Guest blog on Mysterious Matters, October 2, 2009:
Why We Persevere
by Meredith Phillips, Editor
Perseverance Press/John Daniel & Co.
In these days of shrinking readership, book sales, and review space; electronic dominance; consolidation of large publishers; and general economic instability, why does a tiny company of five people continue to publish mysteries for the new Golden Age, as the Perseverance Press slogan defines our mission? Especially when no one is making very much money from this quixotic venture?
The answer lies in our love of the traditional mystery and our desire to help keep it alive. Speaking for myself, there is also a component of personal fulfillment: editing is one of my favorite activities and having a red pencil in my hand makes me feel more alive and more like myself. (Okay, I know Im weird.) I think my publishing partners have similar motivations of self-actualization. So the ultimate answer is, its what we do.
My old friends John and Susan Daniel have a long background of bookselling, writing, editing, marketing, and publishing for other companies as well as under their own name. I had a one-person mystery publishing company throughout the 1980s, then took a hiatus to freelance edit during the 90s. In 1999 we joined forces to publish mysteries by established midlist authors who had been dropped by their large New York companies. Specifically, I wanted to resuscitate beloved characters and settings, which I felt had been murdered by cruel big-publishing bottom-liners (cue Jaws music). Its criminal, if you ask me. I hated the idea of never again mentally inhabiting Janet LaPierres coastal California Port Silva, or Shelley Singers Bay Area environs. Since I knew Janet and Shelley from local MWA and Sisters in Crime activities, they were the first authors I called.
We were greatly encouraged in 2000 when the third and fourth mysteries we published, Guns and Roses by Taffy Cannon and The Kidnapping of Rosie Dawn by EricWright, won six award nominations between them (for the Agatha and Macavity, and the Edgar, Ellis, Anthony, and Barry), the latter a winner. A year later, Keepers by Janet LaPierre was nominated for the Shamus. But there were no more nominations for the next seven years, though we published many books were proud of, most of them still in print. Sales have ranged from abysmal in a couple of cases to well beyond our expectations in others, with many going into multiple printings.
Weve published two writers handbooks, by Carolyn Wheat and Kathy Lynn Emerson [at right]. Of course theyve sold much better than the 40-plus mystery fiction books weve put out to date (averaging four a year), since nonfiction always sells more. How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries by Emerson has won an Agatha this year, and is nominated for the Anthony and Macavity to be given at Bouchercon in October.
Another award that a Perseverance book won this year is the WILLA Award (named for Willa Cather) from Women Writing the West for Buffalo Bills Defunct by Sheila Simonson. This is an example of a new series started by an established author, in which we also specialize. The next book in Simonsons Latouche County series is out this fall, An Old Chaos [at left]. Shes an example of a writer who had to drop out for ten years, to care for elderly parents, after a successful five-book series for St. Martins in the 90s. Ten years is a lifetime in publishing, and the challenge is to remind older readers of her previous books while trying to interest a new generation of mystery consumers.
Another writer with a ten-year hiatus is Edgar-winner Wendy Hornsby, who has now added to her prize-winning series about filmmaker Maggie MacGowen with this falls In the Guise of Mercy [at right]. Wendy has put together a West Coast book tour to make contact with her old and new fans. This book is more hardboiled than our usual fare, but written with such compassion that any reader will warm to the admittedly noir-ish material.
I think theres a misconception out there that PP/JD publishes only cozies. In the early years of this decade we did detour into cozies, since thats what we were mostly offered; one or two even had recipes (gasp!). Although this sort of book certainly has its strong points, its not my personal favorite. Ever since Ive been reading mysteries Ive liked best the kind of book thats not too cozy and not too violent. Its hard to define this middle ground, but the majority of mysteries used to occupy it. However, there seems an increasing push toward both ends of the spectrum, the cozy and the hardboiled, and a thinning out of the middle. Many big-name authors still occupy it (Grafton, Muller, Brett, Paretsky, Lovesey, L. King, Crombie, Barnard, Penny, Pronzini, E. George, Elkins, Spencer-Fleming, Francis, et al.) but the proliferation seems to be in craft/job cozies at one end and explicit, often hyper-violent thrills at the other. Recently, weve been publishing more to the middle, even across it. Another increasing subgenre for us is historical mystery; in my opinion this category is a refuge for readers like me who prefer traditionals.
