Friday, July 1, 2016

Six Months Later by Susan Oleksiw

Just six months ago, in January, those of us who publish with Five Star/Gale, Cengage got the news that our publisher would no longer accept manuscripts for its mystery line. The news hit a lot of us very hard. Some writers watched their first novel turn into the last one. Others waited for their book to show up at a conference, only to learn the pub date had been pushed back. The bad news took many forms, but in the end it was the same for all of us who write mysteries.

In an earlier posting (found here) I wrote at length about how the abrupt ending of the mystery line affected me. It meant basically the end of the Anita Ray novels and the Mellingham books because publishers are unlikely to pick up another publisher’s series. But as I mentioned then, I had one more book in the pipeline with Five Star, another one ready to go, two paperback editions with Harlequin waiting in the wings, and a story just accepted by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

So where am I six months later? The last Anita Ray mystery novel, When Krishna Calls, will be out in August 2016, along with a short story from AHMM (the October issue available in August). The same magazine accepted two more stories, one featuring Anita Ray. I’ve sent another story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. The paperbacks of the second and third Anita Ray novels haven’t appeared yet, but they will.

I was about to send the seventh Joe Silva/Mellingham mystery to Five Star when I got the news. After much thought (and professional editing and a cover design), I published the novel myself. Come About for Murder is doing well, and I’m pleased. None of this breaks new ground. For that I have to turn to my effort to create a new series.

In a few short stories I’ve explored life in a rural area I’ve named West Woodbury, a small town in the poorest county in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. AHMM has accepted a story set in this world, and I self-published one (Love Takes a Detour) some time ago. The stories come easily, most of the time, but creating a new series character is proving to be harder. I’m not interested as much in her because I know she’s going to survive every encounter. The ones I’m interested in are the characters who may not, or who will come out of the experience so changed that no one will recognize them anymore.

Still, this is the new series that has captured my attention and my imagination. Six months after Five Star shut down its mystery line I’ve written two novels and am rewriting the second one, to bring it more into line with current tastes (that means more action, according to my ever-supportive agent, Paula Munier).

I tell myself the challenge has been good for me because it has made me give up a secure place and try something new. I should have known this was coming after all the time I spent writing about sailing in the seventh Joe Silva and the short story coming out in August (“Variable Winds”). Taking the safe way is called, by sailors, “hugging the shore.” To really sail, to find out what you and your boat can do, you have to leave the safety of the coastline behind and set out into the vast ocean, where the only markers are the wind and sun and your own ability to chart a course and find your way.

I’ve heard from a few of my fellow Stars, but I’d like to hear from more. What has happened in your writing life since getting the news? Successes? Discoveries? If you have something to share, I hope you will.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Susan,

This is an important topic and I for one am glad you're dealing with it here. As our readers know, Author Expressions began as a blog when Five Star published mysteries, women's fiction, sci-fi and fantasy as well as a Western line. That was cut drastically and now even the mystery line will be disappearing. But this is not unusual with smaller publishers. The business is not what it once was. Libraries have less money budgeted and mainly buy bestsellers from the Big Five.

I will have a mystery published by another small print publisher in November. The ARCs will hopefully be arriving soon. I also write in a variety of genres and consistently sell short stories and poetry. I hope we can continue this blog. We have a large following, get many hits each day. And we want to support other writers.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Thanks for adding your experiences, Jacquie. I too have watched mystery lines come to an end, including several cozy lines at major publishers. Books with modest but steady sales aren't enough anymore, and libraries aren't the reliable market they once were, as you point out.

You may have touched on the key point to surviving in this business--write in a variety of genres, try different things, and maintain connections with other writers.

Sheri Cobb South said...

Thanks for sharing this, Susan. I confess, I wasn't entirely shocked by the news; I was orphaned by my publisher once before, in 1995, when Bantam discontinued their Sweet Dreams YA line. So I recognized the warning signs, even though I hoped I would prove to be wrong.

My 2016, Too Hot to Handel, was originally scheduled for March, but was pushed back to June. That was the first month in which the ARCs did not go out in time. (Printing of ARCs was delayed for three months just as publication of the novels was.) As a result, THTH has been the only one of the five John Pickett mysteries that was not reviewed by at least one of the major reviewers. The effect that may have on library sales scares me to death.

On a more positive note, the first two books in the series are out of print, and ebook sales of those books are bringing me a monthly income well in excess of the advance Five Star has been paying. So I'll continue to self-publish the John Pickett series. And since Thorndike Press has expressed interest in continuing to publish the series in large print, I hope to supplement my income and maintain a library presence that way.

It's a scary time for all of us, but security can turn into a rut. Just as the cancellation of Bantam's Sweet Dreams series pushed me to write the Regency I'd always secretly dreamed of writing, there are new, and perhaps better, things awaiting all of us.

Allan J. Emerson said...

Glad things are going well for you, Susan. I think writers who have a number of published books are better positioned than those of us whose first novel was published by Five Star just before they dropped their mystery line.

