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August 28, 2007


Vicki Lane

Thank you, Jim, for a most thoughtful essay. Good insights, good ideas -- now if only those publishers would put them into practice!

Sandra Ruttan

There is a lot of good stuff to digest here, Jim. Really, superb.

I've worried over pieces of this, from what I've seen from my own experiences. A few months ago I interviewed UK author Steve Mosby (if you're going to import, get his book The 50/50 Killer - superb, but with no US deal. I'm Canadian, so it's no skin off my nose, but it does leave me wondering when that book hasn't been picked up, compared to some of the crap being churned out) and he talked about his UK publisher giving him smaller advances but faith to nurture his career and grow him as an author. Interestingly enough, his publisher is Orion, who also publishes Ian Rankin. But you see, that's why Rankin is where he is today - he had a publisher that got behind him and grew him and he had a chance to break through.

I 'discovered' crime fiction when I discovered my first Rankin book. Truthfully, I'd recently been let down by an author, who I'd read several books by, and I was looking for a series. I wanted an author with a handful of books to their name. I was walking through the mystery section, doing a full spread of thumb to pinky finger, and only pulling down books by authors who had enough titles to fill that amount of space on the shelf.

In other words, no one-hit wonders. I found Rankin, loved the book, devoured the whole series and converted to crime fiction.

I strongly believe that the long-term gains are not in the one-hit wonders or the expensive "stars". There are always readers looking for strong series to follow. I confess even as a new author that I treat authors with some reluctance until they've got three or four titles to their name. I connect through my reading, and it's disappointing if you find an author you really like and they disappear after one or two titles.

What I fear will happen is that we'll see fewer and fewer titles published, until almost all that's out there is the James Patterson/Dan Brown kind of stuff that gets the full marketing campaign. More and more authors are being offered one book contracts, which makes it pretty damn hard to develop a series. I fear more original titles will be relegated to ebooks, small publishers without the distribution and ability to really move titles. So many of us would abandon the genre if that happened, and then what of the booksellers, without whom we wouldn't be here?

Honestly, I always thought the relationship between publisher and bookseller should be more of a partnership. Publishers can't survive on their own. Yet from my situation as a reviewer I can relate to your frustrations with some of the publishers you name.

And btw, I've been to less than half of the states, but I have been to Indiana. You mean to tell me publishers can't figure out how to get there from Chicago? I'm going to go shake my head for a while. It may be 2009 before I attend another Bouchercon, but I was extremely pleased to hear it would be in Indiana.

Even if it is on my wedding anniversary. Divorce may be in order if I'm going to attend...

Troy Cook

Hi, Jim. Fantastic post. The more I hear about this business the more bewildered I become.

Thanks for hanging in there for 20 years! The world needs more indies like you.

Nancy J. Cohen

This is a wonderfully insightful post, Jim. Change is needed on many levels, but I don't see it happening soon. Fewer and fewer chain bookshelf space is available to midlist authors, and more indies vanish each year. Regarding mystery series, I wonder if the emphasis on latest sales figures by the big pubs is truly a valid indicator of success. Too many good series are cancelled prematurely, meaning readers get disappointed when looking for the next title featuring their favorite characters. How about looking at the overall track record of a series instead? Is there a pattern of growth? How can the publisher and author work together to raise exposure? Unfortunately, as you said, authors must increasingly turn to small press publishers to find someone who can nurture their talent and support their marketing campaign.

Jackie Griffey

Thanks for your thoughts (and sympathy for us cozy mystery lovers). I as a reader definitely want to know which is the first of a series to see the characters develop, get married, simply progress in life like the rest of us :-) I've just bought Diane Mott Davidson's latest book, SWEET REVENGE because I like her writing, her characters, and know when I pick up her book I'll like it and be transported away from 'real life' and entertained. Another point, as a reader, I like to be able to turn to the back or the back flap and see a PICTURE of the writer and a brief bio. B&N carries a lot of authors I like but I HAVE TO ASK for a particular one. I wanted to read Rhys Bowen's Constable Evans (no idea what the first one was) and after a few visits looking for her books never found even one Constable Evans. They had only two of another of her series (which I didn't want). They did order two of her series after I asked about it (said to keep checking back). Last time I visited I did find two of her Constable Evans books - turns out they were the last two. Read them anyway and liked them. Will get around to hunting the first one soon. But what a hassle it is just to get them to read in order.
I've just signed a contract with ZUMAYA for my entire Maryvale cozy mystery series (three books so far and working on another one - the contract calls for a new Maryvale every year as long as I can see the monitor :-)) I'm going to mention this to the editor and see if they can list them in order, put a logline on some flyers I'm printing and put 'first of the Maryvale series' or second etc. to give the reader a clue. Hopefully, the first two will be out soon; the third one has just come out from FIVE STAR (hardback) in May so the TR from ZUMAYA won't be out till a year from that date and I'm working on the first draft of a new one now.

