What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
Falling sales of books as members of a newer generation spend more time using apps on their complex cellphones that act more like computers, enabling them to surf the web instead of reading books. This is also reflected at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where attendance has been dropping yearly, as I can attest to having exhibited our Permanent Press titles there for the past 33 years—I returned from Frankfurt on Oct. 28. As for other trends in publishing, they are still centered on the four major conglomerates that produce, through their multiple imprints, 85 percent of all books sold in America. And the vast majority of books purchased are nonfiction. When Amy Schumer can tear up a $1 million advance she signed and then find another suitor who will pay $2 million, there is not a lot left over for talented but non-famous authors.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
Quality fiction rather than nonfiction—though we’ve been doing one nonfiction book for the past few years among our 16 annual releases. We particularly welcome fiction that touches on cultural and social issues that can widen a reader’s perspective without sounding “preachy.” Two recent examples are Margaret Vandenburg’s The Home Front, which centers on having an autistic child, and her second 2015 title, Weapons of Mass Destruction, that revolves around drone warfare. We have no interest in publishing books written by “celebrities,” but enjoy books that are unique and not generic. Half our titles are usually mysteries and the other half novels.
We’ve published three outstanding, prize-winning thriller writers year after year: Chris Knopf, whose Sam Acquillo novels, set in the Hamptons on eastern Long Island, have been sold to nine different overseas publishers; Chris has won the Nero Award. His latest release is Back Lash.Hammett Prize winner Howard Owen is a second prize-winning mystery writer, whose latest title, Grace,was just released and features Willie Black, a hard-drinking and dogged newspaper reporter who is instrumental in solving crimes in and around the various districts of Richmond, Virginia. Our third star is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Freed, whose Hot Start debuted in late August. David’s series features Cordell Logan, a former government assassin and pilot of a small plane who is trying to connect with his Buddhist nature.
Our one nonfiction title this year is Danner Darcleight’s Concrete Carnival, a memoir from a 39-year-old man serving 25 years to life for a double homicide, which has been hailed as one of the most compelling prison books ever written.
These are examples of books we’ve loved publishing, by authors—many of whom have become close friends. They are unique and it doesn’t matter to us whether we sell 1,000 copies or 5,000 copies.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
Generic junk. Or a submission from any writer who tells me he or she has a book that will surely hit the bestseller lists.
Have you worked with self-published authors?
Twice over the past 36 years and both were serious novels: Alone in the Valley, by Kenneth Waymon Baker, about the touching naïveté of its young soldier in the Vietnam War. The other was The Culling, by Robert Johnson, dealing with overpopulation, described by the New York Journal of Books as “an entertaining and thought-provoking debut.”
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
We specialize in publishing award-winning fiction, which includes having a National Book Award finalist, Beyond Deserving, by Sandra Scofield; Leonard Rosen’s All Cry Chaos, which was both a Chautauqua Award finalist and an Edgar Award finalist, and won ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award. Another example is K.C. Frederic’s Inland,which won the PEN/Winship Award, and Gwen Florio’s Montana, a finalist for the International Thriller Award for the Best First Novel and which won the Pinckley Prize for Crime Fiction.
We also believe a good book should not be allowed to go out of print, which is why we have close to 500 titles in our warehouse. One benefit of this policy came about when Clifford Irving wrote The Hoax, about his fraudulent tale concerning Howard Hughes, which we published in our first full year (1980). It was turned into a film starring Richard Gere in 1999, earning the author over $407,000 within a period of one year, whereas Irving’s previous earnings were less than $1,000 before the film and subsequent sub-rights sales.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We’ve also had great success in selling foreign rights through the efforts of our foreign agents (one of the reasons we go to the Frankfurt Book Fair every year is to spend time with them). And our film agent, Jeff Aghassi in Los Angeles, has successfully negotiated film rights for The Hoax and options and sales for several of our other titles.
Martin Shepard is co-publisher of The Permanent Press, based in Sag Harbor, New York. Martin started the press with his wife, Judith, in 1978 by publishing six titles. Two years ago, they added a third co-publisher, Chris Knopf, the multiple award-winning thriller writer. They do their own distribution, with an in-house staff and a warehouse on their property, and are self-funded. Over the years, they’ve upped their output, choosing new titles from the 5,000 submissions they receive each year. Martin has previously worked as a political activist, physician, psychiatrist, author of a dozen books, house designer, and builder. He plays the alto saxophone daily as a form of yoga, and has written and recorded several songs featured (along with a CD) in his memoir On The Record.