I don't understand the reluctance of publishers to take on orphaned series--the series already has a following or it wouldn't have continued, so the uphill work to establish a market presence has already been done.

Ah well, nobody said the publishing world was easy to understand...

Susan Oleksiw said...

Sheri, I think our experience is fairly typical of writers who've been in the publishing world for a while. Publishers pick up and drop series, and all for reasons we often know little about. You seem to have come through the whole thing fairly well, and I hope I will also. I'm waiting for reviews now from the big reviewers, where I've usually done well. Without those notices, however, I will be very worried about sales.

Allan, you're in a difficult position. But you do have a track record, and I hope you can use that to get another book contract. I also find the reluctance to take on an established series very odd, but it does happen occasionally.

I hope more writers will share their experiences. Thank you both for commenting.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Always disappointing when a publisher shuts down a line or its doors. Had the same thing happen when Five Star closed it's Women's Fiction line....but we just do what we feel led to do...whether that's pitch and pray for another publisher to pick our book(s) up or self publish.

Praying your decision turns out to be the best you've ever made!
Good luck and God's blessings.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Susan, an interesting post and comments. I had the privilege of being a guest on Author Expressions a few months ago when my first and now only Five Star book, Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery was published. The welcome for the book has been heartwarming. Because it is doubtful Carrie will be picked up by anyone else (a shame as it was only the first book), I have been working on another manuscript and short stories while doing book talks and signings for Poker. Reviews and reader reactions have been most generous for Poker, so it will be difficult to say good-bye to these characters when the speaking engagements run out. Good luck to all.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I decided to go indie, at least for the continuance of my Bad Hair Day Mysteries. This series is too far along for me to seek another publisher, and I want control at this stage. So I hired my former Five Star editor to freelance for me. This is a sequel to my last Five Star book that comes out in February, so publication has to be put off for now. I've also written a novella for a cozy mystery anthology, and have released my first Bad Hair Day title in audiobook. Where to next? I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Everyone,

It is sobering to be a part of this club. My run at Five Star will include 7 mysteries once Doggone It comes out in October. Like several have said, if we were paying better attention, perhaps we might have "seen" this coming as the signs were there, but I for one was wearing blinders and madly trying to keep up with writing and promotion.

The outage also strikes me in mid-series. I took a hard look at what I wanted to accomplish. While a library press has a certain appeal to me, what I want is to be able to maintain a presence online and at conferences. For the conference part of the equation, I needed a MWA-approved publisher. I subbed to a few and was lucky enough to have my series picked up by another small, MWA-approved press. Will it prove to be the right decision? Time will tell.

Patricia Stoltey said...

The only novel I had ready to go when the Five Star new came out was a mystery, but it was historical and fit the Frontier Fiction time frame. I do have a contract for that one with a tentative release date of November 2017.

But, my two almost finished wips are mysteries, I have a few chapters done toward another novel with an undefined genre), a couple of short stories I haven't submitted anywhere yet (one of them a cowboy romance and the other a ghostly mystery), and a burning desire to get published again and again.

As much as I've loved being with Five Star, I also love the idea of jumping back into the "find an agent" or "find a new publisher" or even "self publish" now that I know so much more than when I started writing. In a kind of crazy, mixed-up way, it's exciting. But then, I'm one of those people who embraces change.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I forgot to mention that I'm continuing my Thursday guest author spots on my blog and will always welcome my Five Star friends regardless of genre and publisher.

You can get to my email address by clicking on my name here to get to my blogger profile.

Maria Hudgins said...

What's happening with me? Absolutely nada. I'm looking, though, and I'm starting a new series of historical thrillers.

Kaye George said...

Reading through this, I did have a warning from Berkley Prime Crime (which is dropping tons of cozies). I didn't get my ARCs when I should have. I eventually did, but got twice the number as usual. I guess out-of-the-ordinary events should make us sit up and take notice!

Susan, it's good to see you landing on your feet.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I love hearing the various ways writers are responding to the Five Star changes/endings. Some of you have found new publishers for established series, started a new series, published other books and stories, self-pubbed, and changed directions. But we're all moving forward.

Thanks for sharing your news, everyone. It's very encouraging, even inspiring.

Catherine Dilts said...

Hi Susan - I appreciate reading other Five Star orphans' progress reports. I had submitted the third and possibly final Rock Shop Mystery novel, but it didn't make it under the wire for the final mystery releases. I decided to self-pub to conclude the story, and move on to other projects. I am currently rewriting a mystery with the plan to seek an agent.
Best wishes, Stars! I agree with other comments that this is not an ending. It is a new beginning, frustrating though it feels at the moment.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Catherine, I'm glad to hear you're self-pubbing the third in the series for the sake of your readers. I think publishers underestimate how loyal readers are. Good luck with your new project and with finding an agent. This is a nutty business but somehow we manage to succeed in different ways. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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