I guess I'm writing what I like to read-LOL Anyway, I'm definitely going to give readers a clue which is first in the series every chance I get.

And bless you, Mr. Huang, and all the other independent book sellers who love books as we do.

Best wishes,
Jackie Griffey


This is an important essay. There's got to be a way to spread the word and get a dialog going about it.

May I use sections of it for Murderati next Monday?

I've been studying the industry since 2003 and each year, it seems more counterintuitive/counterproductive.
At times, I'm so grateful to be with a smaller press because the people there DO treat me well. But, I've also had to educate the press. I guess the difference is that they listen.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about Sustainable Writing using the sustainable agriculture model. I don't see how the big publishers are going to be able to remain competitive if they don't recalibrate as well.

Please stay in business -- if you can afford to -- you're a light is in this murky sky.

Thank you

Viccy Kemp

Dear Jim,
Very good insights here (you'be been in the biz long enough to know), but I can tell you, as a former big chain bookstore manager that big chain bookstores do not care about authors. They only care about profits and units. I cannot tell you the number of times my district manager and I got into arguments regarding how to sell a book. He insisted he could sell anything, it was only a widget and I kept telling him you had to be able to discuss books and have some literary sense in a bookstore. He never got it.
Contined good luck.
Viccy Kemp

Kathryn Lilley

In addition to the ongoing outreach you do with publishers, I would reach out to the authors, as well! There's a great networking site called Crimespace. In general, most authors are thrilled to turn up for appearances and book signings at supportive book stores. A lot of times, they will cover their own travel expenses, as well.

C. S. Harris

Good, if depressing, post. I love the "S&M" tag! I blame sales and marketing for much that is wrong in the industry, and it seems to keep getting worse. On every decision from whether to buy a book to whether to publish it in hard or soft to covers and titles, I'm constantly told my editors are waiting to "hear back from Sales." Who are these guys? Do they even READ?

Peter Rennebohm

As a relatively new author, I find your comments fit precisely with my limited experience. I've wondered just how a no-name author such as myself would ever manage to carve out the smallest niche in such a crazy business, and your essay confirms just how impossible it all is. Writing is easy compared with the daunting task of finding readers. Frankly, I think more people should "whine".

Jersey Jack

What can we do as authors, Jim?

 Deb Andolino


Once again you've written the words that so many booksellers and readers agree with. I look forward to your comments on bookselling as I know they will be precise and knowledgeable.

For months I blamed myself entirely for the closing of Aliens & Alibis Books. After reading your comments and the comments of several others, I am beginning to see that there were more factors that led to the closing than I realized at the time.

One of the bigger issues was that I evidently didn't know the proper way to court publishers so the big ones pretty much ignored me. I was told by one publisher rep that South Carolina was not a place that they sent authors -- it was too 'out of the way'. I am so appreciative of the authors who did make the trek into the wilds of Columbia, SC.

If you don't mind, I'd like to put a link to your comments in my next issue of our newsletter, Cat Scratchings. (A&A may not be a brick and mortar store any more but we are trying to hang in as a web presence).

Thank you for speaking out. Your words are important. If there's anything more I can do, please tell me.

Hang in there.


barbara d'amato


Sandra Tooley

Thanks for an honest and insightful essay, Jim. As a reader, I have two beefs. I find more and more writers of series spinning off into standalones like actors who want to stretch their abilities and not be identified by their series. The second are the big publishers with deep pockets staying only with the sure thing. Case in point, in the top ten listing for 2006 four of the titles were by James Patterson. Only one was written by Patterson himself. The other three were "co-written." Perhaps James can co-write nine books next year and one of his own thereby grabbing all ten spots. The publisher is putting most of his money on the sure thing. Great in gambling and a sure sign that all the conglomerates care about is the bottom line, not in finding and nurturing new writers. These conglomerates dole out huge advances to the latest politician or Hollywood star and oftentimes these "media names" do not have to earn out their advances. Doesn't leave much for the mystery arm of the conglomerate. Is it me or does the mystery genre appear to be the ugly step-sister in the New York publishing world?

