After seven years in prison, a popular self-published novel, starting her own publishing company, and new novel set to come from Simon & Schuster, Vickie Stringer, author and founder and publisher of Triple Crown Publications, is the reigning queen of urban fiction, a hot new African-American book category.

Stringer hardly looks like the mistress of hardcore urban crime fiction, a genre that is a contemporary version of the classic 1970s crime fiction popularized by writers like Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim, updated with a hardcore gangsta rap sensibility. At BookExpo America, African-American booksellers were constantly citing growing sales of urban fiction titles, and many retailers and publishers said the titles attract the elusive black male reader in addition to black women.

Despite a "nice middle-class background" in Detroit, said Stringer, she was curious about "thug life," fell in love with a drug dealer and, in 1994, was sentenced to seven years in a federal prison for money laundering. "Seven years gives a person a lot of time to reflect," Stringer said. Encouraged by her lawyer, Stringer wrote a novel, Let That Be the Reason, based on her life.

Out of prison and working at fast-food restaurants, she sent the book out to publishers and got 26 rejections. So Stringer self-published Reason and sold 1,500 copies in three weeks. Before long, other would-be authors who were writing in the same urban fiction vein approached her about publishing their novels. So she "went to the library and read up on how to be a publisher."

After selling more than 30,000 copies of Reason, she published the novel Gangsta: An Urban Tragedy by K'wan, which quickly sold about 10,000 copies. Then she "published another, then another and another. Each book paid for the next book," she said. "I realized that traditional publishers were sleeping on these books."

The result of all those books is Stringer's publishing house, Triple Crown Publications, based in Columbus, Ohio. The house has a staff of nine and has morphed into a publishing house/literary agency—in addition to a straight-to-video production house as she makes plans to turn her books into films. Stringer now has 14 authors who have published 21 books at TCP and collectively sold more than 300,000 copies. She's also sent four TCP authors off to mainstream houses (she's their agent), among them Random House and St. Martin's.

Stringer's next novel, Imagine This, is due out from S&S's Atria Books in August. She told PW she's in negotiation to start her own imprint—much like black erotica queen Zane's Strebor Books—at S&S. S&S spokesperson Adam Rothberg confirmed the talks, emphasizing that nothing has been decided. "We're been very happy with our arrangement with Strebor," said Rothberg, "and we remain open to similar deals." Plus, Stringer claimed to PW, she will lure "a big-name black author to Triple Crown next year."

But some black booksellers have complained that her books glorify drug dealing and crime. Stringer, however, called her books "cautionary tales," and said they "are for the people in the streets. Hip-hop lit—parents hate it, kids want it and publishing can't hide from it."