Mysterious Press, founded 25 years ago by mystery maven Otto Penzler as an adjunct to his mystery bookstore, had a happy bonus for its anniversary celebration: one of its authors won the Edgar for best novel of the year (see above)—by no means the first time this has happened.
There have been a number of changes since Penzler founded the press in 1976. After eight years of increasingly successful publishing, Warner Books became its distributor in 1984. Five years later, Warner bought the company, and its staffers moved over to the parent house. Two years ago Warner trade publishing chief Larry Kirshbaum bought Penzler out altogether.
Today it is run by Sara Ann Freed, who cut her mystery teeth with the great Joan Kahn at Harper and began with Mysterious as a reader in the mid-'80s. Bill Malloy, former editor-in-chief, who recently left the company, was the only full-time editor with Penzler then, said Freed in a recent interview. Penzler already had his significant connection with star author Donald E. Westlake, and her job was to seek out female authors. She found some, in Marcia Muller (who is about to do a stand-alone novel after many Sharon McCone mysteries), Margaret Maron, Erin Elkins and Charlotte MacLeod. Someone who got away, she said laughing, was a woman who had done a bio of Billy Graham and was trying her hand at a mystery. She told her it needed reworking, because her coroner was her best character; it was, of course, a younger Patricia Cornwell.
Freed, with one assistant and "terrific support from Warner," aims to publish a couple of new hardcovers a month and a comparable number of paperbacks, including both trade paper and mass market reprints. Her mandate is still the traditional crime novel, as represented by Maron, though she senses a changing outlook among mystery readers. "They're looking now for more 'edge' in their stories; it's what they expect after all the cop shows on TV." Most people she meets at crime conventions, she said, tell her they want tougher, more character-driven tales.
She still finds the hardcover market the strongest ("mass market is so crowded with bestsellers and genre"), and a typical first printing is around 10,000—12,000 copies, though star authors like Westlake can command a top of about 75,000.
The Mysterious Press Anthology, with a foreword by Penzler, has been issued to commemorate the anniversary, and contains stories by most of the house's stars.