By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
Warren Lapine is the editor and publisher of a multitude of classic science fiction/fantasy publications. He successfully re-launched Fantastic Stories, the popular genre magazine that originated in 1938. Warren is also the publisher of Wilder Publications, a line of classic books from a wide variety of traditions in world literature. His own writing has appeared in books and magazines including audio, ezine and paperback. Among his numerous achievements, Warren was editor and publisher of the authorized Official KISS Quarterly and a subsequent book of interviews.
GERALD HAUSMAN: Is there ever a conflict between your being a writer and publisher? Does one get in the way of the other?
WARREN LAPINE: Absolutely. I've always seen myself as a writer first, but I've been so much more successful as a publisher that I haven't really had a choice but to make that my priority. As a publisher I know hundreds of successful writers. Of the writers I know personally only George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Laurel K. Hamilton make more money writing than I do publishing. My family deserves nothing less than the best I can give them so I'm a publisher first. I often wonder how my career would have gone had I never decided to try my hand at publishing.
GERALD HAUSMAN: Do you use, or did you use, a pen name?
WARREN LAPINE: I use several pen names. At one point I needed to fill out an issue of Absolute Magnitude so I put one of my stories in and on impulse I used a pen name. That story made a thing clear to me; critics like my stories a lot more if my name's not attached to them. That really surprised me, but an editor at Tor told me that it was because some critics felt that I had not paid my dues. In fact when I was in discussions with that editor about a novel, he asked me to use a pen name so that we wouldn't have to deal with that. Apparently a new writer can sell a novel and that's okay, but someone who owns a publishing company must toil along for years before it's okay. At the end of the day, I don't mind using pen names. For me it's all about the story, I want people to read my stories. I don't really care if I get the glory as long as I get the readers.
GERALD HAUSMAN: You are noted for discovering new writers and furthering the careers of known writers. Do you care to comment on that?
WARREN LAPINE: Remember, I have a background in magazines. That's where I started out in publishing so it's natural that I should work with established writers who, as a matter of course, help support new talent. It's good to have familiar names and new names along side one another.
GERALD HAUSMAN: You have said in various publications that the writing of Roger Zelazny changed your life as a writer. In what way exactly?
WARREN LAPINE: Roger made me want to be a writer. I think I was around 10 or 11 when I started writing. I didn't realize that that was what I was doing, I was just having fun telling stories. But after reading Nine Princes in Amber, when I was 14, I realized that it could be a career, and more than that it could be my career. At the time, I was a bright kid who didn't care at all about education, but after reading Nine Princes I was suddenly a bright kid trying to figure out which college to attend so that I could learn to write like that. Almost overnight I went from hanging out with street punks to hanging out with other kids who planned to attend college. Many years later when I told Roger how much his writing had changed my life, he seemed quite moved.
GERALD HAUSMAN: Fantastic Stories Super Pack #1 is coming out soon. Tell us about Fantastic Stories.
WARREN LAPINE: Fantastic Stories was a classic science fiction/fantasy magazine originally published in 1939. Ziff Davis purchased Amazing Stories in 1938 and launched Fantastic as a sister magazine the following year. Roger Zelazny was a regular contributor to it in the mid-sixties. Eventually the title was abandoned and I scooped it up when I ran DNA Publications as I needed a new title for a magazine that I had just purchased, Pirate Writings. I didn't like the name and was very happy to find that Fantastic was available. We published eight issues of the magazine before I closed DNA Publications. Later I used the title for an anthology that I decided to produce to celebrate my 20th year in genre publishing. I gave away the e-pub for free and tens of thousands of copies were downloaded. Unsurprisingly, I didn't sell a lot of print copies.
Roger's first professional appearances were in Fantastic and so there was an emotional attachment for me with this title. The new collection, which is titled: Fantastic Stories Present: The Super Pack of Science Fiction #1, has 42 stories in it. I got somewhere between 200 or 300 submissions for this. Half of the stories are classic stories from the 30s to the 60s; the other half are newer stories, say, from 1995 to today. This book will top 750 pages.
GERALD HAUSMAN: Generally, what kinds of stories do you look for when you do an anthology? What ones do you not want to see?
WARREN LAPINE: First, what I would not like to see...the pastiche, the cliché-ridden, the overused plotline. What I'd most like to see is character-driven stories, not events but stories that are derived from the core of very believable characters. As long as I care about the characters and what happens to them it's all good.
