Who would have thought that a small Michigan press that publishes only lesbian fiction could bring some of the most renowned contemporary mystery authors in Britain to the attention of American readers?
But then, Bywater Books, founded three years ago by former women's bookstore owner Kelly Smith, with authors Marianne K. Means and J.M. Redmann, has always been global in its outlook. While Bywater is a wholly American-owned company, one founding principal, Smith, now lives in England, while another, Means, remains in Ann Arbor. The third, Redmann, sold her interest in Bywater two years ago to Val McDermid, the mystery writer, who lives with Smith in England. And Carol Seajay, previously the publisher of Feminist Bookstore News and Books to Watch Out For, has just been hired to perform administrative duties for the press from her home in San Francisco.
“Because of the phone and the Internet, I can do everything over here,” Smith assured PW by phone from her Manchester home. “The only expensive thing is sending documents. And we don't do that very often.”
In fact, Smith's move to England less than six months after founding Bywater inspired the launch of the press's imprint, Bloody Brits, last year. Bloody Brits focuses on reissuing books in the U.S. by established British mystery writers, without regard to gender or sexual orientation. There currently are 14 titles on its list. Ten new releases are scheduled for this fall and winter, including four books in John Harvey's bestselling Charles Resnick police procedural series. The imprint also publishes recurring titles by Ann Cleeves, who won the prestigious Golden Dagger Award in 2006 for best crime novel of the year, and Chris Simms, listed by Waterstone's as one of the 25 “fiction writers to watch.”
“Bywater is a lesbian press. Bloody Brits is not a lesbian imprint,” Smith emphasized, recalling how, after moving to England, she noted that many British mystery authors, beloved in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth as well, were completely unknown to her.
“They know they have a readership out there, but they have difficulty reaching that readership,” McDermid added.
McDermid, Bloody Brits's editorial director, who selects titles for the imprint, attributes the difficulty many British authors encounter trying to gain a foothold in the U.S. market to a combination of excellent American mystery writers and cultural stereotyping.
“There's more than enough homegrown writers to keep you reading,” she said. “But there's also this idea in America of what the British mystery is, that it's cozies. There's this fantasy that England is Agatha Christie country. It's a case of overcoming that initial resistance, of shattering illusions of what is British.”
Bywater titles, including those published under the Bloody Brits imprint, are distributed in the U.S. by Consortium.