The volatility and unpredictability of the publishing world hit home last week for Five Star/Gale, Cengage authors. Our publisher has decided to drop the mystery line and focus on the Western and Frontier Fiction lines, though it will publish all those titles already contracted. I read through the list and found my name there, as I expected. Five Star will publish the fourth in the Anita Ray series, When Krishna Calls, and the fifth novel will sit unfinished on my desk a little longer, but I will finish it.
Five Star/Gale, Cengage appended a list of publishers of mystery fiction, to help authors find a new home for their work. This was considerate and I hope it will prove useful.
The ending of the mystery line hasn't upset me as much as I thought it would. My heart goes out to the other writers who have seen their first book pushed aside for months, contract talks silenced, and future books left in the slush pile. If I were at an earlier stage in my career, I would be devastated at least for a while, but too much has happened recently to let this drag me down.
For the last few years I've considered myself fortunate to be published with Five Star. They have a good reputation for their fiction lines, treat the writers fairly (at least they've always treated me well), and are easy to work with. But complacency is dangerous, and the jolt from Corporate probably means now is the time to try something new.
Perhaps the reason I'm so calm about the changes at Five Star is my perspective. Last year, in late 2015, Harlequin Worldwide Mystery accepted For the Love of Parvati, the third Anita Ray mystery, for the mass market paperback line, and then asked to see the second, The Wrath of Shiva, which they promptly accepted also. I didn't tell them they'd turned the book down two years earlier. But that was then, and this is now. New editor, new tastes, new policy. I signed the contract and received the first payment.
In February 2015, almost exactly a year ago, I sent Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine a short story. They accepted it yesterday. I had been thinking about withdrawing it, to save the editor the trouble of rejecting it. I wrote The Strand to withdraw a short story they'd had for almost two years and the editor said he never saw it and would I send it again? I did.
Well over a year ago an agent asked me about what I was working on, we talked, and one thing led to another, which in the end turned into a new novel. It's different from anything else I've tried, though it is a mystery. I like it, she likes it, and we hope someone else will like it. Who knows? But it is ready to go out into the world and find a home.
The day before I received the email from Five Star announcing the end of the mystery line I had sent a query about the seventh Mellingham/Joe Silva mystery. At the moment the novel is homeless, but I'm sure I can figure out something.
Five Star was founded by Ed Gorman and Marty Greenberg, to provide an opportunity to writers who were dropped by their publishers in the 1990s, when publishing went through a period of upheaval. Scribner went from 24 mysteries a year to 12, more stand-alones than series. Lots of well-published, talented writers were looking for a home for at least a few books, and Ed and Marty stepped up. Since then, the publishing world has changed even more, and the opportunities are now in self-publishing and the numerous small presses popping up all over the map. Writers have to be savvier and more astute in business practices, but the opportunities are there, just different.
I don't try to make sense of the publishing world. I write, I submit, I write some more. Change is inevitable, and it's been a fact of my professional life from the beginning. In 1985 I signed a contract with G.K. Hall, and the next day it was taken over by Macmillan.
I will miss Five Star in the years to come, especially the editors I've worked with. I have no idea what the future holds, but I invite the writers whose careers have been temporarily disrupted to consider this an opportunity to try something new and perhaps better. In any event, take the long view. There is always more to come.