Gordon Aalborg

Great stuff, Jim. Thoughtful, insightful, and too, too, accurate for words -- or at least any we'd want to use in a family blog.
If memory serves, back in the *old* days - the 50s/60s - great writers like John D. MacDonald, et al, had their work published FIRST in paperback (Fawcett Gold Medal Originals?) and came out in hardcover afterwards to satisfy the demands of the library trade.
They built their careers slowly, carefully, and well - and one assumes their publishers helped in the process.
How ludicrous it is nowadays to expect a first-time or early-career author to start out in competition with the big names by being published *first* in expensive hardcover editions few want to buy or try because of the author's newness.
If the big publishers had any sense (Hah!) they would start new authors out in paperback, so at least they'd have a CHANCE to establish themselves.
As for the series issue -- you've said it all better than I could and I couldn't agree more. I doubt any reader would argue with you, either!

PJ Parrish

I wish you blogged more, Jim, because there is always good stuff here!

I'm going to go back and read this again when I have more time but wanted to weigh in now with two quick comments from an author's perspective.

1. You cite Laura Lippman, Parker, Connelly and Janet Evanovich as authors whose paths to the NYTimes list was slow and steady. But they all began ten years ago or more. Things have changed so much that I fear that route isn't open now what with publishers quicker on the trigger (or trap door) and (as someone else has already noted) bookstore real estate being eaten up by the Patterson factory. I can only hope I am wrong or we're doomed to a diet of same-old same-old.

2. Gordon wonders why more publishers don't try to build authors' audiences bases via paperback original. This is my current path and although I miss some opportunites by not being in hard cover, I am slowly building an audience and my backlist is in print and selling well. Paul Levine was recently put out in PBO in a similar strategy. But I doubt many debut authors see this as viable -- the cachet of hard cover (to say nothing of a hefty one-book advance) is just too hard to resist. I sense an impatience among some emerging authors today that is almost as troubling as the similar attitude from publishers. Perhaps it is born of their fear of getting cut off at the knees before they can find their legs.

In the end, the best thing an author can do, I think, is ANYTHING that keeps them from being a one-hit wonder. That means, first and foremost, writing a better book each time out.

Dianne Day

You say you've been in the selling end of this business for 20 years, and I've been a committed (and published) writer now for 25. I started with pbos and thought I was writing mysteries but got slotted into "romantic suspense". Finally was recognized as a mystery writer with my Fremont Jones series, which would have sold in higher numbers IF.... Mostly if they'd implemented a number of your ideas. But after Random House took over Bantam Doubleday Dell and broke out Doubleday (I was a Doubleday author), Doubleday was no longer interested in series mysteries. Those are the exact words I was told when my series was cancelled.

Not to belabor my personal experiences, I honestly do not think there's much chance of changing anything in what remains of my lifetime, and probably yours. The most valuable observation you've made, in terms of practicality, is the one about editorial vs marketing within the publishing houses. The editors ARE sharp, savvy, really good at finding what people want to read. The process of getting the books from the author into the hands of the bookseller, and from there to the reader, breaks down in the publicity and marketing and sales departments. They are the ones making the decisions about numbers and events and so on. So to the extent that the booksellers can have any impact, that would be where to focus.

I don't know if this will make a bit of difference to you, but just for your information: Most mystery authors pay for all or a majority of their travel and publicity costs. The publishers aren't doing it. The relatively significant cost (relative to the amount of one's advance), and the physical and mental toll of self-promotion were the big contributors to my decision to retire after my final book, the standalone, came out in 2002.

