Industry Spotlight: An Inside Look at Seventh Street Books

7th streetBy James W. Ziskin

The publishing world is often romanticized, sometimes ridiculed, and, like any other industry, surely misunderstood by the non-initiated. The Big Thrill’s readers are professional and aspiring writers, industry professionals, and especially fans of thriller, suspense, mystery, and crime fiction. As part of our continuing series, INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT, we focus this month on demystifying the publishing experience with a profile of a young mystery-and-thriller imprint, Seventh Street Books. —Eds

In the midst of the greatest revolution publishing has witnessed since Gutenberg—with independent authors publishing their own works, Amazon flexing its muscles like—well—an Amazon, and Barnes & Noble closing stores—Prometheus Books launched a mystery-and-thriller imprint in 2012. They named it Seventh Street Books, after the street where Edgar Allen Poe lived and worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Guided by editorial director Dan Mayer, Seventh Street published its first two titles, The Bookseller by Mark Pryor and The Ragnarök Conspiracy by Erec Stebbins, in October of 2012. In little more than two years, Mayer has acquired and produced more than forty titles, many of which have garnered prestigious industry awards and nominations, as well as bushels of starred reviews. (See a partial list of awards and nominations at the bottom of this article.)

Beginning with Pryor’s 2012 breakout hit, The Bookseller, Seventh Street has been winning readers with compelling characters and distinctive settings. From McKinty’s magnificent Detective Sean Duffy novels, to the beloved Samuel Craddock series by Terry Shames, to outstanding standalones like The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day and The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens, the Seventh Street catalogue is filled with titles that cross categories of genre and sub-genre, featuring original detectives of every conceivable stripe: hard-boiled cops, small-town sheriffs, doctors, lawyers, journalists, and librarians. Even a Depression-Era mixed-race albino bartender. (If you haven’t read John Florio’s startlingly good Jersey Leo series—Sugar Pop Moon and Blind Moon Alley—do so immediately.)

And there are more gems: Lynne Raimondo’s gripping series featuring blind psychiatrist Mark Angelotti (Dante’s Wood; Dante’s Poison; Dante’s Dilemma) is among the most intelligent and satisfying crime fiction I’ve read. Robert Rotstein’s unique and addictive thrillers (Corrupt Practices; Reckless Disregard; The Bomb Maker’s Son) will suck you into a black hole of all-night reading binges. Susan Froetschel’s Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit paint stories of challenging, complex issues in far-off exotic lands. L. T. Graham’s erotic psychological thriller, The Blue Journal, featuring Detective Anthony Walker, is the first of a new series. And Mark Pryor has produced one winner after another, transporting readers to Paris, London, and Barcelona in the company of his genial Texan hero, Hugo Marston (The Bookseller; The Crypt Thief; The Blood Promise; The Button Man; The Reluctant Matador), all in less than three years.

In 2015, the Seventh Street will publish some great books by authors who are new to the imprint. Larry D. Sweazy’s period piece, See Also Murder, featuring book indexer Marjorie Trumaine, hits the shelves in May. In September, Stephanie Gayle’s Idyll Threats introduces us to a small Connecticut town and its chief of police, Thomas Lynch, a man with a secret he must hide. And in November, Jennifer Kincheloe’s The Secret Life of Anna Blanc will take readers on an exciting ride in 1907 Los Angeles.

“At Seventh Street Books, we’re looking for quality books that bring something special to the marketplace,” says Jill Maxick, Vice President of Marketing. “We’re excited by the idea of bringing new authors to a reader’s attention and we hope to develop both authors and series into ongoing favorites.”

To get to know more about this imprint, I decided to talk to some of the authors (like myself) who have been published by Seventh Street. We are a tightly knit group of writers who have become fast friends, offering advice and encouragement to each other, and closing down bars together at writers’ conferences. This is a rarity among writers at larger publishing houses—except for the drinking part.

For those of you who started as debut authors with Seventh Street, tell us about the moment—the moment you heard.

