Don't tell Akashic Books publisher Johnny Temple that anthologies don't sell. Akashic's Noir series—moody crime volumes, each set in a particular city—is up to 28 titles, with more on the way. The books sell well, attract foreign rights interest and help to brand the Brooklyn indie house around the country and the world. The press plans to release new books set in Rome and San Francisco in January, and Temple has announced that acclaimed novelists Edwidge Danticat and Dennis Lehane have agreed to guest edit upcoming Noir volumes set in Haiti and Boston, respectively.
Launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir, the series went international with Dublin and London shortly afterward and now includes Istanbul, Paris, Trinidad and Toronto. Volumes set in Delhi, Lagos, Copenhagen, Barcelona and Moscow are in the works. The Brooklyn and Washington, D.C., titles are the top sellers, each with about 20,000 copies after multiple printings; the Los Angeles book is close behind, at roughly 15,000 copies.
Temple believes his anthologies are popular because noir is both a strong theme for a series (“kick-ass crime stories”) and a very hot genre. The books generally feature original stories (sequel volumes collect noir “classics”) compiled by notable author/editors and offer depth—stories are set in varied neighborhoods in the theme cities. It may be noir, Temple continued, but the contributors are often prominent literary writers and they reflect race and gender diversity, which generates “a bigger audience. It's not just being P.C.”
Foreign licensees act as partners, first publishing their local volume and then others. “Once we published the Istanbul book, our Turkish partner licensed it and then three more,” said Temple. “When we do Berlin Noir, we'll go with the German house that wants other books, too.” Noir titles are licensed in Japan, Korea, Italy, Turkey, Russia, Denmark and the U.K. Guest editors generally waive Akashic's “tiny advances” and receive “half the profits from sales and foreign licensing on the back end,” Temple said.
“Most prominent authors want to support a quality independent publisher with a track record,” he explained. “Can we pay these editors what they expect? No. But they aren't doing this for the money.”