What's a midlist author to do when his publisher puts his backlist out of print? In the case of mystery writer Archer Mayor, you take matters into your own hands, literally. While Chat, his 18th book in the Joe Gunther series, is set to come out on schedule from Grand Central Publishing later this month, Mayor will be reissuing the first 12 books in the series as trade paperbacks under his own AMPress imprint, to be distributed by Enfield Publishing and Distribution. Meanwhile, Mayor has just signed with St.Martin's for books 19 through 21 or three years, whichever comes first, and has already opened talks with Hachette to revert rights for his other five books, which he would like to add to his own list.

“To me it makes perfect sense,” said Mayor, who publishes a book a year while working part-time as a death investigator for Vermont's chief medical examiner and as a deputy sheriff. “The whole thing about getting mad and getting even, I'm doing something in between. I'm trying to be part of the solution.” He's optimistic even though he had to mortgage his home and find investors to make AMPress happen.

Mayor said he was encouraged to bring back his books in part because of his consistently good reviews. The New York Times Book Review has called him “one of the most sophisticated stylists in the genre.” And Publishers Weekly has given six of his books starred reviews. He is also a recipient of the New England Independent Booksellers Association Award for Best Fiction. Despite the attention, his books still average only 18,000 copies in hardcover.

To keep the reviews and publicity coming, particularly in the Northeast, Mayor has hired former-Vermont-bookstore-owner-turned-publicist Elaine Sopchak. As a result of her efforts and those of his publicist at Grand Central, Mayor has 88 signings over the next two months. “I'm going to cover New England like a wet T-shirt,” he joked. He kicked off the campaign by taking a table at the NEIBA trade show in Providence last month, where he got orders for 300 units. The sales rep for Hachette even gave him a stack of galleys for Chat so Mayor could promote the new book with his backlist.

“We ordered tons of his new editions,” said Lynne Reed, co-owner of Misty Valley Books, who has Mayor on her fall events schedule. “I think once we get all the books back in stock, people will be very happy. They want to start with the first book in the series and read them straight through.”

Mayor is being conservative with his initial print runs, 500 trade paperbacks of each. Sopchak did a mailing to independent booksellers in August, followed by an order form in the Book Sense Red Box. Another mailing will go out to mystery bookstores later this month.

Neither Hachette nor St. Martin's seems concerned about Mayor's efforts on behalf of AMPress. “As far as I know,” said Mayor, “everybody understands that it doesn't matter what book takes off. We all benefit.”