MARK PRYOR: My agent called as I was headed home (with BBQ takeout for a party) and told me to pull over. She didn’t want me to crash when she gave me the news. She said that Seventh Street had offered me a three-book deal for the Hugo Marston series. I drove the rest of the way home slowly, savoring the moment, the quiet ecstasy. When I got close to the house, I called my wife and asked her to meet me in the driveway, away from all our guests. She was worried, of course, that something was wrong but when she saw my face she knew.

TERRY SHAMES (A Killing at Cotton Hill; The Last Death of Jack Harbin; Dead Brike in Jarrett Creek; A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge): I was sort of dazed and immediately went upstairs, got dressed in “professional” clothes and put makeup on. It was like I was telling myself that now I was to be taken seriously.

LYNNE RAIMONDO: I cried.

ROBERT ROTSTEIN: My agent, Jill Marr, informed me that Dan Mayer loved my book and wanted to buy it. I was in such a state of shock that I matter-of-factly said, “Thank you very much, Jill,” and almost (not quite) hung up without another word. Thirty seconds later I called Jill back, whereupon I shouted for joy and thanked her profusely.

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For those who had published elsewhere, how has your experience at Seventh Street been different?

SUSAN FROETSCHEL: Most surprising is the effort put into publicity, so much more excitement than what was provided by two previous publishers: advance planning, ongoing discussions on challenges for a particular book, quick response to questions or ideas, the sense that they don’t lose interest in a book after the dreaded three months has passed after publication. The publicists enjoy the work and take as much pleasure as do the authors in any reviews, articles, or feedback on our books. My experiences and discussions with other authors suggest this is rare.

LARRY D. SWEAZY: The fact that Seventh Street Books is only two years old gives it a start-up, edgy feel in the most positive way. There’s enthusiasm within the publishing team that is genuine and hard to mistake. There’s a little extra something put into all of the books that might be glazed over in a larger imprint or publishing house. Communication, passion, and attention to detail is all there in spades.

STEPHANIE GAYLE: The editing experience has been much more focused and intense than it was with my debut novel published at a bigger house.

MARK PRYOR: I have one non-fiction book published, and my experiences couldn’t have been more different. From communication, to editing, to that shared feeling Seventh Street Books people have for the books they work on—no comparison. Seventh Street is a hands-down winner. Not even close.

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How did you sell your book to Seventh Street? Through an agent? What about book contracts?

LARRY D. SWEAZY: My agent submitted See Also Murder to Dan Mayer and to my great surprise and satisfaction, he bought it. This series has a narrative risk that most conventional publishers would shy away from, as well as a rural setting and a slightly obscure vocation for the protagonist. Marjorie Trumaine, a farm wife and back-of-the-book indexer, is not your everyday sleuth. There will be two more Marjorie Trumaine books (scheduled for 2016/2017 releases), and a standalone mystery set in 1933 Texas, A Thousand Falling Crows, out early next year.

TERRY SHAMES: Through my agent. It was serendipity that Seventh Street had just gotten into gear. I got a two-book contract, and shortly after the first one came out got a contract for two more.

ALLEN ESKENS (The Life We Bury): What tipped the scale in favor of Seventh Street (over other offers) was that it was newer (so it would be hungrier for breakout authors) and it had the power of Random House distribution.

JENNIFER KINCHELOE: Zoe King-Smith at The Blair Partnership landed the contract. She was really happy with Seventh Street Books because they were still small, up and coming, and my book wouldn’t get lost in a sea of titles.

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What surprised you about the publishing process?

TERRY SHAMES: I had heard so many horror stories that the process was much better than I expected. I had seen book covers that made no sense, heard stories of copyeditors running roughshod over manuscripts, et cetera. None of that happened.

LARRY D. SWEAZY: Publishing a book from start to finish is a challenge under the best circumstances. Nobody wants to see how the sausage is made, but so far, everything has gone well, according to the plan.

LYNNE RAIMONDO: What was unexpected—and a huge bonus for me—was finding such a fun, supportive community in my fellow authors, especially our gang at Seventh Street. But what impressed me the most—and made me proud to be one of their authors—is the high quality of the titles Seventh Street has put out in such a short period of time. Though they vary on a superficial level—with very different protagonists, settings and time periods—there is a common thread running through them. Call it literary, or character-driven, or what have you, but there is a special quality to these books that I believe comes from Dan Mayer’s unique vision for the imprint.

