When my wife Judy and I started The Permanent Press in 1978, 35 years ago, I’d already written 10 books for major publishers, and our greatest love was quality fiction. The name we chose for the press was quirky, but also signified our belief that a good book should never go out of print. This became a code we’ve kept, which is why we have a backlist of close to 500 titles. We started with six books and within two years began publishing a book a month. During the early years, our authors were getting frequent literary citations, which eventually included a National Book Award finalist and a Nobel Prize nominee. We were similarly cited, our highest honor being the LMP Award for Editorial Achievement on May 30, 1998, voted on by colleagues in the publishing industry.
What we sought was character-driven literate fiction, which to us meant artful writing and unique plots. Seven years into it, we began to establish a niche reputation for publishing novels from authors who were not household names for sophisticated readers who were seeking to discover new writers. For 29 years, we released one book a month until 2008, and that’s when things started changing, incrementally at first and then with increasing rapidity.
Back in 2004, the agent Mary Jack Wald sent us a manuscript by Chris Knopf, a mystery entitled The Last Refuge. It was our only mystery that year and embraced the same criteria for publication. Over the course of two years, it had been rejected by all the major publishers. Having read 27 Elmore Leonard thrillers, and believing this unknown guy was writing as well as Elmore, we added it to our list. It led all other titles in copies sold, rights sold, and praise lavished upon it in reviews. Since then, we’ve published and signed on nine more of Chris’ thrillers.
The effect was not unnoticed by other agents who had similar experiences, unable to find a conglomerate buyer for a year or more and then coming to us. They brought us many under-appreciated mystery manuscripts by the likes of Connie Dial, Leonard Rosen, David Freed, Jaden Terrell and Gwen Florio, so that by 2012 we began publishing 16 titles annually from the 5,000 submissions we received. Of these, 10 were mysteries, and the same pattern is continued through 2013 and 2014. In that time, book sales alone have increased here by over 20 percent each year. Meanwhile, sub-rights sales have gone through the roof, with overall corporate income up 35 percent higher than three years ago.
Since 2012, our mystery writers have won or been finalists for the six major mystery prizes, with Leonard Rosen’s All Cry Chaos a winner of the Macavity Award and a finalist for the Edgar Award and Anthony Award. This year alone, Howard Owen’s Oregon Hill won the Hammett Prize, Jaden Terrell’s Racing the Devil was a finalist for the Shamus Award, and Knopf’s Dead Anyway won the Nero Award.
Clearly then, the trend from our neck of the woods is high quality mysteries. No Tom Cruise-like action/adventure thrillers or James Patterson clones need submit. How these gifted writers came to find success under our umbrella remains mysterious, but the comments of Haila Williams, acquisitions editor at Blackstone Audio—who, over the years, has taken on dozens and dozens of our writers—sheds a better light on their increasing popularity:
“When I think about why The Permanent Press has survived through the ups and downs of the publishing world it seems to boil down to taste in books. You and Judy balance each other in creating a list of highly skilled writers with diverse themes. You manage to hit the sweet spot between literary and commercial appeal. Your writers seem to arrive at their worldviews through real introspection and can create a uniquely personal expression that others can relate to. You two are a hard act to follow.”
Martin Shepard is the co-publisher of The Permanent Press. His additional biographical credits include having spent several years as a political activist in opposition to the Vietnam War, as well as being a physician, psychiatrist, author of a dozen books, house designer and builder. He plays the alto saxophone daily as a form of yoga, but “Never on Sundays,” and has written and recorded several songs.