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Black Static


In Conversation With Chris Teague of Pendragon

19th Jul, 2009

Author: Peter Tennant

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Chris Teague founded Pendragon Press in 2000, and the company's first release was Nasty Snips, a collection of flash fiction, with contributors that included Simon Clark and Tim Lebbon.

Over the following ten years the company has had a busy if slightly erratic publishing schedule, with between fifteen and twenty books launched onto the market. Writers in the Pendragon back catalogue include Tony Richards, Paul Finch, Lavie Tidhar, Gary McMahon and Rhys Hughes, with the novella form a particular strength. Pendragon and their books have often been in contention for the British Fantasy Awards, and in 2006 Stuart Young's novella The Mask Behind the Face carried the day, a feat that was repeated the following year with Kid by Paul Finch from the Choices collection.

2009 finds Pendragon Press once again short listed for Best Small Press, while We Fade to Grey, edited by Gary McMahon, is up for Best Anthology, and two stories from that book, Heads by Gary McMahon and The Narrows by Simon Bestwick, are competing for Best Novella.

For this interview I posted a call for questions on the Interaction forums. What follows is the result of that:-

ST: Over the lifetime of Pendragon, what have been your biggest mistakes and your best decisions?

CT: Biggest mistakes:

  • 1) Starting an independent publishing company! Once it's in your blood, you can't stop...
  • 2) Printing far too many copies of Nasty Snips and Shenanigans, but then litho-printing was my only option.
  • 3) Being an occasionally disorganised person.

Best decisions:

  • 1) The Reef by Mark Charan Newton, though I do wish I'd printed more - ironic, considering answer 2) above.
  • 2) Taking a year out.
  • 3) Paying for a professional web-design.

PT: What do you find the hardest part of being a publisher?

CT: Time, and lack thereof - I have essentially two full-time jobs, but thankfully no dependants; a family would've killed any notion of running a hobby business stone-dead.

I am, though, in the position now of probably cutting down on my shifts in work... but time will tell.

PT: How do you feel things are looking for the future of the small/independent press? Are you optimistic or concerned?

CT: I do feel optimistic for the economy in general. I am by no means an expert, and I'm trying not to be flippant here, for these are tough times, but this recession is almost done; the economy is now flat-line, and will remain so for another six to twelve months, then there will be a blip and slowly upwards it will rise.

The majority of the independent press is run without thought for profit, merely to cover costs; I still receive orders from the distributors and via Paypal, people still want to read books and seek out new authors, therefore you could argue that an indie-press company is impervious to market-forces.

What does concern me is a negative attitude within the horror genre - in particular - to anyone thinking of starting a magazine/indie and who isn't in the position from the very start to pay close to professional rates for fiction.

I've been around the UK small press since the mid-90s and seen magazines come and go, all of which managed to publish some great stories and authors with little no regard for monetary value - I think Peeping Tom was the biggest payer at the time at just a couple of quid per story!

I dread to think what would've happened, if I decided to publicise a new anthology called Nasty Snips now and stated "free copy only" - back in 1999, I received no end of submissions, and most of the names in the anthology have gone onto much bigger things... even Simon Clark wrote a story, and he was at the time (and still is) a pretty major name.

JS: Is there going to be a second New Writings in the Fantastic or Choices?

CT: Both John Grant and David Hutchinson were collectively editing a series of anthologies, which their previous publisher decided to cancel despite having four volumes worth of stories accepted; John approached me with the first two, which I decided to combine into one and publish under the New Writings title - sadly, sales weren't that great and when I decided to take a hiatus, I contacted David and because of the time-scale, it was decided to return the copyright of the remaining stories back to the authors.

Choices I would like to return to, but I have had an idea for an invite-only anthology for some time now, based on a Great Character, but I feel I'd need a bigger publisher to make it worthy of the name, especially considering the authors who have expressed an interest...

It's been seven years since Tourniquet Heart, and ten since Nasty Snips, so there is that itch in doing a new free-for-all anthology, but the economics would have to be figured into the equation, which leads me back to the previous answer about a perceived negativity towards new markets that do not pay or pay very little for stories: if I did a free-for-all Nastier Snips, then there would be very little payment... and I'd be crucified by many for ripping off the authors!

JS: The Triquorum volumes are pretty unusual and feel almost like a cross between a novel and an anthology. Have they sold fairly consistently or have the sales been noticeably influenced by the names inside?

CT: Triquorum was/is an experiment: I love novellas and novelettes, but my head wasn't screwed on right which is why I have a back-log of stories and an outlet which I'm still trying to figure out how to progress with: I've had the third volume in production for ages now, and it will see the light...

The current idea is to produce each submission as a stand-alone chapbook and publish three a year, but I do tend to run before I think...

PT: As a subsidiary to that, what role does name recognition play in your publishing decisions? Would you accept work by a well known and commercially viable writer in preference to something aesthetically superior but by an unknown?

CT: The day I pick a shit book by a shit-hot writer is the day I quit: each editorial decision I've made has been because I love the story first and foremost - the author's name is secondary.

The only time I look at name-recognition is when I consider introductions and blurbs.

Of course, there are a number of writers whom I will push to the front to read, but again editorial decisions are made solely on the story.

JS: What prompted you to take a year out from publishing, and were you worried that you would lose momentum?

CT: Time, and reclaim some laziness back into life; to not think three or four months ahead!

The lack of momentum wasn't an issue - after I published Shenanigans in 2000, I didn't publish another book until 2003; the break then was a great move, and I do believe 2010 will be the start of something good too.

ST: If you win Best Small Press, what will you do with the prize money?

CT: I could also say that I'd put some of it behind the bar, but that could be mis-construed as electioneering and buying of votes - so instead I'll say that it would be re-invested and possibly used to kick-start a new anthology...

ST: You decided to make a PDF of We Fade to Grey available to BFS members during the voting period. Does it surprise you that more people don't take that approach?

CT: To be honest, I'm not entirely sure whether it helps or not, but I - like everyone else -love freebies: it cost not one penny to produce, so as a marketing exercise if it helps the anthology gain one vote or one purchase then it succeeded.

PT: As a subsidiary to that, do you have any idea what sort of take-up there has been of the free PDF, and do you think electronic giveaways help to drive sales of the actual physical books?

CT: I have no hit-counter on the site, and have no control over who downloads the files. I have an open-mind when it comes to e-books, but I don't actually read any myself - I'm a traditionalist and will continue to read dead-trees.

Last year, I printed a free chapbook of Paul and Brian Finch's story 'Gingerbread' and made it available to download; I shall be doing the same in September with Allyson Bird's novelette. Such chapbooks are rather inexpensive to produce, and slightly more professional than a simple catalogue and order-form; something more tangible.

ST: How did it feel to collect Peter Tennant's British Fantasy Award for Best Non-Fiction on his behalf last year?

CT: Honoured, and probably the closest I'll get to the podium.

Questions posed by Stephen Theaker, Peter Tennant and Jim Steel.


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