GERALD HAUSMAN: What is the most unusual story you ever published?
WARREN LAPINE: I once published an epic poem in a fiction magazine. It was a twenty-page narrative poem. I'm the only editor I know of who's done that.
GERALD HAUSMAN: When you accept a story, do you pay by the word? What is fair-market value for a short story?
WARREN LAPINE: It depends on whether it's a reprint, an original, and where it's appearing. For Fantastic Stories, the webzine, I pay 15 cents a word for an original story. Five to ten cents per word is the current going rate for stories in the genre marketplace. If you want the very best you need to pay more than everyone else does to get it.
GERALD HAUSMAN: How do readers find the books you publish and how important is social media in this process?
WARREN LAPINE: Basically my books have their own market. I do very little promotion or advertising. I have not found social media to be all that useful. I am not a huckster and I never have been. It doesn't feel right to me. I enjoy my friends on Facebook, but I wouldn't want to sell my books that way. I joined Facebook with the thought of using it to market my products, but quickly found I'd rather use it to keep in touch with friends. For Fantastic Stories I have a website and there will be free stories for people to download. I expect 100,000 visitors each month. There will also be an e-commerce store that will sell Wilder Publications' ebooks and the two sites will be linked.
GERALD HAUSMAN: Getting back to your own creative process, you spent close to a decade playing in a Heavy Metal band. Tell us something about that.
WARREN LAPINE: I stopped playing professionally at age 27. At that time I was the oldest guy in any band I happened to be in, but when I moved on to publishing I was the youngest publisher in the room! Back in the eighties I was in Fallen Angel, Wildblade, and Hired Guns and I played bass and sang lead vocals. I loved it. I made a lot of great memories. Rock and Roll is much more immediate than fiction. If you're having an off night you know it right away from the way the audience reacts. Conversely, when everything is clicking and you can do no wrong you don't have to wait months for the confirmation. Writing and publishing are much more solitary pursuits.
GERALD HAUSMAN: What was your involvement with KISS?
WARREN LAPINE: My first publishing company was DNA Publications and I partnered with KISS LTD to publish KISS the Official Authorized Quarterly Magazine. I ran the magazine for three years, then I published the KISS Interviews which were the interviews that I conducted personally for the magazine. That book is still in print.
GERALD HAUSMAN: You've been quoted as saying, "Don't rewrite, just keep writing." Why do you prefer this approach?
WARREN LAPINE: This is mostly my advice to newer writers. You learn more by writing than by trying to magically make it better rewriting. A new writer should try and spend as much time creating new fiction as possible.
GERALD HAUSMAN: You have published some of the stories that were written when you were a teen. What did you learn from this? Do the stories hold up?
WARREN LAPINE: I was 14 when I was wrote stories. I don't think they're that good, but from an historical point of view, they have some worth to me and I believe also to others so I included them in my collection.
GERALD HAUSMAN: One of my favorite stories of yours is called "Famous Dead People." You give Hell a new definition. How would you define it?
WARREN LAPINE: Hell in my story recognizes the collective unconscious. One of the main characters is Elvis Presley, but not the real Elvis, rather Elvis as he is remembered by the collective unconscious. In the story, "Famous Dead People," the characters gradually lose their minds as people on Earth forget about them. It's kind of like losing your mind to Alzheimer's, little by little it slips away. The famous dead people only remain sane as long as living humans remember, honor, and appreciate them. The story was originally published in an audiozine and the editor changed the title to "Just Memories." I don't remember why, but I also don't remember being upset by it, so I guess it's not that important.
GERALD HAUSMAN: What is your schedule like when you're working on a publishing project?
WARREN LAPINE: I used to turn out 400 books a year. Now, since I've added some imprints that other editors/publishers handle under my "umbrella" of Wilder Books, I personally only create about 300 books per year. Or a little less than one a day. Believe it or not that's fairly manageable.
GERALD HAUSMAN: What do you enjoy most about being a publisher?
WARREN LAPINE: The hours! On a gorgeous day I can go for a long walk in the woods on my 40 acres. If I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep I can open up my computer and get some work done. But most importantly, if my daughter wants me to read her a book I can always drop everything and read to her.