Unsung Stories have swept into the SFF publishing field and swept me off of my feet. Unsung Stories is a publisher I can rely on to select things that I will enjoy reading, things I would be willing to try sight unseen, blurb unread. Weird things. Special things. Things you won’t find at just any SFF genre publisher. So far they’ve published just three books. Read them now so that when their popularity explodes, you can be one of the assholes saying “I discovered Unsung Stories before they were cool!” Except you will be wrong because Unsung Stories was always cool. From the very first title.
Aliya Whiteley’s strange and uncanny novella The Beauty was nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award. Oliver Langmead’s SF noir Dark Star is memorable not only for its suspenseful mysterious plot, but because it is written in epic fucking verse (I may never get over the fact that Langmead has managed to make me love reading verse, holy shit). While I have yet to read Déjà Vu by Ian Hocking, based on my experiences with The Beauty and Dark Star, I am ready to recommend it right here right now, as I said, sight unseen and blurb unread. This kind of consistency in editorial choices as a publishing house is exactly what turns me into a loyal customer. Why sort through piles of potential mediocrity when an editor will do it for you?! Put your feet up and enjoy the results by reading every book they put out! Hurray!
Now that I’ve got Managing Editor George Sandison blushing from that outburst of enthusiastic praise for the publishing house he’s put a lot of time and paper into, I’ll hand the mic over to him to tell you more about this sweet little publishing endeavor.
The Unsung Team: Introductions
Full time is our Managing Director, Henry Dillon, and me (Managing Editor). We also have administrative superglue in Camella Tierney and our designer Martin Cox, who runs his own design agency but has also been with us since the start. At this stage, he feels like an honorary member of the company. I’m based in east London, Henry is in Toronto, Camella in St Louis and Martin in Oxford, so pretty remote.
Henry has done a range of things from web development to games journalism and set up Red Squirrel (owner of Unsung) in 2006. Red Squirrel started as a non-fiction publisher with a focus on UK immigration. In 2010 he enticed me away from a job for a legal/academic publisher, and it’s worked out really well for us since. As well as our non-fiction list, we both wanted to start something new, to challenge ourselves, and chase our passions. So after a lot of planning, discussing, and budgeting we came up with Unsung Stories around Christmas 2013, publishing our first titles summer 2014.
I’m a lifelong genre fan so it’s long been on my bucket list to publish F&SF. There hasn’t really been a dull day since then either. We’ve been publishing books for years but science fiction and fantasy are new markets so it’s been a lot of fun coming up with the look and feel of things, meeting new people (who are universally charming!), generally working out the differences in the way things work.
The Three Titles
A big part of what we want to do is give debut authors, and authors of more distinctive books a home—this includes reading un-agented manuscripts. Our books all came to us directly from authors, either via recommendations or as open submissions. Indie publishing is a very different game from what Tor, Orbit, Gollancz et al do. I love those publishers as much as the next person, but they work in different ways and on a different scale. Which is why the most exciting things often come from smaller houses, because they’re better placed to take chances on bolder work. We want to sell books, of course, but we also want every book to be unforgettable. We want stories that grab you by the guts, that stick in your mind long after you’ve put them down.
The most exciting things often come from smaller houses, because they’re better placed to take chances on bolder work.
The first one we chose was Aliya Whiteley’s The Beauty. I knew Aliya from before Unsung started, and have long been a fan, but even so The Beauty seemed perfect for us. It’s an incredibly powerful read for a lot of reasons, and I could see it getting sanitized by a mainstream publisher. I wanted that story left as it was, uncompromised and uncompromising—publishing it was the ideal way to do that.
Déjà Vu is a stone-cold thriller, really classic stuff that feels to me like a sharp update on the golden age, so that was easy to pick. It also has crossover literary tricks up its sleeves, really fine craft at work and a taut, precise style. One bookseller pointed out echoes of St. Philip K. Dick and he’s right—it’s a thriller alright, but the book is also quietly dismantling your ideas behind you as you go.
As for Dark Star? It’s science fantasy, hardboiled noir epic verse. That pretty much means you have to read a few pages just to see what it’s about. And that’s all it takes to get you hooked. It’s perfectly constructed, gloriously atmospheric, laced with grizzled anti-heroes and has an ending that is pitch-perfect.
Since launch we have had approaching 100 books sent in, with more arriving all the time. They’ve included high fantasy, hard SF, steampunk, urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic, horror, comedy, and more.
The Best Part
Getting The Beauty on the honors list for the James Tiptree Award was a good day. The day the first copies of Déjà Vu arrived was pretty good as well. It wasn’t very productive, of course, because I spent lots of time grinning and generally adoring them. The most fun was the launch event for Dark Star though. We had lots of support from Blackwells in Holborn and nearly 50 people there to hear Oliver reading from the book. Ian Hocking and Aliya Whiteley came along as well, so it was a really fun evening. We wrote a post about it in fact.
The Hardest Part
The limited number of hours in the day, primarily. One of the most important things is making sure people know who we are—how else can we get the books to them, after all? We’re working hard at it and getting in touch with more people every day, and we’re getting lots of support (thank you everyone!), but we can always do more. We want to know everyone out there, and we want them to know us. I suspect the biggest publishers would say the same as well. It’s why my Christmas list always features a cloning machine.
What are your favorite books of all time?
All of them? I’ll try… The Player of Games, Whit and The Wasp Factory, The Master and Margarita, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Light by M John Harrison, The Sandman (The World’s End in particular—Death at the funeral breaks my heart every time), Ubik, John Fowles’ The Collector, Alice in Wonderland, Hunter S Thompson’s Gonzo Papers, Small Gods, The Amber Chronicles, very recently Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Vernon God Little, Joe Sacco’s The Fixer and many, many more…
What is the story behind the name Unsung Stories?
The idea was always for publisher to be a home for talented writers producing great genre work that couldn’t find a home elsewhere. To pick the books that were literary, speculative and slipping through the cracks. We started by thinking of these people as unsung talents and it stuck. We spent a fair amount of time trying to beat it after that, to find something that suited us better, and failed! It was just one of those things that felt right from the outset.
Thank you, George!
So, you get that? Unsung Stories is a publisher well worthy of your very limited attention. If you want to learn more about Unsung Stories visit their website. They also publish (free! free! oo! oo!) short fiction on Unsung Shorts every two weeks. And damn all of you who live close enough to attend, but they’re having an event on June 25th in London called Unsung Live and featuring a lot of cough cough obviously live storytelling. Please go and then tell me all about it so that I can live vicariously through you.
Attention writers: Unsung Stories is currently open for un-agented submissions. Go forth and multiply!