Welcome Paula Guran, the editor of Juno Books (www.juno-books.com), an imprint of Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. Juno features contemporary fantasy with female protagonists. Guran has contributed reviews, interviews, and articles to numerous professional publications. She's also done some other stuff and won some awards. Here's what she had to say:
Let's start by talking about Juno. How did it get started?
Diamond Comic Distributors expanded into book distribution a few years back and had picked up Prime Books and Wildside Press for national distribution. They were looking for ideas for another trade paperback imprint. Sean Wallace of Prime, John Betancourt of Wildside, and the crew at Diamond-headed by Kuo-Yu Liang-they thought this "paranormal romance" stuff was hot, not that any of them knew much about it. I got involved in early 2006 and things developed into the Juno Books imprint-which wasn't paranormal romance but rather a broader idea: a variety of fantasy with female protagonists. Wildside/Prime had already acquired a few titles that would fit in with that idea. The plans were for at least 12 books-really they wanted even more at first-a year, so I was to acquire a lot very fast and for very little money.
Our first books came out in fall 2006.
Juno was experimental. We made mistakes, but we had the room to learn from them for a while. Sean oversaw the printing and production end of things. Stephen Segal, who'd actually been hired by Wildside to be managing editor of "Weird Tales" magazine, wound up designing our covers. Both of them worked out of the Wildside offices in Maryland. I'm in Akron, Ohio.
How many hats did you wear before the deal with Pocket?
Just about anything Sean and Steve didn't do (although we always had each other to consult and also worked together on things): I acquired, edited, and, yes, typeset the books. We did have an outside copy editor. I did publicity, wrote copy, and built and maintained the Web site. I even designed the Juno logo. We were lucky enough to have Timothy Lantz doing many of the covers for us or using his ready-made art if it fit, so I even acted as art director in some respects. We all did marketing meetings with Diamond and the chain buyers.
What kinds of books did you buy?
Everything from reprints of some fantasy books from the eighties to romantic supernatural suspense to Christian fantasy to erotic fantasy to literary feminist novels...and everything in between.
How did Juno do?
We'd all been wildly overly optimistic in some respects. (I think sometimes you have to be like that or nothing new would ever get launched, you know? "If we knew then what we know now, we'd never have..." etc.) As we moved into 2007, Diamond was moving into mass market paperback distribution. (I won't go into it, but mass market paperbacks are distributed differently than trade paperbacks or hardcovers.) It is very unusual for a small press to do mmps, but the Juno line seemed suitable and-we were still learning and experimenting-so we decided to try it.
Our first title did respectably, our second did very well - especially since Diamond wasn't into all the channels in which mass market typically sells and we were relying a great deal on the chains to sell books.
To make a long, complex story short: It was pretty quickly apparent that for most of our books we just couldn't sell enough copies to make mmp work. (Borders' problems were beginning then and that didn't help us any.) A small press can make money on a few thousand copies sold of a trade paperback-that doesn't work for mass market.
It was also obvious that if anything was going to sell well enough it was our contemporary fantasies - the urban/paranormal type. So we steered the line in that direction.
But the writing was on the wall for both Diamond and us as far as our limitations with getting mass market to the masses. At that point Kuo-Yu suggested that we talk to some New York publishers about distributing Juno. I'm sort of a publishing wonk anyway and it had already occurred to me that Pocket had been missing the genre boat on urban fantasy, so when he mentioned Pocket, we asked for the introduction.
Tell us about the deal with Pocket. How did it come about?
Pocket was indeed interested, except in actually "co-publishing" instead of just distributing. That was exactly what we needed at that point. For Pocket, I guess the attraction was being able to be up and running-at least for the world of major publishing-in next to no time.
One of the most difficult things about the deal was that we really couldn't talk about it until everything was "done." So for the last four or five months of 2008 there was a lot that couldn't be said.
What is your roll in the new structure?
I still acquire and edit. Jennifer Heddle, a Senior Editor at Pocket, oversees the line and deals with all the people on the Pocket end of things. (There are "overlords" above her, of course, but she deals with the day-to-day.)
Instead of three or four people and an author it's now...well, it seems like dozens of people are involved with one title. I still have input on some things, but it's not like I'm writing cover copy myself or working directly with the artist on a cover.
