Jane here, and yes, some of them definitely are. Not mine, I’m happy to say; Poisoned Pen Press know how many beans make five, and I’m grateful that they do. But some UK publishers seem incapable of this sort of common-sense arithmetic, perhaps because five is the number of brain cells they possess…
I was told yet again this week by someone knowledgeable in the book business over here that it would be very difficult to find a UK publisher for my Aurelia Marcella Roman mysteries. They’re currently published in the States, which is great; but they are set in England (although rather a long time ago!) and I live here too, and I’d like to see them available here. So, it’s pleasing to note, would many mystery readers who’ve contacted me to ask why they can’t be bought except in a few shops – a few lovely shops that are prepared to sell them now, by buying them direct from me.
So why am I repeatedly told it’s going to be difficult, verging on impossible, to get “yet another Roman series” published in Britain? Well, the argument runs, there are so many writers doing Roman mysteries already, there isn’t room for another one. If publishers are promoting one Roman-era series, they won’t want to take on another, they won’t even look at it. Which means no joy with publishers of authors like (fill in the blanks)…Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, R.S. Downie, Rosemary Rowe, David Wishart…etc. etc. The assumption is that all mysteries set in Roman times are much of a muchness. You’ve read one, you’ve read ‘em all.
The only true thing about such an argument is the ignorance of the people who believe it. Mystery fans themselves don't believe it. They know better.
“Roman” implies a time period between about 700 BC and 450 AD, or if you include the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, then it’s 700 BC to the 1450s AD. For much of those two millennia, "Roman" covers an area of the world stretching from Syria to Portugal, from the Sahara to Scotland. A Roman sleuth can be in Government service, or in the army, or a private individual with a reputation for getting justice done…an Finder, an aristocrat, a pavement-maker, an innkeeper…But oh dear, I’ve just thought of a snag. Pretty well all the mysteries they’ll be looking into involve a murder. Surely a publisher who has a series in which someone investigates murders would need to be wary of taking on another author who writes books in which murders are solved?
You think I’m exaggerating? OK then: would a publisher who handles, say, a series about a P.I. in 1960s Los Angeles refuse to consider another series about a policeman in 2001 New York, or one about a lone amateur investigator battling the gangs in 1920s Chicago? All three could be classified as “American Detective Mysteries,” because they feature sleuths solving crimes in the USA. Yet even with five brain cells it’s clear these three sets of mysteries are different. They may be good, they may be rubbish, but they are very unlikely to be all the same.
If publishers truly won’t even check out a new series because it appears, to their blinkered eyes, to be similar to something they have already…if they won’t even examine it to see what it’s like…then they need their heads knocking together, in hopes of bringing them back into touch with the real world.