Dianne Day

Joe Neri

From the perspective of a general interest bookseller, with a strong emphasis in mysteries, and as a long-time mystery reader and husband of a mystery writer, I am truly disappointed that more quality small presses have not emerged to do what the large publishing houses will never do - support the new and mid-list author. Back in the mid-'90's, when mergers and acquisitions began to turn the book publishing business into a best-seller lottery for large corporations, there were opportunities for a few good small presses to pick up some really good authors, especially ones with less than 4 or 5 books in a series. I admire those that did seize those opportunities but wonder why there weren't more of them. Unfortunately, our reading choices are more and more being dictated by the NY publishers and their distributors (Amazon, B&N, Costco, etc.). Maybe our only hope is the eventual unwinding of the mergers and acquisition, when the large corporate conglomerates no longer see a profit potential in playing the best-seller lottery.

Chandler Hill

It's a good argument but it makes the assumption that the smaller-independent publishers and booksellers are better than the corporate giants. This is an attractive us-them proposition candy-coated with sweet underdog bravado. The truth of the matter is, the smaller outfits are just as pressed by market forces. Rather than answering to shareholders for less than stellar results, the small publishers and booksellers face going-out-of-business if they can't make the ends meet. The imperitive is the same. Make money. Whether it is to keep the lights on or to pay a substantial dividend -- to the author it's the same sad story that he or she more often than not suffers for.

Joe Neri

I find it hard to believe that a well-run, small press could not make money on a good mid-list author, particularly one with an ongoing series. We booksellers could sell a lot more of this kind of book if they were available.

Jeff Cohen

Wow. It's going to take me a while to digest all that, Jim, but it'll certainly be a worthwhile process. I'd love to come out to Indiana just to be at your store, but I'm afraid that might drive away more customers than it would attract. Here's hoping change is in the wind...

Ingrid (I.J.Parker)

You are, of course, right. I'm a case in point. I was with St.Martin's (I hear they are becoming notorious for dropping series after the first book) and am now with Penguin. Five novels of the Akitada series are in print, but I worry about the next two (already written) and have switched to writing stand-alones.
Speaking frankly, I'm not so sure that book stores (even independent book stores) make much of an effort to keep a series represented on their shelves. If they return the unsold copies of each after one month, it is little wonder that the publisher complains of low sales figures.
And in my experience, booksignings do not sell books.

Mary Clay


Thanks for opening this dialogue, you've made many great points.

I do believe the only venue for "new voices" and mystery series are small publishers. The agents, major houses and chains are interested in "tried and true" re: series and not open to new voices or even new approaches from midlist authors.

I have a unique perspective because I am a small publisher of a mystery series and have been successful in that my books have been accepted by the major chains and I have a significant fan following. Someone commented that Independent booksellers hurt authors through returns. My own experience is that the chains play the "90 day rule" more frequently than Independents and thereby do more to put small presses out of business and silence new voices.

Another disturbing trend to me is that the genre authors' undisputable authority, Mystery Writers of America, has recently adopted an "approved (white)" list of publishers for voting members, which by default creates a "black list." This list favors the NY publishers and aside from the possible antitrust issues, the practice shields large houses from competition and ever changing their practices!

If one's goal is to advance the genre, MWA's "list" seems counterproductive to the genre and many of its midlist members. As was said in one comment, "a once small publisher is now a large one and a major force."

My two cents as an Economist,
Linda Tuck-Jenkins aka Mary Clay

"If you have intregrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have intregrity, nothing else matters."

Carole Nelson Douglas


You were such a help to me when I set out to self-publish my illustrated Midnight Louie short story books, and we've discussed our frustrations with the publishing industry previously.

What's happening now mirrors what's happening countrywide: the drop-out of the middle: the middle class, the midlist writer, the mid-priced item. It's either huge mass market sales or very modest ones. I called it "Cadillacs or Kias" years ago. It's marketing to that rich one percent that's waxed well these last awful years of attacks on the middle class. Now they'll be buying up all those foreclosed houses at a pittance. Boutique cars, huge houses etc.

In the past, prolific midlist writers could make a decent living and make their publishers a nice bit of money. Publishers didn't bother to push most of them, because they were doing "well enough."

Now "well enough" isn't enough for the bottom-line worshipping management. Sure, the downsized and new authors can go to small presses, but the numbers don't make enough for the writer to live on. One sf/f small press is offering five-figure advances, but only to a few authors. I certainly don't hear about anything like that in mystery.

