25 September 2016

There's Always Hope

Nine or ten years ago when I was a member of the board of directors for the Mystery Writers of America, I was in Manhattan for the annual Edgars Awards Banquet. At the time, all board members in attendance were supposed to show up at the Nominees' Champagne Reception and be wearing their name tag. The idea was to greet the nominees, engage them in small talk and make them feel comfortable before the banquet and the awards ceremony.
The Mysterious Bookshop
As I was standing in the Nominees Room with a glass of champagne in hand, an attractive, young lady walked up to me and said, "You're R.T. Lawton." I thought nothing of it because clearly, I was wearing a name tag that displayed that information on the face of the tag. She then went on to puff  my ego by telling me that she was a reader for Otto Penzler and that my stories had come close to making it into his (annual) Best American Mystery Stories anthology.That little tidbit of conversation kept me motivated for the next year with hope, and well, a lot more hope. I didn't know how close I'd come to getting a story into his anthology, but I did know none of my stories had made it into any of Otto's anthologies so far, plus I had never found my name listed in the Honorable Mention column of any of Otto's books.Verbally close, but no cigar. None the less, hope sprang anew, year after year.

In 2013, I was in lower Manhattan at The Mysterious Bookshop for a signing of The Mystery Box, MWA's anthology for that year. Since the third time's the charm, I'd finally gotten a short story into one of MWA's annual anthologies, and this was the one. Also, since Otto Penzler owns The Mysterious Bookshop where the book signing was, I got to meet the man, shake his hand and exchange a few quick words. Figured that just might be as close as I ever got to having any business dealings with the man.

Then in June of this year, an unexpected e-mail slipped out of the ether and landed on my computer. My wife read it first (she generally gets up earlier in the summer) and called it to my attention. In short, Otto had sent an e-contract and was asking permission to include "Boudin Noir," one of the stories in my 1660's Paris Underworld series in his The Big Book of Rogues and Villains anthology scheduled for publication in 2017. Several years earlier, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine had paid me $480 to publish "Boudin Noir" in their December 2009 issue, and now here was Otto sending me a check in the amount of $250 for reprint rights. That made a total of $730 for just that one story. Amazing. Call it manna from heaven, found money, secondary market, or call it what you will, it was another ego booster.

Two items of business soon came to mind. One, how could I take advantage of this type of secondary market for other stories? Since the author has very little, if any, control over this type of market, I couldn't figure an angle. If you've got one, be sure to let me know. I'll buy you a drink at the next writers conference. And two, one of these years, I still might get a short story into Otto's annual Best American Mystery Stories anthology.

There's always hope.


  1. Nice anecdotes here, RT—and congrats on having a story picked up for the Rogues and Villains anthology, which sounds like such fun! Looking forward to it (and to all your stories, of course).

  2. Let me echo Art's sentiments here, R.T. Congrats on the anthology! I've yet to get a story into one of Otto's "Best Of" anthologies, either. Each year hope springs anew. Enjoyed your piece today, as always.

  3. Enjoyed this column, RT. Sincere congrats on making the Rogues and Villains antho--well deserved!! Isn't it great when those already-published-once stories wind up taking on new life in a "Best of"?

    Keep up the good work. (And I sure enjoyed our visits at Bouchercon!)

  4. I should've said In a "Big Book of." When in 2017 is the Big Book of Rogues and Villains coming out? Has that ever been done before?

  5. Congratulations, RT! Well done. You put a lot of work into those historicals.

    Not long after a Canadian publication serialized ”Untenable”, I stumbled upon (and bought) Otto’s Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries. Oh, man, I would have loved to have been in it. I thought the story damn good, but who knows?

    Let’s celebrate yours instead. I’ll buy the drinks.

  6. Very nice making it into Rogues and Villains anthology. Congratulations!

  7. And a very good story it was, too. Congrats, R.T.

    I have never been in any of Penzler's Big Books, but last year I made the "Other Distinguished Stories" list in his Best American Mystery Stories, and this year I finally made it into the book itself. Feels awfully nice to be reprinted by somebody, and being paid a second time - money for old rope, as they say - is icing on the gravy.

