I didn’t intend to set up my own small press. I had this science fiction novella which I thought was good enough to be published, but every small press I approached had a couple of years’ worth of material scheduled. I didn’t think a magazine would publish the novella because it has an extensive glossary – and the glossary is important to the reading experience. And, to be honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced editors would actually like my novella. I hadn’t written it in a science fiction mode… though it’s set in an alternate 1980s, is about astronauts stranded on the Moon, and makes use of an unexplained Nazi “Wunderwaffe”. But it’s not the sort of science fiction you see each year on the Hugo and Nebula shortlists. Besides, my novella was also the first of a quartet, and I’d sooner have sold all four as a single package… even though I hadn’t written the other three.
And then I agreed to edit Rocket Science, an anthology of hard science fiction, for Mutation Press (which was responsible for the Music for Another World anthology in 2010). The plan was to launch Rocket Science at the Eastercon in London in April 2012. It occurred to me this would be a perfect time to also launch my novella…
But the only way I was going to manage that would be to publish it myself. No existing small press, even if it agreed, would be able to turn it around so fast.
Self-publishing an ebook is one thing, but I wanted to do it properly. That meant making the novella, titled Adrift on the Sea of Rains, available in both paperback and limited edition hardback. Since I was going to all that trouble, I decided I might as well set up an actual small press, and make Adrift on the Sea of Rains its first publication. I especially liked that this gave me complete control over how the novella would appear in print.
However, I am unfortunately poor at art. I could have looked for suitable cover art on the Internet. Or perhaps used a photograph from the Apollo Moon missions. I did, in fact, experiment with some covers using both. But I wanted Adrift on the Sea of Rains to stand out, to not look like just another self-published science fiction novella. One night, I was watching Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert, and in it a character picked up a paperback book. Red Desert was released in 1964, and though the paperback in the film is Italian, it reminded me of the Penguin Modern Classic paperbacks on my bookshelves which used to belong to my father. I wanted something which resembled those books. After some experimentation, that’s what I ended up with: a cover filled with a grid of line-drawings of an Apollo LM, one of which is in grey. The art is actually relevant to the novella’s plot.
I asked a number of published sf authors I knew if they’d provide back-cover quotes. Those that agreed I emailed a PDF of the novella to. By the time I had the front cover finalised, all the quotes, ISBNs from Nielsen, and quotes from the printers, it was the beginning of March. I submitted print-ready files to the printer, and then fretted.
The first set of cover proofs had mistakes on them – made by the printers, not me. The second set were correct. A week before the Eastercon, a courier delivered five boxes of books, three of hardbacks and two of paperbacks. I was pleased to note the book had come out better than I’d expected. It’s not perfect, and if I could I’d make a few changes and release a new edition.
Since its publication, the response to Adrift on the Sea of Rains has been overwhelmingly positive. So far about ten reviews, all positive, have appeared online; and several people have tweeted that they thought it was really good. Of course, this means the pressure is now on to make the second book of the quartet even better…
As for Whippleshield Books… Yes, there are the other three books of the Apollo Quartet yet to see print. But I’m anticipating six to nine months between each one. Since I plan to publish two or three books a year, I’m going to need more material, so Whippleshield Books is open to submissions. But only of a specific type: novellas or very short linked collections, hard science fiction or space fiction, of high literary quality.
It’s likely I will be rejecting lots of submissions. I learnt doing Rocket Science that the definition of hard sf I was operating from wasn’t one shared by many of the people who submitted stories to the anthology. I have a very particular type of story in my head for Whippleshield Books – which, unsurprisingly, Adrift on the Sea of Rains, indeed the entire Apollo Quartet, sort of exemplifies – but I expect to be sent a lot of submissions which are very much not like that. The guidelines for Whippleshield Books can be found on the website.