And that long mystery series backlist has become a liability. I used to hear for years I had an entire shelf of books in the chain stores; now they barely stock the last few paperbacks.
And the independents are decimated. Authors aren't going to stand-alones to "stretch," they're going that route to survive. If one "hits" they'll stay alive in the market.

And editors are now scared for their jobs. Everything they buy has to be "bestseller" material and the sales force (which is knowledgable and do like books; I've met several) is forced to go by the numbers, not editorial instinct. Which I'm not convinced is all that great.

If you're a veteran author and have a fan base, self-published books are the best route. But you
have invest a bit up front, put in some time and money to ready them for publication, and then market them. Still, you get the profits the publisher gets and that is a considerable amount. Also the headaches, I can say from experience.

I'm angry at publishers, because I saw this coming. They didn't jump on what the Internet meant.
Now they're the tail, not the dog, on all fronts, and that hurts authors most of all.

They kept pooh-poohing authors who worried about easy Internet access to used books. Talk about heads in the sand.

I'm an author with a strong following. For years owners of Mom and Pop used bookstores told me they didn't get my books used: they had to buy me "new."

Those physical shops are mostly gone. And the entire country's supply of my old titles is online everywhere at the click of a button. It looks to me like bookstores, even yours, Jim, and publishers have ceded the backlist to used books.

I tell my readers that all my books (or most of them; a couple have just gone OOP) are available new and to ask the bookstore to order them. No bookstore wants to bother now. B&N has told them to "buy online" (where they'll be exposed to used copies at half the price).

Most readers don't understand that person who sells them a book of mine or any other author at half price makes about six times what we the authors get as a one-time royalty.

Over a decade ago, publishers boasted of putting all books out on long-lasting acid-free paper. They should have put them out on paper that self-destructed after three readings.

This is happening to musicians and the music business. Garage bands will survive on the fringes, if you can all it that, the biggies will go on and the whole large middle will be lost.

I happen to think that genre fiction writers write far more memorable work than most commercial bestsellers. I think they turn kids onto reading and writing. I think the culture needs them, even as the elite looks down on them. I think we're gone, baby, gone.

Carole Nelson Douglas

Theresa de Valence


Fabulous essay. Provides much food for thought indeed.

Theresa de Valence

Jim Huang

I'm truly overwhelmed by all the responses to my essay, posted here, to lists like DorothyL and 4_Mystery_Addicts, or emailed directly to me. I'm digesting it all, bit by bit. I have a lot to think about.

I'm truly grateful to each and every one of you for your attention and for your feedback.

There's more to respond to here than I possibly can right now, but let me hit a few points:

Sandra's fear that we'll see fewer and fewer titles is pretty clearly already true, in terms of what's coming from the big NY houses. It's astonishing how few titles in this genre come from companies like Simon & Schuster or Warner/Hachette/Grand Central/Whatever they're called these days. The challenge is to find a way to make the small presses more viable, so that they can be strong enough to fill the void -- and provide writers with decent wages. Right now, there's too big a gap between the big companies and all the little ones.

The James Patterson issue that Sandra Tooley raises is an interesting one. I've been thinking about Patterson's situation for a while now, ever since I encountered an entire James Patterson section in an airport bookstore. So the thing I'm wondering is this: is James Patterson an author or is James Patterson a publisher whose books are distributed by Little Brown/Warner/Hachette/whatever they're called? I think the answer may be the latter. If so, I've been trying to figure out what that means.

Chandler writes that I make "the assumption that the smaller-independent publishers and booksellers are better than the corporate giants." Well, yes. But I should underline that I agree with Chandler that we are the victims of the same economic forces: we have to make ends meet too. The reason I think that the small firms are better is that we're accustomed to doing more with less. It's not that NY publishers don't have money, it's that they're not good at spending their money. Small firms don't have the luxury to waste resources the way big firms do.

Still, it's not all sweetness and light on the small firm side. It's scary to operate without a cushion, to always be on the edge. I'm finding myself more and more worn down by all the juggling, the struggle to stay afloat by rubbing our few meager dollars together in hopes of getting a spark. I am tripped up all the time now by the fact that we don't have more time and money to put towards accomplishing our goals.

