd’s Kris Longknife: Audacious series, and Jack Campbell’s Fearless series.
While I think there will always be a market for traditional fantasy, it is tougher right now (except for established authors), so we are buying that selectively.
Q: Is there one piece of advice that you would give to authors?
Write the book you love, because if you’re just putting vampires in because you think it’ll sell, it’ll show (and not in a good way).
Q: What type of packaging are you using for your books? I.e., covers that are selling (I see a lot of torsoes of women v. torsoes of men)? What type of reader are you marketing to?
This is a hard question, because our covers vary wildly depending on the subgenre of the book! We usually like to have a human figure of some sort. In urban fantasy, the female oriented type (Patricia Briggs, for example) usually focuses on a strong woman, and she often has tattoos–for whatever reason, tattoos seem to signal to readers that this is an urban fantasy. The male oriented type (Jim Butcher, for example) typically has a male figure in a cityscape. We don’t usually use only a torso of a man or a woman, because that is more likely to indicate “romance” to readers. Not to say that our books don’t have romantic elements–many of them do–it’s just that the romance is not the main focus of the story and we wouldn’t want to mislead anyone.
Q: Has the cross over readership always been substantial or has it grown in the past few years? If the latter, to what do you attribute that growth? Has that changed the types of the books you are acquiring or the marketing for those books?
Yes, I think crossover readership has grown over the past few years, primarily in the urban fantasy category. I think a big factor is shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” helping to create a market for these types of “our world, but with vampires / witches / werewolves / magic” books. Also, romance and mystery readers seem to be open to trying something a little different, that doesn’t strictly fall within the conventions of those books, and that is feeding the growth of crossover books as well. And our most successful urban fantasy novels generally combine elements of romance, fantasy, and mystery. We do try to send our books with romantic elements to romance reviewers, to reach out to that audience.
Q: What does the fall/winter lineup have to offer readers?
We publish so many great books, it’s hard to choose–I’m going to focus on books that have more of a crossover audience, as I think that’s what the “Dear Author” readers are most interested in.
- In September, we have the terrific anthology Many Bloody Returns, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner. It features stories about vampire birthdays from Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Kelley Armstrong, and many other fantastic writers.
- In October, for something a little crazy and just plain fun, try Cybermancy by Kelly McCullough–it’s set in a contemporary world where magic has gone digital and people use computers to cast spells. The hero is descended from one of the three Fates (of Greek mythology) and is a computer hacker extraordinaire, and a talented sorcerer to boot.
Edited to add: The aforementioned plot is actually the plot for CODESPELL, Kelly’s July 08 book. In CYBERMANCY, Ravirn has to sneak into Hades in order to rescue his girlfriend’s webgoblin (a laptop that can change into a familiar and back again), which is not only a good friend but also holds all of his girlfriend’s notes for her thesis. Much wackiness still ensues.
- In November, we have the launch of a brand new urban fantasy series with Dog Days by John Levitt, about a jazz musician (and reluctant sorcerer) and his magical dog, Louie. Also, Reader and Raelynx from Sharon Shinn is a gorgeous traditional fantasy with romantic elements, part of her ” Twelve Houses” series. Plus, if you’d like to try several different authors, we have a romantic fantasy anthology called Elemental Magic, with novellas from fantasy authors Sharon Shinn and Carol Berg, and romance authors Rebecca York and Jean Johnson.
- In December, try The Watcher by Jeanne Stein–it’s about bounty hunter turned vampire Anna Strong.
Q: What should we be on the look out for in the future?
- Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs arrives on January 2, and it’s fantastic–part of her “Mercy Thompson” series, about a female car mechanic who can change into a coyote. For those of you following the series, you won’t want to miss this one–Mercy will make a choice between werewolves Sam and Adam. I’ve had the opportunity to read this and found the choice to be a perfect solution to the triangle and I hate triangles! It’s a must read for anyone in the series, but even beyond the Mercy/Sam/Adam triangle, I thought the book had a lot of emotional poignancy.
- And in February, look for Midnight Reign by Chris Marie Green, second in her trilogy about Hollywood vampires.