WEB Conference on trends in mystery writing

with representatives from Publishers Weekly, Severn House and Soho Publishing.  They explored a few trends in mystery writing and then the publisher reps talked about books they have coming out in the next few months.

Everyone agreed that they were seeing more cross genre writing – mysteries with paranormal content for example (although mystery romances have been a staple for years) and there was some discussion of more literary authors moving into the genre since it has been so successful.

They talked about whether Scandinavian mysteries were becoming over-published in the wake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo phenomena.  Some agreement that there was and these publishers are focusing on Asian writers and African writers although they did say some Americans were now placing their stories in Scandinavia.

A question on popularity of historical mysteries overlapped with a question on whether people were reading more escapist books (perhaps cozies) in the wake of economic hard times.  Historical mysteries remain popular and there was a feeling that current mysteries are so technology focused that there is less ‘mystery’ about them.  These publishers were seeing interest in mysteries that went back to the 80’s – so recent history – as well as the traditional medieval, tudor, Victorian and Greek and Roman series.  There was also a feeling that people found historical settings more escapist.  They also mentioned the Downton Abbey effect.

The last question considered was the effect of e-books and while the publishers were generally positive about them, the Severn House publisher said they now issue E-books at the same time as hard covers and for the first 3 months, the price is the same before the e-book price drops.  They have found this fairly successful as a way to maintain bottom line to support mid-list authors who are often dropped by larger publishers as profits fall.

Here are some of the titles they are pushing:

Mr. Campion’s Farewell – a Margery Allingham character with the book finished by Mike Repley

Even in Darkness by Lynn Hightower

Turn Left at Doheny by J. F. Freedman

The Art of the Devil by John Altman (this is an example of more recent history – an assassins attempt on Eisenhower’s life)

Jack of Spies – David Downing

Herbie’s Game – Timothy Hallinen

Murder in Pigalle – Cara Black

Cold Storage Alaska – John Straley  (he is poet laureate of Alaska – an example of cross over)

Murder at Cape Three Point by Kwei Quartey – set in Ghana (similar to #1 Ladies Detective Agency)

Questions from the audience elicited comments on the popularity of legal thrillers – waning – ; the preference of publishers to series over stand alone titles; and a question on children’s mysteries that allowed the Soho publisher to talk about a new imprint for teen mysteries.  The final question was on whether a book could be considered a mystery without a murder and while they all said they have examples of books where there are other crimes, apparently you really need a body.

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