In the arena of science-fiction publishing, it's easy to overlook the little guy. That's a shame, since some of the smaller publishers are doing exciting things. Case in point: Haffner Press. For the past 14 years, Haffner Press has been producing definitive collections of classic science-fiction stories that originally appeared in the days of pulp magazines. With beautifully produced books that include collections by Jack Williamson (The Collected Stories volumes), Leigh Brackett (Shannach – The Last: Farewell to Mars), Edmond Hamilton (The Collected Captain Future volumes), Henry Kuttner (Thunder in the Void), and Manly Wade Wellman (The Complete John Thunstone), Haffner Press has seemingly set out to document science-fiction history.
I had the opportunity to chat with Haffner Press proprietor, Stephen Haffner, about what goes on behind the scenes...
Q: What was the inspiration for starting your own publishing business?
I’d been collecting first editions of science-fiction books published by the fan-run small presses of the late '40s and early '50s; outfits like Arkham House, Gnome Press, Shasta, and my favorite, Fantasy Press. Gnome had the finer pedigree of authors and titles, but Fantasy Press—while boasting an equally impressive roster of talent and works—was the better-made production. As a book collector, I was very appreciative of paper stock, bookcloth, typography, etc. To me, a book is as much physical experience as reading experience.
Desperately wanting a matching hardcover set of Jack Williamson’s Legion Of Space books from Fantasy Press (The Queen of The Legion was a 1983 paperback original), I learned the ins and outs of bookmaking. Jack and his agent were happy to see a Hardcover First Edition of The Queen of The Legion, and it shipped in May 1998 looking as much like a vintage Fantasy Press title as possible. Feedback was very positive and it was a real ego boost to get emails and phone calls from folks like Ray Bradbury and Robert Silverberg wanting to order books! Having been bit by the publishing bug, I looked at my bookcases and dreamed of what other titles could be published. Kaldar—World of Antares by Edmond Hamilton followed in October 1998.
Q: Aside from single-author collections, you've also published tribute books (like the one for Jack Williamson, In Memory of Wonder’s Child) and multi-author anthologies, like Detour to Otherness by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore and Tales from Super-Science Fiction, which collects some of the best stories from that classic magazine. The books published by Haffner Press revolve around science fiction from the Golden Age. Why that focus?
While assembling my personal library, I soon learned that hundreds of stories by admired authors still lay uncollected/unreprinted from their original pulp magazine appearance. Since I make the book that I would be sure to buy, I’ve been making books focused on the Golden Age. Which is not to say that I wouldn’t someday do a title with newer or original material. But with a “collected works” focus on such prolific authors as Edmond Hamilton and Henry Kuttner, the coming years’ releases are already locked in.
Q: Although Haffner Press collections contain reprint stories, they end up being remarkably unique. How do you make that happen?
By taking a comprehensive approach. As a compulsive collector, it was obvious to present these authors’ works as chronological collections: the good with the not-so-good, the rare and obscure with often-reprinted texts. Despite having published over 30 titles, the authors have been mostly limited to Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, and Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore. It took EIGHT 560+ page volumes to assemble just the stories of Jack Williamson and Hamilton was even more prolific and his project looks to run to TWENTY volumes! So, they’re unique in that much of this work has seldom been reprinted, and certainly not in such an “heirloom” fashion.
Q: A great thing about your books is the consistently high level of production quality. They simply stand apart from the majority of other books being published. What's your secret?
First: Begin with excellence. While not every story in an HP title is an acknowledged classic (although many ARE!), you are guaranteed that no expense was spared in selecting the physical components of the book. Second: Give the customer value for their money—the page-count of the typical Haffner Press title is over 600 pages. And then bring all the gloss possible to the Work with extra material such as a learned or personal introduction (ideally from someone who knew the author), obscure or rediscovered selections as an appendix, and look for ways to showcase the original pulp art—either on the dustjacket or as illustrated endpapers. Third: Don’t cut corners. The pages are smythe-sewn, not glued. The boards are heavy stock and the covering is full cloth. Make sure to get it right. A book that runs late is preferable to a book rife with errors.
Q: I'm curious to know how one of your books comes into being, from concept to production. How, for example, did you come up with the idea for your latest release, The Complete John Thunstone by Manly Wade Wellman?
First, it has to be a book that I would personally want on my shelf. Second, does it look like anyone else feels the same way? While the market wasn’t clamoring for books by Edmond Hamilton (or, to a lesser degree, Leigh Brackett or Henry Kuttner), Wellman had been well-served by small press in 1981 by Carcosa and again in 2000 by Night Shade Books, along with SF Book Club novels and mass market titles from Berkley in the 1980s. But, again, Wellman wrote in several genres and much of it was never collected, and the prices for many of these books are now $100+ a copy. If the January 2013 sales for The Complete John Thunstone are any indication, I’d say that there was definitely market demand for a new $40 eponymous collection of Wellman’s monster-fighting psychic-detective.
Q: What things have you learned from publishing that might surprise the average science fiction fan?
Proofreading/copy editing is a nearly a lost art. As most of Haffner Press’ output is reprints, there’s a huge amount of scanning and OCR work to be done. And while I read the manuscript several times during the selection and layout phase, I still have it professionally proofread by third parties. Happily, we produce a pretty clean book. I can think of only one title where I was let down in the proofreading stage.
Q: What can we expect in the future from Haffner Press?
Many of our authors also wrote in other genres, and we’re looking to do a comprehensive assemblage of the non-sf of Fredric Brown (so that’s mysteries, westerns, horror, humor, etc.), as well as mystery works by other writers better known for their sf output. And, well...more of the same—and a few surprises!