LORI RADER-DAY (The Black Hour; Little Pretty Things): I was surprised by how many people had roles in shaping the final product. It was great, but it’s a little disconcerting to go from working on something for two years, mostly alone, to having so many people invested in your success.

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One of the advantages of traditional publishing is the editorial support. Have you found that to be true? How was the editing of your book handled? Can you describe the process?

LORI RADER-DAY: Dan Mayer has a light touch with editing, but he has made some masterful edits, especially to my new book. Then it’s copyedits, then proofreading edits, then final page proofs. My only issue with these steps is that by the time I reach the end of them, I no longer want to read my own book. But I appreciate that many levels of people are taking a look, seeing things with fresh eyes. I wouldn’t want to do this without them.

MARK PRYOR: For sure. I’m a lawyer but focusing on the details can be tiresome and uninteresting for me. The editorial support for all my books has been wonderful, not just thorough, but strong on communication—changes aren’t made without my input. I feel like it’s a small but very motivated team working to help me, and I like that feeling.

EREC STEBBINS: Dan Mayer at Seventh Street Books is a good example of a great editor. He was polite but confident that certain restructuring would improve the flow of the narrative and we worked together for several months to produce a tighter version of the novel. (And) I found out quickly how important line/copy editing is. A good copyeditor has a kind of textual vision many authors and even editors lack.

LARRY D. SWEAZY: I like the give and take with an editor. Passion for the story is key, and extra eyes on the text are always a must.

L. T. GRAHAM: I truly appreciated the efforts by the editing crew at Seventh Street Books, especially their commitment to detail. I did not always agree with the suggestions made, but the lead editor, Jade Zora Scibilia, was thorough, determined, and intent on helping to produce the best product possible.

LYNNE RAIMONDO: Dan Mayer combines all the best qualities of an editor—a thoughtful approach, respect for the author’s voice, and an eagle eye for mistakes and inconsistencies. And my copyeditors and proofreaders have been equally amazing. I can’t imagine putting my work out in the world without them.

ROBERT ROTSTEIN: In my second novel, Reckless Disregard, I originally had included a romance that didn’t belong. Dan Mayer firmly but tactfully explained why it didn’t work. It was a brilliant note.

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Another side to the support a writer receives from a publisher is cover art. Seventh Street has produced some of the most striking, attractive, and thought-provoking covers I’ve seen. Jacqueline Nasso Cooke has designed all three of my covers, and I love them. Tell us a bit about your experience and describe how you feel about your covers.

7th - books

MARK PRYOR: With a series, it’s so important to get it right the first time because the subsequent books share the look of the first. Grace Conti Zilsberger designed my covers. Everyone I know loved the cover of the first, The Bookseller. But I particularly liked the change in color for the fourth book in my series, which is a prequel called The Button Man—the style and tone remained, but that one difference signaled that the book was out of sequence. Very cleverly done.

EREC STEBBINS: One day, an email arrived out of the blue from Dan Mayer with an attachment. I didn’t open it for ten minutes, as that is the length of time for the whiskey to start to kick in for me. And…It was spectacular. Better than I could have hoped for.

ALLEN ESKENS: A cover had been selected but just before the meeting with Random House to unveil that cover, Jill Maxick decided that she didn’t like it. She and designer Jacqueline Cooke rushed through a stack of photos to find a temporary picture that showed the concept that they had for the cover. Random House felt that the temporary photo worked and that became the cover, a cover that I love and one that has been successful at catching readers’ eyes.

LARRY D. SWEAZY: I love my cover, and I greatly appreciated having input into it. I haven’t seen a Seventh Street cover that I didn’t like.

JENNIFER KINCHELOE: The artist who is working on my book cover, Nicole Lecht, does beautiful work. She did the cover of The Black Hour, Blind Moon Alley, Sugar Pop Moon, and The Bomb Maker’s Son. She asked me what I wanted. I gave her a bunch of pictures of 1900s Los Angeles, because that’s where The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is set.