  8. I had one story mentioned among the "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories" back in the 2005 edition of Best American Mysteries, and stories from anthologies I edited have also made the list.

    Additionally, I've placed several reprints over the years. So, to answer the one question no one else has addressed, here's how you can "take advantage of this type of secondary market for other stories":

    1. Do the same market research you do for your initial sales. Carefully read submission guidelines for anthologies, periodicals, podcasts, etc., noting which ones are reprint-only and which are open to reprints. If you have something potentially appropriate, submit it. (I often search the Internet for these opportunities when I'm sitting at the computer but not yet ready to start writing.)

    2. For best-of anthologies--and there are many of them in many genres--don't rely on your editors to submit for you. Send copies of your stories directly to the best-of editors if you can find their addresses.

    3. As we discussed in a different context at Bouchercon, network with other writers. They are often your best source of information about opportunities that are not publicized. Writer A tells Writer B about something Editor C is putting together. (And, yes, R.T., I followed up on the tip you gave me. No response yet.)

    (In fact, tip number 3 also applies to original work. I've made many sales because a fellow writer shared information that wasn't publicly available about an anthology or periodical or, conversely, mentioned my name to an editor putting together a new project.)

    4. Explore the possibility of creating collections. John Floyd and I (and probably several other writers we know) have had collections of our short stories released by small presses, and some of us have also self-published collections for sale on Amazon and other online booksellers.

    Reprint money is like "found money," so make an effort to find as much of it as you can by always being open to the possibility.

  9. Good advice, Michael. In regards to your first point: In the front of each Year's Best anthology Otto Penzler carefully explains how to submit a story for consideration. If you are in AHMM or EQMM or the equivalent, don't sweat it, but for other markets, don't assume Penzler is ccertain to see it. I asked the editors of nEvermore! to send him a copy. Otherwise, he might never have seen it.

  10. Congratulations on having a story chosen for The Big Book of Rogues and Villains--that sounds like a great idea for an anthology. Years and years ago, AHMM occasionally translated stories that had been published in the magazine into French and re-published them in little paperback anthologies. A couple of my stories got chosen for that. (I don't know if AHMM has stopped doing the little French anthologies or simply stopped choosing my stories.) The payment was minimal--one free copy and about $25.00, as I recall--but the fun of seeing my stories in French was considerable. In one story, I mentioned that a police detective's mother had made pot roast for dinner. The translator changed it to salmon souffle. I felt properly chastened for my lack of sophistication.

  11. Congratulations! That's fantastic!

  12. Yes! Congratulations, R.T.! Can't wait for the anthology!

  13. Michael and Rob, that IS good advice. Send your stories in to Otto if they didn't appear in AH, EQ, or The Strand (those are automatically read). He might not know about them otherwise.

    Another thing: I've been in only one of the Best Am. Myst. Stories anthologies (the one for 2015), but I've had stories mentioned in the "Other Distinguished Mysteries" section of the antho three different years (2000. 2010, and 2012, I think), and for those they never tell you about it--or at least they didn't tell ME. I always found out about it much later. So it's a good idea to check each year when the B.A.M.S. edition comes out and see if your story got included in that back section!

    As I understand it, Otto picks the best 50 stories of the year, and the guest editor later chooses 20 of those to be included in the book. The other 30 get listed under "Other Distinguished Mysteries." Not sure how the process works for the "Big Book of" anthologies, but I bet the competition is fierce.

  14. Thank you, one and all, for your comments and encouragement.

    John, in answer to your question, The Big Book of Rogues and Villains will be out in the Fall of 2017.

    Michael, thanks for the secondary market tips. I copied and pasted the info.

    Bonnie, other than the magazine itself and the story podcasts, AHMM doesn't seem to do as much other publishing as it used to do, although they are looking at doing more in the digital world.

  15. Nice article. Got the chance to finally meet Otto in New Orleans. I've quoted his wisdom many times over the years in conversations and postings. One of our leaders. Glad I finally got to meet RT and so many others in the field at Bouchercon as well.


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