Hot off the Pantera Press

PUBLISHING its first book in May this year, the family-run operation Pantera Press has since published six works – fiction and non-fiction – with one already a bestseller and two going into reprint. It’s an auspicious start, but it’s one that founder and publisher John M Green anticipated.

“We really are aiming to become a home to the next generation of Australia’s best-loved authors,” he says. “To find them and develop them and nurture them and turn them into, hopefully, the authors that everybody knows in a few years time.”

As big goals go, it’s up there with the best. But John and his co-founder, daughter Alison Green, have other lofty goals too, which they’re already reaching. Pantera Press’ philosophy is good books doing good things, the idea being that as well as publishing new authors, they are committed to using some of their profits to promote literacy and the love of reading, and to foster debate of important ideas and issues.

To that end, Pantera Press, in partnership with The Smith Family, supports Let’s Read, a literacy program for pre-school children that helps kids from socially and economically disadvantaged families, including those in remote indigenous communities.

In a bold move, Pantera Press is also asking their readers for support. Each of their books contains a letter from the publisher, written by Alison, “explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing, and why Pantera Press is a little bit different”.

“So we tell our readers about that program, and we invite them to visit our website for more information” where they can make their own donation.

“We’re really hoping our readers will support such a great cause – and they are – but it’s not limited to The Smith Family,” Alison notes. “The Smith Family is the first organisation we’ve partnered with, but we’re very keen to be working with other organisations that are also encouraging literacy and the joy of reading.”

Pantera Press also sponsors the prestigious Walkley Awards for excellence in newspaper feature writing, which sits well with their desire to promote debate of important issues. But their most direct means of achieving this is through their non-fiction WHY vs WHY series.

“WHY vs WHY is a unique series of books tackling both sides of hot topics that confront, confuse or trouble people. They present the debates in plain language in an easy-to-read, two-books-in-one, flip-sided format. In each book, two opposing experts go head-to-head, so readers can make sense of it for ­themselves.” The books’ format guarantees no publisher bias, with each side getting equal prominence and space.

So far, they have published two WHY vs WHY books: Nuclear Power and Gay Marriage. But they have “a long, long list of issues” they’re planning to tackle, including population, atheism, euthanasia, drug legalisation and the botox and surgery-based instant beauty culture. They invite readers to suggest topics too.

“One of the premises behind the series is that it’s an ongoing conversation,” Alison explains. So each author is given equal space to present their case, then they write a rebuttal. Then, on the website, they can write “a rebuttal to the rebuttal, so the debate keeps going – theoretically, for as long as the authors want”. Readers are also invited to share their thoughts.

They are careful about selecting their topics and authors, however. “We make the strong case when we ask for submissions that what we’re looking for are mainstream arguments, not whacko, crazy, extremist views,” notes John. “Once we find what we think is an important topic that people are interested in and confused about, then we go hunting for people who we think are good thinkers and communicators for their cause.”

The series has received great feedback, with one reviewer calling them “a smart-aleck’s guide to winning arguments”. Another of Pantera’s non-fiction successes is Simon Benson’s Betrayal, about the train wreck of the NSW Labor Party that ultimately cost Labor majority government in the recent federal election.

Their fiction books – including John’s own Nowhere Man – have also received great feedback, with international best-selling author PJ O’Rourke comparing John with Michael Crichton.

Nowhere Man, in fact, might be credited in part with Pantera Press’ existence and success. John had initially finished the book in 2001, just before September 11, but because he had blown up the World Trade Centre in the book, he couldn’t publish it. A few years later he came back to it, and devised a new cataclysm to replace his World Trade Centre scenario: a global financial crisis.

Publishers at the time didn’t buy it, thinking it “ridiculous” and that “it could never happen”. By the time it did happen, his book still wasn’t published, and he had to rewrite a third time, setting it in the middle of the financial crisis.

This extended gestation helped John discover the value of good, independent editing, something they now insist upon for all Pantera Press books. And with so many publishing houses cutting back their editorial budgets, Pantera’s “very, very strong editing culture” has helped their books to stand out. As John notes, “even a very accomplished author can improve with good editing”.

Either way, if John’s skill at anticipating future events is anything to go by, his publishing house will indeed soon be home to the next generation of Australia’s best-loved authors.

To see Pantera’s full list of titles, visit www.panterapress.com.au.

MELANIE SHERIDAN

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