BlueHen books, the literary imprint that was one of former Penguin Putnam publisher Phyllis Grann's pet projects, will not be affiliated with the house by the end of the year, and BlueHen executives said they are looking for a new home. The backlist will move with BlueHen, but Penguin said it will support the line's authors until the line can find a new partner. BlueHen and Penguin executives independently used the phrase "different direction" to describe the parting.
BlueHen was started by McMurray & Beck veterans Fred Ramey and Greg Michalson. The two had a number of successes with their former employer that culminated in an NBA nomination for the novel Hummingbird House by Patricia Henley in 1999. Grann recruited them to start a boutique imprint at Putnam, and the pair took marketing director Caitlin Hamilton with them. The idea was to bring debut fiction to a wider audience, paying modestly for authors that they could then develop. BlueHen launched in the spring of 2001, and the house has 26 current and forthcoming titles. Even with its new funding source, the imprint still made its name publishing a kind of rural lyricism typified by Hummingbird House, as well as flat-out oddball titles.
Some industry members felt BlueHen had found a savvy formula—combining low overhead, manageable advances, clout with independents and a reputation for some sales success. But Putnam president Carole Baron said, "That's not entirely true," when asked if all these factors made BlueHen a sound investment, and one insider noted that the imprint did not meet its financial goals. Baron declined to offer a particular explanation for ending the deal. "Like a lot of relationships, sometimes it's just not working and there's no specific reason," she said.
Ramey sounded noticeably unruffled about Putnam's decision. "I can't say I was totally surprised," he said. He also said he was confident he would find another home for BlueHen and said he wasn't ruling out another conglomerate. "Any place that's a supportive environment [works for us]. These books take quite a bit of patience."
For her part, Grann questioned the wisdom of not sticking with her plan. "I know BlueHen will continue to publish works of importance, and I expect their authors will prove to be to some of the most significant writers in the years to come," she said, adding, "It's very sad. I never would have brought them in if I didn't think they would have had the time to develop a successful list."