I still do the Web site and try to raise awareness of the line. Those are aspects most editors don't deal with. And, since I take unagented/unsolicited manuscripts, I deal directly with the slush.
You'd think the job was easier now, but right now it is more hectic than ever as we are still playing "catch-up" with the schedule in some respects.
Tell us about some of the books being published as a result of this new deal.
You can find out more on the Web site (https://juno-books.com/), of course, but I think Juno titles are -even though urban fantasy with strong heroines-all a little different than what you may be seeing too much of these days. There is nothing formulaic about them. AMAZON INK (now out) by Lori Devoti is about a modern-day Amazon who has abandoned her tribe and is trying to raise her daughter as a "normal girl" in Madison, WI. VICIOUS CIRCLE by Linda Robertson features Persephone, a witch who is also a journalist. Her grandmother has just moved in with her and even though Nana feels "witches and waerewoves shouldn't mix," Seph is a friend and advocate of waeres. Stacia Kane's DEMON INSIDE is the sequel to PERSONAL DEMONS and she continues with what she was so highly praised for with the first: something truly original in this genre and fine storytelling ability. We'll be doing a one-two-three re-release/release of all three of Maria Lima's Blood Lines books for September/October/November. And, again, Maria's reaped praise for her fresh writing style and unique take on the paranormal in her novels.
I can, of course, go on...
Have your buying choices changed?
Yes and no. We had already narrowed the focus to urban fantasy, so really, that's no change. But as small press I had alternatives that I don't have now. If I really loved something I might still have been able to do it as a trade paperback or find another alternative. CLOCKWORK HEART is a good example of I book I love and that we published that I couldn't do now.
What are you looking for now?
The best way to tell is to read the Pocket/Juno books. They definitely fall identifiably into the urban fantasy with female protagonist classification, but there's still a variety and originality. I like to think we are publishing "phase two" of the "new" urban fantasy.
Do you buy series from proposals?
No, although if you are an established author with a following, I might consider a proposal.
What made you decide to edit fiction in the first place?
I think, just as some people have a natural ability to write, some people have a natural ability to edit. I was sort of a child prodigy editor as far as journalism, but dropped that when I got to college where I majored in technical theatre and then afterwards worked as a tech director/designer and did a little directing. That's all sort of like "editing" a live performance in a way, I guess. I then spent years having babies and raising children. Around 1994, due to the wonders of the Internet, I got involved with genre writing and workshopping short fiction. That developed into, along with reviewing and non-fiction writing, into editing short fiction.
Are your favorite pleasure reads markedly different from the fiction you edit?
Yes and no. I still read a lot of fantasy and sf, but I find myself being too analytical at times. That's as much from years of reviewing as editing, perhaps. I tend to read non-fiction now for "fun".
How do you feel about authors working with other publishers or in other genres?
Good for them! This is a business and you have to make the most of all opportunities.
What do you wish that authors understood about your job?
Overall I wish authors understood the business of publishing better. As for me, personally, that I'm trying to help them write the best book they can and that, yes, I may ask them to work hard. Their books deserve it.
What current trends in books do you find the most interesting?
As far as types of books -- once you can identify a trend, it is probably not a trend any more. It's either an established genre or it's waning.
Do you have advice for seasoned authors in the current publishing climate?
First, understand this business has changed and is changing. In fact, publishing is going through a revolution. Just because you can write a good book is no guarantee you can get it well-published. Even your agent may not understand this. Try to be aware...and versatile.
Savvy new authors realize that they will probably never be able to rely on fiction writing as a "career" unless they are very fortunate. They keep the day jobs and, even with considerable success, still keep them or are in a field they can eventually re-enter.
But when this has been your fulltime profession for twenty or thirty years -- maybe since you were in your twenties or thirties -- and chances to earn your living start drying up...your options are limited, often non-existent. Plus there is ageism and many employers consider being "self-employed" as bad news. (You are "too used to working for yourself," etc.) And that was the picture before the Recession!
So, sadly, a lot of seasoned veteran writers are hitting more than a short rough patch.
In many ways, it is easier to break in as a "new writer" than to continue a career as an established one unless, of course, you are among the fortunate few.
Thanks to Lori Devoti for connecting us to her editor.