By Taryn Ozorio

Darren Nash was born in Melbourne and, following a misspent youth, worked at one of the first Dymocks bookshops to open in Melbourne. This was followed by Longman Cheshire publishers and Random House Australia.In 1998, he and his wife moved to the UK where he joined Simon & Schuster, first looking after the audio list, then working in marketing, and finally moving to editorial. He eventually succeeded John Jarrold on the Earthlight list. When Earthlight was closed, he left the company and moved to Little, Brown (then Time Warner), working as Senior Editor for Orbit, the UK’s most successful SFF imprint, and Atom, its YA sister imprint. In 2006, following Publishing Director Tim Holman’s move to New York to establish Orbit US, he became Editorial Director of Orbit UK and Atom.

Darren lives in Kent with his wife, two daughters, and an ever-dwindling supply of Belgian beer.

Q> What does the launch of Orbit Australia mean for Australian authors?

Well, it depends on the authors. For Orbit’s existing Australian authors – excluding those with Australian contracts with other publishers, naturally – it means they will have a dedicated sales, marketing and publicity apparatus looking after them, as opposed to having their books distributed by a third party. Third party distributors do their best – and we’ve been lucky enough to have a relationship with Penguin Books, who are absolutely brilliant – but the fact is that when you’re published down the list, as SF&F titles usually are, a publisher will always pay more attention to its own books than to distributed books. I anticipate a lot more care and attention being paid to our Australian authors.

For other Australian authors it means another publishing avenue, which is never a bad thing! Having a local publishing arm also makes us a serious presence in the Australian market. The existing Australian publishers who promote genre fiction have done a terrific job – particularly Voyager – but I think a bit of healthy competition is always good.

Q> What do you look for in a manuscript? Any tips for prospective authors?

If I were to say ‘great stories, peopled by believable characters, exceptionally told’ would you think me too demanding?

The first thing I look for is what any reader looks for – a story that gets me in and keeps me turning the pages. After that, I look for originality, by which I don’t necessarily mean reinventing the genre, but taking what are often (let’s face it) pretty tired old tropes and giving them a nice fresh spin. I also look for someone who can write – and I’m making no distinction here between literary and commercial styles; just writers who understand what they’re trying to do, and do it well. There have been books I’ve acquired that kept me reading with gut-level, page-turning narrative, and books I’ve acquired that kept me reading through elegant, intelligent narrative – but the trick is to keep me reading!

Tips for prospective authors? The first would be – and I’m sorry if this sounds rude – ‘please don’t waste an editor’s time’. Now before I get booed off the interweb, I should explain: the publishing industry has changed out of sight in the last decade or so. An editor’s day is now more likely to include updating bibliographic data, polishing cover copy, attending marketing meetings, liaising with bookshop head offices and analysing sales figures than it is actually reading and editing manuscripts. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that if editors (and these days we’re much more ‘publishers’ than ‘editors’) are doing all of these things 9 to 5, then they must be doing the lion’s share of their reading and editing in their own time. We are. And, by and large, we don’t begrudge it, but it means that a prospective manuscript gets assessed quickly and demandingly. I haven’t got time to read entire manuscripts waiting for the entertaining bits – and that’s my job! Why imagine that paying customers are going to be more patient? Hook your reader as early as possible and give him/her a good payoff at the end. If you want a great example, read William Diehl’s Primal Fear – from first line to last, it’s a masterpiece.

Most writers’ handbooks have an array of valuable tips and there’s no point repeating them here. Except for one: do your homework. Read the writers’ handbooks that are available, trawl the web for published authors’ advice (Ian Irvine has a terrific couple of articles on his website) – treat your submission like a job interview; you wouldn’t dream of sending a sloppy CV, so don’t send a sloppy submission.

Q> Do you get many Australian submissions?

Yes, indeed. We currently have nine Australian authors on the list – as well as New Zealander, Russell Kirkpatrick – and I’m sure that anyone in Australia looking to be published in the UK will be aware or and encouraged by that.

Q> Do you think there is much difference between submitting to Australian and UK Publishers? If so, what are the key differences?

I don’t think so. I can’t speak for anyone else, but certainly Orbit treats submissions the same way no matter where they’re coming from. Unavailability of ANZ rights is always taken into account but we’ve had some great successes with UK-only rights over the last few years.

Q> Do you look for writing that is international? Or do you prefer writing that is obviously Australian eg a wombat on every page?

I look for writing that is good! I’m not sure what ‘international’ actually means in SF&F terms. I think every writer has an underpinning set of assumptions and defaults that spring from his/her upbringing, but good writers always use them effectively. A couple of close-to-home examples:

  • Marianne de Pierres’ Parrish Plessis books fulfil my golden rule in that they’re great page-turners, peopled by well-drawn characters and told with a real energy and pace. There’s definitely an Australian slant to them (as well as a future Australian setting), but when, for example, she writes about a post-apocalyptic gang known as the Dingo Boys you absolutely buy into that as being a logical part of the book, not just a bit of Aussie stage dressing.
  • Sean Williams’ forthcoming space opera from Orbit, Saturn Returns, has an area of space called the Cat’s Arse! As far as I’m concerned, that is classic Aussie – but I can’t believe it won’t travel to all of the markets we publish in.