An old joke goes: The way to make a small fortune in publishing is to start with a large fortune. We do pay advances to our authors, and my partners and I generally end up with modest profits. The real problem with our bottom line is the number of middlemen who take bites out along the way. By the time a book is in the readers hands, its gone through several layers of wholesalers, distributors, and retailers. (The way books are shipped back and forth across the country, when you include returns, the people mainly making money from books are UPS, FedEx, and Yellow Freightin my opinion.) We do need a large distributor for all kinds of reasons, and they take away many headaches in marketing (along with adding others). They represent us to the large wholesalers that bookstores prefer to order through, to bookstores themselves, and even to Amazon.com.
The Internet has been both friend and foe. Competition from online booksellers (along with chains) has probably closed many indie mystery bookstores and mom-and-pop businesses. (We love these stores, which have always given us great support, and couldnt manage without them.) On the other hand, the online merchandisers have made it possible for any buyer to go online and obtain any book with only a few clicks. Furthermore, anyone can go to Daniel & Daniel Publishers and Perseverance Press and view our forthcoming, current, and backlist books, saving us from the ongoing drudgery of print catalogues. (And customers can order directly from us with a discount.) Of course, Amazons Kindle and others have made a whole new kind of reading possible. With only a few sales so far through that medium, well have to wait and see how were affected by electronic reading of books.
One drawback to the latter is the loss of our talented designer/typesetters attractive and meticulously crafted design. The book is just dumped, so to speak, into the electronic version. Weve always taken pride in Eric Larsons distinctive look for each book, but do readers ever notice? Perhaps subconsciously, I like to think.
Eric is still in Santa Barbara, where everyone else but me was living when we formed our partnership. John and Susan Daniel have moved to Humboldt County in Northern California, and Susans marketing/web assistant to San Francisco. I am in Palo Alto, and our distributor, SCB, is in LA. We cover the state, so to speak, and somehow make it work through daily communication by phone, fax, and of course e-mailwithout which we couldnt keep the company going no matter how hard we persevered!
You can reach Meredith Phillips at email@example.com.
Perseverance Press Mysteries:
for the New Golden Age
Since fall 1999, Perseverance Press has published new mysteries by established authors in the mainstream tradition of the Golden Age. Our efforts have been rewarded by critical praise and several award nominations in 2000 and 2001.
Eric Wright was short-listed for three prestigious mystery awards for The Kidnapping of Rosie Dawn: the Edgar (MWA), the Anthony (Bouchercon convention), and the Arthur Ellis (Canadian Crime Writers). He won the Barry Award, named for the late reviewer Barry Gardner, from Deadly Pleasures magazine for Best Paperback Original of 2000. Taffy Cannon was nominated for the Agatha (Malice Domestic convention) and the Macavity (Mystery Readers Journal) for Best Novel of 2000 for Guns and Roses. This year, Janet LaPierre has been nominated for the Shamus ( Private Eye Writers) for Best Paperback Original for Keepers in the Port Silva series. The Shamus Award will be given at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in October, 2002.
We are proud of all our authors and dedicated to the highest-quality production of their books. Please see the information on the Perseverance Press Book Club, which makes our affordable trade paperbacks an even greater bargain for discerning mystery readers.
In a review of Hal Glatzers Too Dead To Swing in Mystery News, Sally Fellows wrote, Once again Perseverance Press has given us an enjoyable, well-written book. They seem to be doing a great deal of that. We intend to go on doing that as long as we can.
Meredith Phillips, Editor
Visit the Perseverance Book Club
The New Golden Age of Mysteries
The Golden Age of mystery writing refers to the two decades between the world wars, with a flowering of classic mysteries on both sides of the Atlantic (Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Marsh, as well as Chandler, Hammett, Macdonald, Gardner, et al). Many people think that in the last two decades of the twentieth century we have entered a new Golden Age for the mystery. The number of books in this genre has skyrocketed, along with their quality. Many mysteries occupy the bestseller lists, although they aren't always categorized as such. Even more enjoy steady sales to fans and libraries, and mysteries are now the most popular type of genre fiction.
Perseverance Press/John Daniel & Company is publishing traditional mysteries for the New Golden Age: novels of manners, of suspense, often continuing series with characters whom readers have grown to love. Too often, so-called midlist writers are squeezed out by the publishing establishment's hunt for the next bestseller. Essentially, their characters are murdered by their publishers' blockbuster mentality! Some of these writers, with devoted fan followings, have found a home for their series at Perseverance Press. And some have been inspired to create stand-alone books or new series.
