This year Crimespree Magazine—a bimonthly publication that covers all styles and aspects of mystery writing—won the Raven Award. The Mystery Writers of America announcement stated that "The magazine is devoted to promoting writers who are not (yet) household names," Jon Jordan concurs. "If I have a choice between a debut author or somebody with their second book out, or the latest Michael Connelly, the truth is Michael doesn't need our help."
The Jordans ship about 2,000 copies of each issue, to subscribers in about eight countries, including Lithuania, Japan and Brazil. That may seem like a small number, but Jon notes the typical Crimespree reader buys "at least 20 or more books a year in hardcover."
Fiscally speaking, Crimespree breaks even, or occasionally shows a slight profit. Both Jon and Ruth have day jobs. "Truthfully, anybody who gets into any aspect of the (book) business only to make money is crazy," Jon said, a statement that I, as a publisher, can readily confirm. As did Robert Rosenfeld, who along with his wife Barbara Peters and their daughter started The Poisoned Pen Press 18 years ago. When I saw Robert at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year he said, with a broad smile, “It’s the least expensive hobby a man can have.” If a publisher can’t be in it for the love of discovering and sharing good books, I think one might just as soon be a shoe salesman—surely a more profitable profession. With that, I turn this blog over to Jon:
“I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. My mother was a voracious reader and there were always books around. My folks were cool with us reading whatever we wanted and so I picked up a lot of my mother’s books. By the time I was eleven I was reading Ed McBain, Gregory McDonald’s Fletch books, Clive Cussler, and David Morrell. Often I would blow off homework to read fiction. I actually got sent to the principal’s office a few time because teachers thought I shouldn’t have the books I did, but of course Mom set them straight. These reading habits stayed with me: in college I would blow off classes in favor of finishing books.
“In the mid-nineties I discovered a store here in Milwaukee called Mystery One (owned by Richard Katz) that carried nothing but mysteries and thrillers. I was in heaven. I started going to a few signings and spent more time at the store. It was also around this time that I got pulled over for drunk driving while in Illinois. I quit drinking in 1996, when I was 33 years old, and while that is a whole other story, part of what happened was I stopped sleeping. Finding myself in need of things to fill my time I started reading more, up to ten or twelve books a week. I also started spending a lot of time at the book store. I would show up every Saturday morning and Richard and I would watch Adventures of Brisco County Jr together. I helped out in the store, went to every signing. Soon I was invited to go to dinner after signings and I spent more time with the authors coming to town. And my library grew, and I built more and more shelves in my place.
“In 1996 I had also discovered the internet and soon found myself on a newsgroup called rec.arts.mystery filled with people talking about the books I loved. This was awesome because on nights I was awake until 4 in the morning there was always someone on line to talk to. In early 1999, discussion started about something called Bouchercon and it was coming to Milwaukee. After a little investigation I knew I had to go. I ended up helping Richard as Mystery One had a booth at the convention. I had four full days surrounded by authors and book sellers and fans of the genre. One thing that became very clear to me was that I was not part of a small group of people obsessed with reading these books of suspense and murder. By the end of the weekend I had decided I needed to get more involved.
“I also met Ruth Flannery, who a year later would be Ruth Jordan.
“By the spring of 2000 I was dating Ruth and we were planning to get married. I was doing interviews of authors for two websites and writing book reviews. This went on for a while after Ruth and I wed, with both of us spending a lot of time on the computer doing book related things. I had found something that I loved and a group of other people who loved it as well. Reading about Matt Scudder and Dave Robicheaux helped me through the first year of getting sober, as the mystery community soon took care of my problem with free time.
“At the Las Vegas Bouchercon Richard and I debuted Interrogations, a book of my interviews. We sold some copies and had fun with it, but also Ruth and I set up a breakfast meeting that would change our lives. We sat with my sister Jennifer, Jeremy Lynch, Ali Karim, Sarah Weinman, Mary Reagan and Simon Kernick and filled them in on this idea we had for a magazine we wanted to publish. By June of 2004 we shipped the first issue of Crimespree. There have been a few late issues, but we keep on plugging away. We’re not getting rich but the magazine has always managed to pay for itself. There are late nights when I’m finishing layout and I’m at the desk at three in the morning wondering what the Hell were we thinking. But then we get a letter from a first time author who sees a review in Crimespree and tells us how happy that made them. Or a letter from a subscriber who said they went and bought eight books because they read about them in Crimespree and they loved them all. And that’s why we do it: sharing our love of the mystery genre.
“The mystery genre has always been a part of my life and now it’s a huge part. Almost everyone we hang out with reads mystery. Discussions, more often than not, end up being about books or publishing or movies based on books or some aspect of the genre. Our vacations seem to be involved somehow, visiting a friend we know because of the genre or going to a convention. We have calendars with book release dates and we set schedules around signing events. Through it all the one thing that keeps us doing this is our love of the genre and the people in the community. Over the years we’ve won a few Anthony Awards which was awesome since we met at Bouchercon.
“This spring we were honored at the Edgar Awards with The Raven Award which is a special award given for outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. It was a real honor to stand on that stage where so many of our favorite writers have been. The whole night was magical and the funny thing is that we were getting honored for what I consider being nothing more than good friends: promoting the genre and trying to get more people to read it, because it’s who we are and what we do.”
COMING NEXT WEEK: National Public Radio critic Joan Baum talks about the unexpected rewards of radio reviewing,