I suppose my attitude is: I don’t mind a wombat on every page – but you’d better have a damned good reason for it if you want me to take your book seriously.

Q> As an Australian expatriate, do you have a soft spot for Aussie authors? Do you think they’re giving the Brits and the Americans a run for their money?

Absolutely. It’s wonderful to see so many Australians making their mark in the SF&F world. When I first started to become aware of the nationality of writers, it seems Australian SF was pretty much George Turner and Damien Broderick and that was your lot. Now, there are literally dozens of internationally known Australian genre writers. Long may it continue.

Q> Do you agree with Tim Holman’s statement that: ‘Many of the challenges facing SF and Fantasy publishers are the same in the UK, USA and Australia’? What do you think the biggest challenge is for authors and what’s the best thing that authors can do to overcome this?

I do agree – and not just because he’s my boss! I think there are two great challenges that are the same throughout the major English-speaking markets: mainstream respect and trade support.

Now, I’d better clarify the second point first! When I say ‘trade support’ I don’t mean that the major bookselling chains don’t support our books – they do, and in some cases very well. What I mean is that there is no real mechanism to ‘make’ an SF&F bestseller. If a publisher goes to the trade with a major new thriller writer, you can almost hear the gears start to turn and the machinery going into action. Massive order quantities, hefty promotional payments, front-of-store placement, bespoke signage – all that sort of thing. Now, go to the trade with an exciting new SF&F title and just feel the inertia! Front-of-store? Out of the question; people who buy ‘that sort of thing’ go to the section, they don’t shop front of store. Massive order quantities and hefty promotional payments? Well, you can pay if you like, but you’re not getting more than a couple of thousand copies. And so on. . . Publishers need to find a way around this if we are to punch our weight in the bookshops.

As for mainstream respect: how long have you got? I’m on record as regards my scorn for literary snobbery – which I’m afraid continues to be an issue – but as much as anything it’s the widespread assumption that SF&F is a juvenile literary form that holds us back. And we have to accept a good portion of the blame for this ourselves: much of our covers, for example, are awful – barely post-pubescent fantasy stuff. I don’t mean that as a slight on the talents of the many fine artists working in the field. I’m a lifelong comics fan, and a great lover of fantasy and SF art – just not on book covers. If sales of SF&F books are to grow – and we all want them to – then we have to start appealing to a readership beyond the core audience. And that readership doesn’t want to be seen on the train to work reading a book with a mightily-thewed barbarian on the cover. So that’s the other great challenge, in my view: to maintain the core values and spirit of SF&F – the sense of wonder that makes it the most exiting genre in world literature – while publishing for the entire market of book readers.

The biggest challenge for authors? I have a lot of sympathy with Cory Doctorow’s view that it’s obscurity. At every level, an author’s primary job – apart from writing! – is to get him/herself known. It begins with becoming known to an agent and runs right through to becoming known to the reading public, and it’s the greatest challenge – nobody buys books they’re unaware of.

Q> How did you move from marketing to editorial?

A guy came round with a big trolley, packed my desk up and wheeled it round to the other side of the building. No? Oh, alright. I’d been doing all of the marketing for Earthlight, the now-defunct Simon & Schuster imprint, and when John Jarrold (the editorial director) left, they offered me his job. I knew the books better than anyone, I knew most of the authors, and I’d been working closely with John; I guess they figured it was easier for me to learn to edit than for anyone else to learn about the list. Of course, subsequent events mean that there could have been an entirely more pragmatic rationale, but that’s all ancient history, now.

Q> The latest trend in publishing seems to be blogs, whether they’re by authors or by readers. What’s your take on the blogosphere?

I think they’re great (for the most part!). We (publishers) all lust after that elusive sales booster ‘word of mouth’, and that’s essentially what blogs are – except there’s no geographical boundaries to the conversation any longer, and you can link directly to Amazon! Still, as with anything, it depends on the individual blog. At their best, they’re witty, informative, thought-provoking and engender a real sense of community. At their worst, they’re narcissistic rants of no real value to anyone but the blogger’s ego. I’m pleased to say that I think our blogs – the SF&F community’s – contain vastly more of the former than the latter.

Q> What authors are tickling your fancy at the moment?

Always a tricky question for an editor! The risk of insulting one of your own authors by failing to mention him/her is great! My usual way round this – and the tactic I’m going to employ here – is to refuse to mention any author Orbit publishes.

So. . . I’m enjoying the American comedian Al Franken – his Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them is an astounding commentary on all that is rotten in the current US administration (needless to say, he’s had to write more than one book on that subject! But Lies. . . is the one I’ve most recently read); since my time at S&S I’ve made space in my schedule each year to read the new John Sandford when it comes out; I enjoy Cory Doctorow’s books very much; Ian McDonald’s last couple of books have been terrific; on the comics front, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker and Joss Whedon are doing wonderful things at Marvel. Too many fine authors to mention! And me without sufficient time to read them all…

The Australian Writer’s Marketplace is Australia and New Zealand’s only guide to the writing industry. While providing submission and contact details for the print media and publishing industry.

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