Perseverance publishes mysteries in the mainstream tradition of the Golden Age, when explicit violence and gore were not part of the canon. We will not publish what some call "slice-and-dice" books, with graphic mutilation, horrific torture, violence against children, and so on. Nor will we dwell on the sordid or show only the worst face of humanity. We want our mysteries to provide an escape for the reader, not a duplication of what increasingly fills newscasts as well as movies and television. Our books range from softboiled to semi-hardboiled, but they won't give readers nightmares. Violence is an inescapable part of crime fiction, but our books don't portray it in excruciating detail.
The traditional mystery imagines an essentially benign universe and a community in which the disruption of murder or any crime is seen as contrary to the norm of stability, and must be put right. In this setting, the average citizen (or amateur sleuth) is often of help to the police and other investigators in solving the mystery and restoring order.
Award nominations (Edgar, Agatha, Ellis, Anthony, Macavity, all in 2000) and critical praise have rewarded our publishing efforts. With two or three books per year so far, we plan to expand our list and double the number of books we publish. Readers' (and writers') satisfaction is our goal, with affordable and high-quality trade paperback editions of new mysteries for the New Golden Age.
About Perseverance Press
Perseverance Press is proud to announce its return, in a new partnership with John Daniel & Company Publishers of Santa Barbara. The two small presses will collaborate in publishing at least two new mysteries per year. They plan to produce literary mystery novels with an emphasis on excellent writing, suspenseful plots, and meaningful characters and situations.
Perseverance Press, critically acclaimed and nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, and Macavity awards in the 1980s and early '90s, published "a new line of old-fashioned mysteries." It launched the mystery-writing careers of first-time authors like Janet Smith and Lora Roberts, as well as selling foreign and reprint rights and going into multiple printings. More recently, editor-publisher Meredith Phillips has devoted herself to freelance editing, specializing in mystery fiction for several New York houses. However, she missed the excitement and many challenges of publishing, and decided to re-enter the fray to bring out new works by favorite mystery writers.
Short-listed for the National Book Critics Circle Award, John Daniel & Co. has won a distinguished reputation over the last decade as a publisher of high-quality literary fiction and nonfiction by such authors as Hildegarde Flanner, Charles Champlin, John Espey, Carolyn See, Jeff Greenwald, Nancy Packer, Jess Mowry, Pete Fromm, Janet Lewis, Dennis Lynds, and many more. Its latest Santa Barbara short story anthology includes such writers as Ross Macdonald, T.C. Boyle, Wallace Stegner, and John Sayles. Daniel & Daniel will be responsible for production, sales, marketing, and distribution, while Phillips will acquire, edit, and promote.
All Perseverance Press books are trade paperbacks and are distributed nationwide by SCB Distributors. They are published as "A Perseverance Press Book/John Daniel & Co."
What they're saying, and what they said, about the publishers:
About Perseverance Press
"Phillips is committed to old-fashioned mysteries, and her attitude suggests not only personal attention to detail, but a strong sense of caring in the crafting of the finished work. The typical small press problems of limited funds and small working staff are off-set by her dedication to the genre itself and to the satisfaction of discovering and promoting both new and seasoned talents."
Sue Grafton, "The March of Crime"
"Perseverance is singled out for encomiums...in the excellent reviews its publications collect with almost monotonous regularity."
Charlotte MacLeod, "American Crime Writers League Bulletin"
"The press is a very good one.... The statement of policy does not mean that the books are of the sterile, goody two-shoes variety. There is some violence when necessary, moderate sex, and blood is spilled, but never out of context and never dragged in for the sake of exploitation."
"As Crime Goes By"
"Anyone swimming against the current like that seems worth talking to."
Washington Post Book World
"I usually beg, borrow, or buy any book Perseverance Press publishes."
Sara Ann Freed, Editor, Mysterious Press
"Special kudos to that marvelous small press, Perseverance, without a loser in the bunch."
Sue Feder, fan, editor, and reviewer
"That determined little publisher, Perseverance Press, continues to find new talent in the central California area."
John Ball, author of In the Heat of the Night
About John Daniel & Co.
"Small publishers like the Daniels are needed today more than ever. The role of the small publisher is to keep the love of the profession. John and Susan choose to stay in because of their love and respect for books. There's not one cynical moment between them. I would rank them in the top ten in the country."
Shelly Lowenkopf, editor of the Santa Barbara Review,
"It's not the money that keeps John and Susan Daniel in the publishing business--it's the promotion, the editing, and the discovery of an occasional treasure. John Daniel is a cross between an oxymoron and a dinosaur: He is a successful small press publisher."
Santa Barbara News-Press