LitChat Interview: Executive Editor David Pomerico, Harper Voyager

by Tee Tate


David Pomerico joined Harper Voyager in Spring 2014 as Editorial Director, coming from Spectra, Del Rey, and, most recently, 47North, where he helped launch the imprint. He is focused on all things science fiction and fantasy and very excited to be heading up Harper Voyager US! He’s currently working with authors such as Richard Kadrey, Michael R. Fletcher, and Warren Hammond.

LS: What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in terms of publishing business models and practices during your career?

Obviously the self-publishing—building off of the growth of eBooks—has been the biggest change. I remember starting as an intern at Random House, and getting to do a “meet the CEO” breakfast with Peter Olson, who showed us all something amazing: this weird plastic rectangle called a “Kindle.” He had the New York Times on it, but not much else—and still, I was pretty fascinated. Five years later, I was helping get a science fiction imprint off the ground at Amazon, and it seemed like the sky was the limit with eBooks. And now, five years after that, we’ve seen a slight slowing of growth for that format, but it’s also so ubiquitous that it doesn’t surprise people when I tell them I read most things on my phone.

LS: Genre fiction is so diverse with many facets that do not necessarily mimic one another. What, in your opinion, makes great genre fiction and where do you see it heading?

The best thing about genre fiction is that it’s almost always storytelling at its purest: it’s the hero’s journey, it’s the “once upon a time” and “happily ever after.” Because I happen to work on speculative projects in particular, what’s so fun is that we get to take those classic story elements and place them in fantastical places. So readers get something they’re at once familiar with while also getting to let their imagination run a lot wilder.

LS: As someone whose career is focused on great fiction, are you ever able to read for pleasure without critiquing?

I do get to read for pleasure, and I find I can still do so (mostly) without digging too deep into the nitty-gritty of how the book is written and structured. For me, my critique is always going to be “Am I enjoying this, or is this not something I want to take my free time pursuing?” Which, the more I think about it, isn’t that different from how I evaluate a submission. Probably the biggest difference is that with something that’s published, I tend to keep my critiques to myself!

LS: Business models are changing with the popularity of independent publishing and the ease of distribution. Do you think this is something that will significantly change the future of publishing?

I think it already has…and yet hasn’t, either. Yes, independent publishing provides some amazing options for authors, and places like Kindle and Nook and the iBookstore are giving writers access to distribution channels that used to be the exclusive domain of publishers. Ultimately, I think this is a good thing. But it also means that instead of the “Big 5” and a bunch of small presses, there’s the Big 5 (or six, if you include Amazon), a bunch of small presses…and then millions of tiny presses. Because that’s what an independent author is—a publishing company. Right now, I think we’re actually still in the early stages of that, with a few strong entrepreneurs building up an infrastructure that can support all those individual publishers (things like freelance editors, cover designers, marketing firms, etc). But is there enough? And are we already seeing a bit of contraction as readers either catch up with all the inexpensive eBooks they’ve filled their readers with—the bubble not quite bursting, but maybe coming back to a more reasonable size? The fact is, I’m thinking this is of course going to significantly change the future of publishing, and yet probably not in the way we can envision at this moment.

LS: What in your childhood informed your love of books? Did that love influence your decision to get into publishing?

My parents, totally. To be even clearer, my parents telling me and my brothers that we could stay up later if we were in bed reading. At first, I think I just read because I wanted that extra hour. But you get that first taste, and then…

Obviously that’s influenced me in my publishing career, mostly in that what I read growing up was what we had on our shelves: a lot of science fiction and fantasy. But I’ll note that publishing wasn’t what I thought I’d be doing when I graduated college (I went to grad school to become a teacher). And yet, maybe my childhood did, in a way, lead me here, because I remember distinctly moving back home in my mid-twenties, living in my old childhood room, and thinking “I have to get out of here!” Haha

LS: What advice do you have for emerging editors or writers who would love to join the HarperVoyager family?

For editors, look for internship opportunities. All the major publishers have them—check out their “careers” tabs on their websites—but so do a lot of literary agencies, scouting agencies, and small presses. Get any experience you can. But also, you probably think you want to be an editor, but don’t limit yourself. Try Marketing. Try Publicity. You might find yourself surprised when you realize you still get to read and work on books, but doing something that might connect more fully with your strengths and personality.

For writers: write a great book, get an agent, have them pitch it to us. Easy as that!

And for both, read. Read a lot. Read in the genre you want to work in, and keep up with what’s happening in that genre. Read outside the genre. Everyone talking about a book? Ask yourself why? Maybe you think the writing is bad, or the story weak, but if a bunch of people are buying it and talking about it, what does it have that makes people want to do that? (And if you figure out the reason, start your own publishing company, and put out books using that secret, because we’re still trying to figure it out ourselves!)

LS: What do you look for in a book as a reader that makes you take a second glance? Is this the same for all the genres you publish?

I wish there was one thing (see my parenthetical joke from the answer above). The fact is, a lot of what sucks me in is based on having read so much in my genre (and the various sub-genres), thinking about how readers have reacted to other books like it (or if there aren’t any other books like it), and essentially balancing my knowledge of story and writing with the years of experience trying to figure out the market. That said, if I’m reading something, and I look down and realize I’m on page 50, or 10% in on my phone, and that surprises me that I’ve gotten that far, that usually makes me sit up and notice. I wish I could offer that piece of magic that sucks me in, but I don’t quite know how to distill it…and what works for me probably isn’t the same as any other editor.

LS: What upcoming project are you most excited about?

It is tough, because I really am excited about all the books on the Voyager list. But there are a few debuts for us this year and next that I’m really proud of, because these are new voices to the science fiction and fantasy world that I feel are special. On the SF side, we have a rather prescient dystopian novel by Christopher Brown called TROPIC OF KANSAS, with a slightly more hopeful look at the future of China in Maggie Shen King’s AN EXCESS MALE. Set on a generation ship whose mission it is to discover a mysterious astrological object, NOUMENON is a novel-in-stories by Marina J. Lostetter. And then we have an SF/Fantasy mashup set in South Africa by Nicky Drayden, THE PREY OF GODS, that has been getting lots of great buzz. On the fantasy side, we’re really excited about THE CITY OF BRASS by S.A. Chakraborty, the first book in an epic tale set in the Middle East focused on a young thief and war amongst the djinn, and a novel coming out next summer, THE POPPY WAR by R.F. Kuang, set in a secondary world that weaves in the history of China with powerful magic.

LS: What are you not seeing enough of in terms of genres and what would you love to see in your Inbox?

Whenever I’m talking to agents, the thing I’ve been saying is we’re trying to diversify our list, not only in terms of the stories and genres we’re doing, but the voices we’re augmenting. So diversity is something I’m hoping to see more of: more Black voices, more Latino voices, more East- and South-Asian voices. More stories that are looking to be translated (and enough material to be able to take that chance). More LGBTQ voices. But always: really good, really fun stories!

LS: What are you reading right now?

I’m actually reading two books that aren’t SFF at all: a galley of SEVEN DAYS OF US by Francesca Hornak and WINDFALL by Jennifer E. Smith. And I’m also trying to get through the PREACHER comics (I’m on volume 3, I think).

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