I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher by Jason Sizemore
Published by Apex Book Company on June 20 2015
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The nitty-gritty: A very funny, entertaining and heartfelt accounting of the origins of small press publisher Apex Books, told by the man who started it all.
You have to be careful at conventions. There are these things called room parties. Perhaps they would be better named Free Alcohol Refreshment Stations. You walk into a hotel room where a party is hosted. Sometimes you go to a bar (usually the hotel room’s desk or credenza) and pick up a free beer or a cup of inexpensive booze. Other times, you’re handed a cup of unknown contents and told to enjoy. That particular evening, I remember a bearded giant of a man who offered me something called The Blue Stuff from a large orange cooler he toted across his chest. I liked how the blue stuff tasted…sort of a tasty mix of blue Kool-Aid and weak cough syrup. I asked for seconds. Justin strongly urged me off a second serving.
I ignored Justin the Wise. He shook his head in disappointment.
2015 marks the tenth anniversary of Apex Book Company, and the reason behind Jason Sizemore’s desire to tell the story of how Apex came to be. Like most tales, the road is a bumpy one, which only adds to the entertainment value. I mean, what kind of success story would it be if everything were sunshine and roses? Luckily for us readers, Sizemore’s ups and downs over the past ten years, from the tentative beginnings of Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest, to his attempts at national distribution, to near bankruptcy, and finally, to one of Apex’s key milestones—a Hugo nomination—are full of all the things a discerning reader looks for in a good story: conflict, action, danger, great characters, and above all, heart and soul. Even if you aren’t familiar with Apex (and may I ask why not??), Jason’s story will resonate with readers of all types.
Sizemore starts his memoir in the perfect spot: his formative years as a child, raised in a Southern Baptist household in Kentucky. His love of science fiction and horror was cemented early on by his mother, who loved to watch horror movies and made sure that little Jason watched them with her. Combined with his mother’s near-alien abduction story—which Jason fervently believed in—his love of all things genre grew into a life-long obsession.
After a particularly funny and uncomfortable story about a printer at his day job as a computer programmer, Sizemore decides to channel his creative side and love of genre fiction into a short story magazine, and Apex is born.
Sizemore’s success with Apex seems to hinge on two things: drawing talented editors, authors and artists into his circle, and hitting the Con circuit in order to bring exposure to the Apex name. For Exposure is heavy on Con stories of all sorts, which I found highly entertaining, although according to Sizemore, the best way to get attention is to party, party party. Although I’ve read lots of stories about authors and editors striking deals in hotel bars, this was the first time I’ve run across the term “room party,” a private party held in a hotel room, where the booze flows freely and…well, other stuff happens too. (Speaking of funny and uncomfortable, Sizemore tells us about one particular room party where he was invited to join an orgy!)
But drunken stories aside, Sizemore emphasizes that it’s the people in his life who have helped Apex get to where it is today, and he’s not shy about singing their praises. Authors like Geoffrey Girard and Sarah M. Harvey, editors like Gill Ainsworth and Lesley Conner, and artists like Justin Stewart (who did the cover design of For Exposure) all played important roles in Apex’s early years, and most are still involved today. Sizemore includes fond reminiscences and funny stories about many of his influential friends, and while those stories often involve large quantities of alcohol and forgotten evenings, what shines through are his declarations that Apex would not exist without the help of these important people.
Sizemore’s chapter entitled “Legends of the Slush Pile” was one of my favorites, as it gives us a peek into the day-to-day search to find just the right stories to publish. I was fascinated—and surprised—to find out that Apex receives up to 1,000 short story submissions every month, and only about three of those make it into the final publication! With a team of twenty-one “slush readers,” each story is read by at least one employee, and the best twenty-five stories move up the ladder until Jason himself chooses the final three. Obviously, getting a story published by Apex is no mean feat!
Sizemore’s story is liberally sprinkled with footnotes, some of which are clarifications from the author. But many of these entertaining asides come from Apex family members and act as rebuttals to some of Sizemore’s (sometimes hazy) memories. I was endlessly amused by footnotes that started like “That’s not exactly what happened,” written by someone who was also at that infamous room party or other event. He also includes “Rebuttal” chapters which give us an often opposing view of some of Sizemore’s more colorful experiences in the business, told by those same authors, editors and friends who have helped give Apex the exposure it has today.
For Exposure is a quick, fun read, and not only did I learn more about a publishing company that I’ve come to love over the past few years, but I had a blast reading it. Apex may not be on everyone’s radar yet, but thanks to a man with fierce determination and a posse of loyal and talented friends, it won’t be long before Sizemore rules the world…er, the world of small publishing!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.