Turns out, some things you can only do with money. Who knew? I think that as a publisher, I've accomplished everything it's possible to accomplish without any resources whatsoever. I'd really like to have a chance to see what I can do with some resources -- a realization that any sensible person would have hit long ago, but one that I've only just come to. I'm finally starting to work on an option to raise some money; we'll see if we can make that work. On the bookselling side, it's hard to figure out where more dollars will come from. That's part of why I keep having that B&N fantasy that I wrote about.

That lack of resources is what creates the situation that Carole cites, the fact that bookstores don't have her backlist in stock. There are two separate important issues here. The first is that I wish I could stock more backlist. I do as much as I can; in fact I do more than I should. But it's not enough. I'm limited by money. There are ways to measure how much inventory you should have as a ratio to sales, and given weak sales in a store like mine, that means weak inventory. I've tried to rotate in backlist titles, so that I at least represent as many possible authors and titles as possible over time. I do carry more inventory than I should, given sales. But it's not at the level it ought to be. This is a big part of why I always urge folks to spend every dollar possible with small stores because every book dollar you spend elsewhere has a real effect, even on the quantity and nature of the inventory that your local small independent can carry. It's also why I'm thinking about adjusting inventory, in the way that I described in my original post.

The other part of this issue is the special order situation. I am happy to special order stuff, and I bring in books for customers as often as they'll give me the opportunity (when they're not deciding that Amazon is easier after all). But special orders are increasingly difficult for me to fill quickly because the major wholesalers -- Ingram and Baker & Taylor -- are doing a poorer and poorer job of stocking the books that we need. I'm constantly frustrated by the lack of availability of books that ought to be easy, and customers are frustrated that it takes so long to get the books they want. This is another one of those forces that's really hurting the small store. I do understand that Ingram and B&T have pressures on their operations too, but their entire reason for being will disappear if they don't do a better job of stock the books that their bookstore customers need.

P.J. Parrish has the best final word here: "In the end, the best thing an author can do, I think, is ANYTHING that keeps them from being a one-hit wonder. That means, first and foremost, writing a better book each time out." Amen.


Jim this essay is brilliant and I'll link to it next week with some comments.

I agree with PJ. I think our job is to keep writing and staying alive so that when we finally get to the book that they can promote we're still in the game.

I always say that writing in an art but publishing is a business and an oft broken business at that.

There's no one problem, no one solution but the biggest problem is that 85% - 95% of the books are just dumped out there.

Chris Grabenstein


When Ceepak #4 HELL HOLE comes out next June, I'm coming to Indiana! That's the one between Illinois and Ohio, right? Just kidding. See you in Alaska...then in Indiana.




You can see how thirsty everyone has been for your observations!

I agree with P.J. that the time frame for writers to break out seems to have shrunken. I myself have felt the need to diversify my writing. I feel that I can't stand still and play one note because who knows when the conductor will say "no more." Before that time comes, I want to learn and be comfortable in playing other kinds of music.

In other words, I'll be returning to the series, but only after I take a brief detour in writing a couple of other books. I remember Walter Mosley recommending this at Left Coast Crime Monterey. I just hope the fan base for my character is still there!

Lori G. Armstrong

Jim, thanks for letting us post the link to this necessary essay on the First Offenders Blog.

As a relatively new author with a small press, published in paperback original, I'm glad there are folks like you and your blog posters, that offer some realistic insight to those of us wondering what is going on! Thanks.

Jeri Westerson

Wow, Jim. Thanks for the wake up call. I think we all knew that things were going pear-shaped, but perhaps we didn't know how much. I'm looking forward to my first novel coming out next year and if I can scrape enough out of my advance for a trip to Indiana, I'll be the one scratching on your window to get in.

Sandra Parshall

It always worries me when people say they won't "take a chance" on a writer until that person has published several books. I've had people say that to my face when I was trying to interest them in my first novel. If no one will buy a writer's first or second book, you can be certain that a third will not be published. I try to support new writers, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I am blessed with many friends -- not enough to make me a bestselling author, but enough to give me a bit of a track record so I'm less likely to fade away after two books. If you like a writer's work, buy it!

Elizabeth Burton


As an independent publisher with no love for huge, monolithic business to begin with, I've always empathized with indie booksellers.

At the same time, though, I'm frustrated, because it seems your solution once again overlooks a segment of the publishing industry that could very well provide you with the new voices and fine writing you crave.

