The world of the paperback original is often a murky one. There are times when it's easy to see why certain books -- or certain writers -- are consigned to the mass market stacks, even if those reasons are more obvious to publishers than to readers (case in point: are cozies more likely to be in PBO because they don't sell in hardcover, or are they not in hardcover because publishers don't have the confidence to sell them in that format? Chicken and egg, so to speak.)
Then there are utter headscratchers -- books which, by rights could do fairly well in hardcover but for whatever reason, the publisher either missed the boat or had no clue how to market it properly, so they consigned them to the publishing equivalent of the Eastern European orphanage. The example that best comes to my mind is James Preston Girard's SOME SURVIVE, but I'm sure we can all think of some others.
And with the rising popularity of the trade paperback original format for both literary and genre fiction, things become even more complicated -- especially as I'm not the only one to believe this format will prove to be even more prevalent in the years to come.
But sometimes, it makes sense for a writer to be published in mass market PBO. Especially if they haven't been heard from in some time. After the jump, I'll talk of two writers being re-introduced using a marketing strategy that's worked well in romance and might prove useful for mysteries as well.
Paul Levine was an early adapter to the legal thriller game. His protagonist, ex-football player-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter, proved popular enough to feature in seven installments spaced out through the 1990s (as well as a bad TV movie with Gerald McRaney as Lassiter.) After writing a standalone, 9 SCORPIONS (1998) Levine disappeared from the publishing landscape. For good reason, as he was hired on by Don Bellasario to write for JAG and other, less successful shows Bellasario's production company created. And so for several years, Levine put novel-writing aside in favor of TV writing.
But now he's about to return to his first career with the impending publication of SOLOMON AND LORD, the first in a new series featuring duelling lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord. I'm assuming from the jacket flap that this is supposed to be a more up-to-date version of the kind of verbal sparring seen in Hepburn/Tracy movies (with a dash of HIS GIRL FRIDAY) which could be a lot of fun. The second in the series, THE DEEP BLUE ALIBI, will be out in early February, also in mass market PBO.
Bantam Dell is also responsible for returning John Ramsey Miller to the mystery world. Almost ten years ago his debut, SHADOW FAMILY, was published to a fair amount of acclaim. But then he seemed to drop off the face of the earth. Not quite. Turns out Miller was writing, and produced three books in a new series starring Federal Marshal Winter Massey. But Bantam Dell decided that instead of spacing the books out in a one a year pace, they would publish the trio in quick succession. And so, INSIDE OUT and UPSIDE DOWN were published in May and July, while SIDE BY SIDE will show up in stores in September. Miller's next novel will be published -- presumably in hardcover -- next spring. And by then, the hope is that he'll build up enough of a following for fans to make the splurge for the more expensive format.
It remains to be seen if the strategy of releasing books in quick succession will work, but I don't see why not -- when Maura Seger wrote herself back into the romance world, she was re-introduced as a "new" author named Josie Litton, and the first three books in the new series she created were published in the space of two months in the summer of 2001, with three more to follow the next year. And the triple-barrelling made a huge splash that people went out and bought her books to propel her to bestseller lists. And Bantam -- who published Litton's books -- also found success with this method with Madeline Hunter's early historical novels, publishing three in a row in 2000, as well as with Kay Hooper's trilogy of SHADOWS novels, which helped get her on the NYT bestseller list.
The cons, I suppose, is that the author might be thought of as flooding the marketplace, but if readers respond to the first in a series knowing that the next two will be available quickly, then a built-in-readership is established. And I grant it's a risk for a publisher to take to bet on three books right away without knowing how the first one will even do. But considering how series-driven the mystery world still is, why stick to a book-a-year model if the potential to get readers hooked more quickly is there?
So I'm curious -- if you're a reader and you like the first in a new series, do you have more of an incentive if the next book or two will be available quickly? Or will the eventual wait -- because at some point, there is one -- turn you off because you had three books so swiftly and now the next one won't be out for ages? And this strategy's being applied to thrillers -- would it work as well (or better) for more traditional mysteries?