Guest of Honor - Ellen Asher
Ellen Asher became the editor of the Science Fiction Book Club in February, 1973, and held that position for thirty-four years and three months, thereby fulfilling her life's ambition of beating John W. Campbell's record as the person with the longest tenure in the same science fiction job.
Ellen jokes that she failed to achieve another goal — "I was never able to give out all of my business cards before the corporate name changed." Like many other publishers, the SFBC was bought and sold several times over the last 25 years. And, sometimes, you never knew what was going to be part of your larger company. "One part of our corporation was called Yes! Solutions. I'm glad I didn't work there - I would have cut my throat."
By virtue of her longevity, Ellen has also introduced more Golden Age writers to new generations of science fiction readers than any other individual in the field. Many readers rely on the Science Fiction Book Club for its extensive backlist of classic works and compendiums of short fiction at prices even college students can afford.
Unlike most editors, Ellen says, "I didn't work with the authors much; more with the agents and other rights people. I can't think of any author I didn't mind taking out to lunch. I always got along with authors, and even when I argued with them, no one was ever nasty."
While she may not have worked with authors much, she still had a tremendous influence on their fortunes. "I'm particularly proud of keeping a lot of books in print," said Ellen, "maybe longer than I should have, looking at cold, hard numbers. But a later CEO was upset to see six trailers full of old books. So we were given a target number of books we could keep in print. ... I always had a plan - clearance sales and this and that. But it was hard for me to get rid of a book I liked. Or, you have a five book series, and book two wasn't selling well, you didn't want to dump the rest of the series."
But Ellen wasn't just some kind of sequestered sales manager. "I'm also very proud of the original anthologies we published at the SFBC," she remarked, "like The Dragon Quintet, Vampire Sextet, Fair Folk (which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology), and Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural.”
In 2001 she received the New England Science Fiction Association's Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction (the Skylark), of which she is inordinately proud. In 2007 she received a World Fantasy Award in the category Special Award: Professional for her work with the SFBC, which was, if anything, even more overwhelming. Shortly thereafter she was made a Fellow of NESFA. In April 2009, she became, in a minuscule way, a published author with a short essay in Nebula Awards Showcase 2009, edited by Ellen Datlow. In August 2009, Ellen Asher was announced as one of the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award winners for 2009.
Ellen has attended a number of Worldcons over the years. "The Worldcon I had the most fun at was the first one I went to in Glasgow (1995). It was in the old convention center. The meeting rooms were separated by canvas, so it was noisy. But everything was so compact, and I'd run into people all over the place. You want to recreate the gemütlich (warm/congenial) feel within a Worldcon."
Ellen Asher left the Book Club in June 2007, and, although she does occasional freelance work, she now devotes most of her time to her hobbies: "... sleeping late, baking (and eating) cookies, riding horses, and reading things that aren't necessarily SF. Being retired is wonderful."