Joseph Frare Fiction Panel Editor
Recently, I had an amazing phone conversation with well established writer, editor, and publisher Warren Lapine. Warren has had massive success editing and publishing numerous science fiction and fantasy magazines, as well as being the head of Wilder Publications, which has an extensive variety of books of many traditions in world literature available in audio, ebook, and paperback format. His own writings of short fiction in science fiction and fantasy, as well as his own poems, editorial essays, and interviews have appeared in various books and magazines such as Absolute Magnitude, Fantastic Stories, Fresh Blood, Just Like the Jetsons, and numerous others.
You’ve had a lot of success in the publishing business. Your first publishing company, DNA publishing, which started out in Massachusetts and then ultimately moved to Virginia, had become one of the largest magazine genre publishers in the United States in 2004 and produced a ton of successful titles. Can you tell me how it all started and what it took to build up the company to become so successful?
WL: Well, the motivation came when my English lit courses in High school sucked all the joy out of me because they never focused on the creative side of stories. I always wanted to be creative. I was writing songs and playing in a band, and that’s where I spent my creative energy for a time. My creative writing started to kick off, however, when I took some time off from the band and decided to start writing prose. Then, later one day, I went to the bookstore and picked up The Guide To Writing Science Fiction by Philip Athans.
That’s when I really started writing in the sci-fi genre, because I was looking at the sci-fi stories in this book and I just wasn’t satisfied with how they turned out. The science fiction I was looking at were all generic and boring, and the kinds of editors in these magazines and books were regulating this as the standard. As I thought this, something came to me: was what I loved about science fiction just a childhood phase? Was the sci-fi genre I thought so cool as a kid actually lame and childish? I visited my mother’s house, and asked her if I could have the magazines and books I used to read and love as a child. She quickly nodded her approval, happy to have that junk out of her house. When I looked at these stories, I was completely satisfied knowing that they were just as enjoyable as they were when I was much younger. It was then I decided that I could publish stories ten times better than what other companies were producing. Then that’s how Harsh Mistress, my first magazine, came to be.
Harsh Mistress, my first magazine, would be renamed Absolute Magnitude. When me and my girlfriend at the time, Angela started selling copies at a convention, we drew in the attention from an agent at Hot Topic, who wanted five hundred of these copies of our magazine, which were literally black and white ink paper copies with Gothic font. Hot topic alone paid $3000 for these copies. Using our earnings, we had Offset printer do the next cover of the magazine, and we sold 3000 of them. As we did the mailing for subscribers, we just kept earning and earning. After that it became easier to sell and distribute. Then eventually we expanded when I made a better deal with my distributor, as we negotiated a deal to buy another magazine when that magazine’s sales were plummeting and going bankrupt. When I bought them, the process we were going through before just got even easier and easier. Every time.
Can you describe the difficulties you’ve experienced as a publisher? Was there content you didn’t want published? Were there distribution issues?
WL: Some of the difficulties I went through were that a lot of distributors went out of business. Not only that, but a lot of them were stealing from one another. The tough thing was that a lot of deals I made were through them, since they were the ones that paid you as a publisher because none of the retail stores paid you and all of the deals were from them. Some of the distributors would steal money from the magazine, so that of course caused a lot of issues.
Other problems that would arise would be writers who would forget that you paid them. They would storm in claiming that you didn’t pay them until I would wave them the check and prove that I was paying them.
What was your favorite project you’ve worked on in your publishing career? What about the most stressful project you’ve ever worked on?
WL: Working with KISS was very stressful. I went to the concerts and there were a lot of problems with the crowds recognizing who I was and coming over, saying “Hey! You’re that guy who writes the KISS magazine!” They’d come in and interrupt me when I was working.
The best project I worked on was working on Wilder Publications. Being able to work on that was an enjoyable process and I learned a lot going through with it which would help strengthen me as a publisher .
Your creation of the Official KISS Magazine is quite a surprise, just because the subject doesn’t seem to correlate with your other publications like Absolute Magnitude, Science Fiction Chronicle, and Harsh Mistress, which were science fiction magazines. Not to mention, there was also Fantastic Stories and Mythic Delirium, which geared more towards fantasy. May I ask where the idea of creating The Official KISS magazine came from?
WL: I was in a heavy metal band, so I loved being in the atmosphere. As I was selling Science Fiction Chronicle at one concert, I ran into Jean Simmons. He told me how fascinated he was with the magazine, and after that night I kept getting frequent calls from him asking me to start a magazine for KISS. I eventually accepted the job.
You’ve also had an enormous writing career; you’ve written a large number of short stories, poems and essays, which had all been published. You’ve also had a collection published in 2006 called Just Like the Jetsons. May I ask where your inspiration comes from to write so many stories and poems?
WL: They come from all over the place. One story came from A Step Farther Out, by Jerry Pournelle. A specific line stuck with me, and it was specifically that if you’re on an asteroid,don’t jump. Don’t jump, that one line inspired me to write a story. Then my oldest kid was watching Scooby Doo, and the episode had a cybernetic dog in it. It’s amazing what they can do with a cybernetic dog. Once that dog came up from Scooby Doo, the idea of dealing with a cybernetic dog gave me another story to write about. If you want inspiration to strike, pay attention to everything around you. You’ll find something that draws your interest.
“If you want inspiration to strike, pay attention to everything around you.”
More about your writing; where and when did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?
WL: I decided I wanted to be a writer when I read Nine Princes of Amber by Roger Zelazny. And it gradually built up from there when I began to take English course after English course in school, until I had a whole bunch of English courses that my guidance counselor tried to talk me out of it. What was funny was the principal at my school couldn’t even believe that they were trying to talk me out of taking English courses.
Were there any obstacles that stood in your way of doing what you loved?
WL: Once I decided to do it, nothing stood in my way. The way publishing changed in 2000, it was difficult for people to get their published work accepted by distributors. It was being nominated for awards in the past that made my work able to be accepted by distributors and I’m able to keep selling magazines and books.
Do you think authors can effectively promote their writing through popular social media platforms that are dominating society today, better than what they’ve been doing in the past before the social media wave?
Related: Becoming a Social Writer
WL: No. People just get lucky, and good writers use that luck effectively to get success. Writers don’t make a lot of money since the arrival of Amazon. They’re only making 10-15k for their books because of Amazon’s market. 10 million people who can put their work on the Amazon market don’t gain as much as when you sold your work the old fashion way.
What does literary success look like to you?
WL: Literary success is being able to do what you love, and being happy. I had the fame and the wealth back then, and now I only have the wealth from my labors of working hard in the publishing business. When I was younger I used to thrive for both, but now, I’m just happy to be providing for and spending time with my family. It’s better that way, especially because I can go to a restaurant with my family and not be bugged by the guy sitting next to us who would recognize me.
“Literary success is being able to do what you love, and being happy.”