After parting ways with Dorchester Publishing last August and finding a new home at Titan Books in the fall, Hard Case Crime is back this season with four new titles. Founded in 2004 by award-winning novelists Charles Ardai and Max Phillips, Hard Case was started to revive the style of paperback crime novels that saw huge success in the 1940s and '50s. It published 66 titles in its six-year partnership with Dorchester, and though it doesn't release sales figures, Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime, said its bestselling title was by far The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, which had an initial print run in excess of one million copies.
The four titles Hard Case has lined up for its relaunch have strong pedigrees, and all will also be released as e-books for $9.95, except the imprint's very first hardcover, Getting Off by Lawrence Block. The other books are The Consummata (Oct. 4), a lost Mickey Spillane novel completed after his death by his friend Max Allan Collins; another Collins title, Quarry's Ex (Sept. 20), the latest novel in the Quarry series; and Choke Hold (Oct. 4) by Edgar Award–nominated author Christa Faust. In 2012, Titan will distribute six Hard Case titles.
Despite being away for the last year, Ardai is confident of the imprint's place in the market. "Hard Case is one of a very small number of publishers that has a brand," said Ardai, something he nurtures. "Every book carries the yellow Hard Case ribbon in the same two places, every book has the same graphical treatment for its front- and back-matter, and every book features an original painted cover done in the classic pulp style," he explained. "And Hard Case's narrow focus on a particular sort of crime fiction—rather than trying to be everything to everybody—means that readers have a good sense of what they'll get if they pick up a Hard Case book."
Ardai mentions Hard Case's covers with good reason: they're gorgeous pictures of the washed-out mood of noir's heyday. "There are customers who tell us they buy the books only because of the cover art," Ardai said. "There are collectors who put multiple copies of each title away in Mylar bags. We feel the covers and the stories between the covers are equally important. It's like the words and music in a Broadway show—you can't have one without the other."
Titan Books is adding to Hard Case's efforts with some creative moves of its own. For Fashion Week in New York beginning September 12, designer Hally McGehean will be debuting a dress made entirely out of small images of Hard Case covers on fabric. "The evening of the fashion show there will be a party with roughly 150 members of the New York arts community, and we have the opportunity to give them each a Hard Case book," said Katy Wild, Titan Books editorial director. Titan has already launched a new Hard Case catalogue and is discussing ways to revive the Hard Case book club, which had a loyal following.
Along with its branding, Ardai believes Hard Case has been successful because it understands its market, including the changes it has seen over the years. "Crime fiction has consistently been one of the strongest performing categories in fiction publishing," said Ardai. "What has varied over time is which subgenres are more popular. Twenty years ago, it was difficult for a novel that might be considered ‘noir' or hard-boiled to get published. Today, many of the most successful novelists working in the genre are producing very dark, serious, hard-edged work, and the noir/hard-boiled category is one of the most respected in the field."
Look for crime enthusiasts to break out the Mylar bags beginning this month as Hard Case Crime returns to dirty up bookshelves everywhere.