Berkley Prime Crime made its debut 20 years ago, releasing 40 mass market cozy mystery paperbacks in 1994. Much has changed in the publishing landscape since then. In 2013, the BPC imprint published 150 books—a mixture of mass market originals, trade paperbacks, and hardcovers. “When we launched Berkley Prime Crime,” said v-p and senior executive editor Natalee Rosenstein, who’s been with the imprint since its inception, “I believed that the audience for the traditional or ‘cozy’ mystery was still largely underserved and untapped. Twenty years later, I can say without reservation that this has proven to be correct and that Berkley Prime Crime has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations.”
Dedicated to the softer side of crime fiction, BPC launches 25–30 new series every year, with a variety of capers, villains, sleuths, and pun-filled titles. The imprint offers readers everything from knitting mysteries, such as 2013’s Close Knit Killer by Maggie Sefton, to paranormal whodunits, such as 2009’s Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell. And BPC books are popular, not just with book clubs, but nationally. In 2013, BPC boasted 16 New York Times bestsellers, on printed and extended lists combined.
Rosenstein said: “the most striking change I have seen is the greater and greater acceptance of the cozy mystery.” In 1994, cozies and traditional mysteries didn’t dominate the shelves—or the publishing industry—the way they do today. “Now,” said Rosenstein, “the bestseller lists are filled with cozy mysteries.” Another change from 1994 is the fact that BPC now publishes its titles in all formats, rather than solely as mass market paperbacks, a switch that Rosenstein said was made fairly early in BPC’s evolution. The authors who initially made the leap from mass market to hardcover were, she noted, primarily “either authors who had been published in hardcover by another house, like Susan Wittig Albert and Carolyn Hart, or authors who clearly warranted hardcover publication, such as Earlene Fowler or Victoria Thompson.”
The shift showed Rosenstein and her colleagues at BPC that “hardcover was the preferred first format for a number of our most successful paperback original authors such as Laura Childs, Maggie Sefton, Monica Ferris, and Cleo Coyle, to name a few of the earlier ones.” Those early successes are still bankable writing stars for BPC; Sefton, for example, is on the 11th installment of her Kelly Flynn knitting series, and Laura Childs is balancing three successful series for the imprint, featuring a tea shop owner (the upcoming Steeped in Evil is #15 in the series), a scrapbooker (2013’s Gilt Trip was the 11th installment), and a group of middle-aged woman who run an egg-themed cafe (January’s Eggs in a Casket was the fifth book in the series). To augment the output from BPC’s longtime authors this year, the imprint will release new series from new authors.
Rosenstein credits some of the recent success of BPC to the online marketing efforts of both its authors and the BPC staff, and those initiatives will increase this year. To complement the online efforts, BPC is sending a number of authors to Houston’s Murder by the Book on March 13 and Phoenix’s Poisoned Pen on March 25.