One of my people, Jackie Griffey, has already posted feedback. I could probably get a half-dozen more to do so. I publish an anthology co-edited by Jeffrey Marks. I debuted a new action series by Alan Cole. I have superb mysteries, both series and stand-alone, by a lot of very talented people and this year gave them their own home under our Zumaya Enigma imprint. And I've revived Dorien Grey's Lambda-nominated Dick Hardesty series under our Zumaya Boundless line.

I have reviews from Midwest Book Review and ForeWord to back that up.

We make every effort to do all the things you've listed with our series--especially with regard to ensuring it's clear which comes after which. We design covers specifically so all books in a series are clearly related.

But we're inventory-free. Our titles are listed as non-returnable at Ingram, for the simple reason that no inventory-free press can survive AND offer competitive discounts and cover prices while agreeing to the suicide that is returns. As a result, booksellers aren't willing to even consider stocking a copy or two of one of our titles, although those that have done so seem to be quite happy they did.

In addition to looking at importing more books from the UK, why not consider looking into what's being offered by established publishers who utilize the inventory-free method (and I avoid the term "POD" for good reason)? I will gladly discuss developing a relationship, either directly or via the wholesalers--I PREFER to deal with independents because I feel we have more in common with each other than either of us has with mega-corp publishing.

I sincerely believe that the situation has reached a Benjamin Franklin point: if we don't hang together we're going to hang separately, and the literary world will be much the poorer for it.

Clea Simon

Jim - Thanks for this. I've been chatting/reading so much about the growing author's dilemma (having to do so much promotion that it cuts into writing time) that I haven't had a chance to hear about it from the bookseller side. The pressure for the immediate bestseller is horrible -- Oline Cogdill blogged about authors adopting psuedonyms for fresh starts recently. It makes me incredibly grateful, even more than usual, for my publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, which has been letting me learn my craft in public.

N. J. Lindquist

Jim, I very much appreciate your writing this.

I have a good friend who has a strong following of readers and has won a number of awards, but even so has had not one but 5 series cut off after 1, 3, 4, 2 and 2 books. It boggles my mind.

I've heard people say that teenagers live for the moment and don't plan for the future or think that bad things can happen to them, but it seems to me many book publishers have that mentality. Most writers need time to build readership, continuity to allow for steady growth, a supportive community to let creativity flow, and mentoring to help them make good use of their assets. Instead, we have an atmosphere of distrust, fear and insecurity. It's very sad.


Insightful post. I don't have any answers, but I do use the following site to figure out the order of a series:


I'm also ever hopeful that backlists will someday be available via POD (I think Holly Lisle put a few of her previiously published books on her own out via POD when they went out of print.)


Iden Ford

Way to go Jim, sorry we won't see you this year at Magna (the tv series wraps mid October and we are going on a seaside holiday after that as it has been challenging to say the least) but we'll catch up soon. You are a passionate person, please keep expressing yourself.
Many thanks for the thoughts

Josephine Damian

"Thirteeth Tale" is bad? The reviews I read didn't say so. I'm beginning to question just how unbiased these reviewers are.

We're reading that book for book club in December - bummer.

Lots of agent blogs recommend that unknown writers with a first in a series downplay the series aspect in their pitch/query, and that they tie up all the plot lines at the end because a publisher is reluctant to commit to a series.

I know at least one author who won St. Martin's first in detective series contest, only to have them refuse to publish their second book due to poor sales.

And a published author in my writer's group had his contract cancelled after writing 5-6 books in a cozy, foodie mystery series.

A published author's lot is not a happy one.

Thanks for such a thought provoking post, Jim.

Josephine Damian


Julie Wray Herman


Wonderfully thoughtful essay. It is perennially discouraging to hear that the larger houses only support blockbuster titles. It is, I believe, true. They insist that they are market driven, even while they seem to lack an understanding of the market. (I would love to see the "market" looked at as the actual readers vs buyers.)

Thanks for being a thinking bookseller. The mystery community is lucky to have the Indies. Keep up the good work!


Richard Myers

I didn't think THE THIRTEENTH TALE was bad either. I know many people who love it. But since Huang dislikes it, and I guess he thinks everyone should.

Jessie Oleson

I know this is a bit late in the game, but being in a totally different career path it was really interesting for me to read about this world...It is definitely going to make me think a whole lot more the next time I walk into a bookstore!

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