In a time when publishers are merging or closing, it’s inspiring that an independent publisher is still going strong after two decades.
May 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of Poisoned Pen Press, which was founded—and is still owned—by publisher Robert Rosenwald and his wife, executive editor Barbara Peters.
Poisoned Pen Press’ 20 years of publishing translates to more than 1,000 titles, with authors coming from throughout the United States, as well as a few other countries. The Poisoned Pen Press team consists of 10 people, including Rosenwald and Peters.
In addition to being nominated for many awards, Poisoned Pen Press also has won several awards, including:
The Hercule Poirot Award in 2016, for outstanding contribution to the Malice Domestic genre by individuals other than writers, presented during the Malice Domestic conference;
The Ellery Queen Award in 2010, by the Mystery Writers of America, for outstanding achievement in the mystery publishing industry, presented during the annual Edgar Awards;
The Oklahoma Book Award in 2009, for Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn D. Wall; and
The Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, from the Bouchercon Crime and Mystery Conference.
“It has been such a remarkable ride,” said Rosenwald. “When we started Poisoned Pen Press in 1997 we hoped to get a few out-of-print books back into print. Now, 20 years later, we've published nearly a hundred living authors and have a backlist approaching a thousand titles.”
Rosenwald added, “We've been a home for many writers who had neither the platform nor the profile to get them into one of the big five publishing houses, but who write great books and deserve to be read.”
As of March 2017, Poisoned Pen Press has been located above the Poisoned Pen Bookstore, in the Old Town Art District of Scottsdale, Arizona. The bookstore was opened by Rosenwald and Peters in 1989 and is known for its large schedule of author and literary events and its global outreach through webcasts and worldwide shipping.
Poisoned Pen Press was begun as a separate corporation dedicated to publishing excellence in mystery.
In 1996, the Poisoned Pen bookstore hosted a crime conference called AZ Murder Goes... Classic. The conference featured current crime writers talking about classic crime writers. After the conference the authors, who had all presented papers at the conference, asked what the bookstore would do with them.
“Thus was born Poisoned Pen Press. The first book we published was the compilation of those papers presented at the conference. It ended up being nominated for an Edgar for best critical/biographical,” said Rosenwald.
“It's glorious to have reached our 20th year as an independent publisher, self-capitalized, debt free, and able to choose books to publish because we are crazy about them,” said Peters, executive editor of Poisoned Pen Press.
“I'm very proud of our authors and of the Poisoned Pen Press staff, which inevitably has evolved over the years. With a great team and list in place we're experimenting with a line of paperback originals as well as working to bring the work of our authors to a wider range of readers, plus publishing the sterling work of the British Library Crime Classics program here in the United States,” Peters added.
Poisoned Pen Press has tended “to focus on traditional mysteries, where the investigation and solution of the crime is the driving force of the story,” said Rosenwald.
But the focus has been changing, according to Rosenwald. “We have been flexing some different muscles recently, with quirkier titles such as Killing Adonis and The Coaster, and this month's Too Lucky to Live, from debut author Annie Hogsett, with encouraging results—but the mainstay of our product line is traditional mystery.
“Within these guidelines, however, we publish an impressive variety of sub-genres, from historical to police procedural to amateur sleuth to cozy—we hit just about every classification, in fact. We truly feel we have something for every mystery reader,” he added.
The Poisoned Pen Press anniversary party was attended by about 50 readers and authors who spoke about their writing lives.
Frederick Ramsay, Donis Casey, James Sallis, and Meg Dobson each spoke about their short stories that are included in the recently published Bound by Mystery original anthology. Other authors present included Annie Hogsett, Tom Kies, Tammy Kaehler, and Dana Stabenow.
Sallis mentioned that he started his career writing short stories, and actually prefers the form to novel writing, but complained that "they pay you with two copies of the magazine. What can you do with that?" So he switched to writing novels.
Poisoned Pen Press should be going strong for years to come. Rosenwald and Peters continue to be excited as publishers and owners of their nationally known bookstore.
“And, most important, we still love it, are challenged by it every day, and can't imagine retiring,” added Rosenwald.
Photos: Top: Tammy Kaehler, author of Kiss the Bricks, being interviewed by Robert Rosenwald and Barbara Peters; bottom photo, Thomas Kies, debut author of Random Road, with Peters.
Photos by Elaine Dudzinski