“I think the mystery category could be an interesting space for us. Could you look into that?”
At Sourcebooks, big projects often grow out of small questions. And in this case, the small, seemingly innocuous question—“Could you look into that?”—was directed at me, a fledgling editor with the time and interest to do a deep dive into the well-established, sprawling mystery category to determine whether Sourcebooks might be able to find a foothold in the marketplace.
At other publishing houses, the thought of taking on such a large task might be intimidating. But at Sourcebooks, innovation has always been a prominent theme, especially in the fiction program. From building a new imprint from the ground up under publishing legend Hillel Black’s guidance, to the Jane Austen spinoff craze that rocked the early 2000s, to the establishment of a thriving romance program, Sourcebooks editors have been seeking out new opportunities in adult fiction for nearly two decades, and I was thrilled to have the chance to take on a similar challenge.
I started my investigation with data, analyzing the top twenty mystery imprints in the Big Five, as well as looking at the most successful independent publishers in the space. I broke the entire mystery/suspense/thriller market down into categories, and from there into subcategories. Everything from James Patterson’s gritty thrillers to Joanne Fluke’s delicious cozy mysteries went under the microscope as I worked to identify which types of books were selling well, paying special attention to where debut authors were finding success.
I also wanted to understand the typical mystery reader. Who is she (yes, 70% of mystery readers are women)? Where does she buy her books? How does she feel about ebooks and libraries? What is important to her when purchasing new books? And what does she like about reading mysteries? Data helped me understand this mostly female audience, which happily crosses over nicely with the romance and women’s fiction readers Sourcebooks is already adept at reaching.
Finally, I had to put together a plan for Sourcebooks’s entry into the mystery category. I compared the data I had to Sourcebooks’s strengths, looking for places where we could capitalize on our existing knowledge and skills to reach readers in new ways. Women-oriented mysteries were a clear opportunity for us—as a well-known romance and women’s fiction publisher, I suspected we might also find success with books featuring female sleuths that tackle issues of importance to women readers. Since we also have a strong historical fiction program, historical mysteries in the tradition of Jacqueline Winspear and Susan Elia MacNeal were an area I was eager to explore. Our well-established mass market romance program and strong presence in the library market could lend itself to development in the mass market cozy mystery space, and our passion for book club fiction and fantastic storytelling led me to wonder if we might not want to publish books in the vein of Tana French, Lori Roy, and Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.
All of this research and planning went into a 108-slide PowerPoint presentation, which I shared with our publisher and senior staff to propose the development of a mystery program at Sourcebooks. A year and a half later, we are releasing debut author Radha Vatsal’s A Front Page Affair, the first book in an exciting historical mystery series set in World War I New York City that has received outstanding trade reviews, is a Library Journal debut of the month, and represents the beginning of what I hope will be an important evolution in the Sourcebooks fiction program.
One of the very best things about being an editor at Sourcebooks is the huge number of opportunities we get to take advantage of in terms of flexibility and our publisher’s enthusiasm for innovation and willingness to let us experiment. Editors armed with nothing more than passion, a keen editorial eye, and a small question (“Could you look into that?”) have established imprints that now house some of the most beloved and respected authors in their categories. And, of course, in the end, everything we’re able to do as editors comes from the wonderful authors we work with. A frequent refrain at Sourcebooks is “We publish authors, not books,” which points to our belief that one of our jobs as a publisher is to support our authors in editorial work, marketing, publicity, and sales, in hopes that we’ll still be working together five, ten, fifteen years down the road. As we embark on this new adventure, I’m so thrilled to be welcoming our new mystery authors to the Sourcebooks family and can’t wait to see the success we’ll create together.
Editor, Sourcebooks and Sourcebooks Landmark