LORI RADER-DAY: I was especially concerned that I wouldn’t be able to be proud of my book cover. I wanted to love my cover—and then I did. It was so easy, because The Black Hour’s cover is gorgeous and tactile. Both my covers were designed by Nicole Lecht, and she has such a great style. I love the cover for Little Pretty Things too. The two covers look like they came from the same author without having much in common at all. Except they both have trees. I hope every book cover I ever have gets a tree.

ROBERT ROTSTEIN: Seventh Street has gone to great lengths to ensure that my covers both stand out and reflect the content of my novels. Jill Maxick saw an early draft of the cover of my forthcoming novel, The Bomb Maker’s Son, and asked for a complete redo. The result was spectacular.

SUSAN FROETSCHEL: Must admit my first reaction for both Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit was shock, and hope that my story justifies the haunting portraits of real women and children, as well as the photographers who took these photos.

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And then there’s the publicity department and distribution. These are tough rows to hoe for independents. Tell us about your experience here.

LARRY D. SWEAZY: It’s great to have a publicist, Jake Bonar, assigned to my books, and I don’t think that’s something that should be taken for granted these days. It’s one of the reasons I’m excited for my books to be published by Seventh Street. And I see other Seventh Street Books wherever I go. That’s what I want for my own books.

LORI RADER-DAY: Ninjas who somehow got my first novel reviewed in the New York Times. And when I say my book is distributed by Penguin Random House, there’s some cachet there. The RH Library people have also been tremendously supportive to me.

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Dan Mayer is an industry veteran with twenty years experience in the business. Prior to joining Seventh Street Books, he was the mystery buyer at Barnes & Noble. You’ve all mentioned him several times here. Anything you’d like to add about Dan?

JENNIFER KINCHELOE: The Wizard of Oz—he’s like the man behind the curtain. I’ve never seen him. I’ve never even heard his voice. I’ve never even seen a picture of him. But he sends good emails.

TERRY SHAMES: God.

EREC STEBBINS: The reason for the season. Great talent and industry insider.

LARRY D. SWEAZY: I honestly believe Dan Mayer doesn’t buy anything that he doesn’t love and that passion translates into his exceptional editing skills.

LORI RADER-DAY: One of the most warmhearted people I’ve ever met. I feel lucky to get to work with him.

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Thanks, all of you for taking time out for this article. Now get back to writing books.

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Seventh Street Books Award and Nominations

  • A KILLING AT COTTON HILL by Terry Shames, winner of the 2014 Macavity Award for Best First Novel
  • THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN by Terry Shames, named one of the top five mysteries of 2014 by Library Journal
  • I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET by Adrian McKinty, winner of the 2014 Barry Award for Best Paperback Original
  • IN THE MORNING I’ll BE GONE by Adrian McKinty, winner of the 2014 Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel
  • IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE by Adrian McKinty, named one of the top ten crime novels of 2014 by the American Library Association
  • FEAR OF BEAUTY by Susan Froetschel, winner of the 2014 Gold Medal for Thriller/Mystery from the Military Writers Society of America
  • FEAR OF BEAUTY by Susan Froetschel, nominated for the 2014 Mary Higgins Clark Award.
  • THE BLACK HOUR by Lori Rader-Day, nominated for the 2015 Mary Higgins Clark Award
  • THE BLACK HOUR by Lori Rader-Day, nominated for the 2015 Lovey Award for Best First Novel
  • THE LIFE WE BURY by Allen Eskens, nominated for the 2015 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

For more information or to contact Seventh Street Books, please visit their website.

 

James Ziskin

James Ziskin is the author of the Ellie Stone mysteries, Styx & Stone (October 2013) and No Stone Unturned (June 2014), both from Seventh Street Books. A linguist by training, he studied Romance languages and literature at the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his graduate degree, he worked in New York as a photo-news producer and writer, and then as Director of NYU’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò. He has since spent fifteen years in the Hollywood post production industry, running large international operations in the subtitling/localization and visual effects fields. The next Ellie Stone mystery, Stone Cold Dead, is due in the summer of 2015.

Visit James at: www.JamesWZiskin.com

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