Tuesday 26 May 2009

WILD WEST MONDAY 3 - Penguin Books

Has anyone read the 'mission statement' by Penguin Books?
In a nutshell it begins: " He just wanted a decent book to read . . . " Alan Lane a director of Bodley Head publishers was standing on Exeter station back in 1935 looking for something to read on his journey back to London but there was nothing there - just magazines and poor-quality paperbacks.
But Alan Lane knew that there was a vast reading public who could not afford hardbacks so he staked everything on a new company - Penguin Books.
Alan Lane's vision was that paperbacks should be just not sold in bookshops but chainstores and tobacconists and cost no more than the price of a packet of cigarettes.
Times have changed both the price of cigarettes and paperback books have gone up.
"So wherever you see the little bird (Penguin) - whether it is on a piece of prize winning literary fiction or a celebrity autobiography, political tour-de-force or historical masterpiece, a serial killer thriller, reference book, world classic or a piece of pure escapism - you can bet that it represents the very best that the genre has to offer."

That final quote is from the Penguin piece of publicity.
However, Penguin Books do not publish all their pieces of pure escapism in the UK. Penguin books publish Westerns in the USA but NOT the UK. They might say that Westerns can be bought on-line but that is not the point. If Alan Lane was around today, standing on Exeter station he would find his choice limited, especially if he fancied a western, he would not be able to stand there and browse - which is what most people want to do. He could not indulge in a piece of pure Western escapism that represented the best that the genre has to offer.
Penguin Books publish: Jon Sharpe's 'The Trailsman' series - Tabor Evans 'Longarm' series - Jake Logan's 'Slocum' series - J.R.Roberts 'The Gunsmith' series.
Other western authors include: J. Lee Butts, Lyle Brandt, Peter Brandvold, Robert B. Parker,
Dusty Richards, Mike Jameson, Gary Franklin, Jory Sherman, Marcus Galloway, Luke Cypher, Frank Roderus, Johnny D. Boggs, Charles G. West, Wolf McKenna, Jack Ballas and Ralph Compton.
Some of these authors I have heard of - some I haven't for the simple reason that Penguin have not put these books on the UK bookshelves. I, like many others, have not had the opportunity to browse through these books.
And to quote from 'the Dominic Fox scene' blog: " If those books are only published in America what about the American authors? I mean if their books aren't sold in the UK then they are losing out on royalties - aren't they? Maybe they should be asking their publishers why (they aren't sold in the UK) as well" The bit in brackets was added by me.
So - how can westerns get into the stores and be put on bookshelves when the paperback publishers are not making those books available in the first place?


Steve M said...

Maybe it's time we all started writing to Penguin's UK offices and asking for their westerns to be made available here....Wild West Monday linked or not.

Ray said...

Totally agree Steve

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Very good post - yeah I think we should all be writing to penguin UK. I'll link to this post on the Archive.

Anonymous said...

The UK is not alone. A few years back, I wrote to the New Zealand arm of HarperCollins about the lack of westerns on shop shelves, including my own.

Their "commissioning editor" responded: "I've discussed this idea with our sales manager, who is going to do some research with our key accounts to gauge their interest, which would obviously influence our decision, so if you could bear with us a little longer than you already have, I'll be able to let you know our thoughts."

Which was promising.

Around about this time I also spoke on the phone with Alwyn Lawn, at the time working for British publisher Robert Hale's NZ agent. She said her representatives were "asked all the time" for westerns in paperback, but could not provide them. She considered that if someone could put out Hale's Black Horse Western titles in paperback, "they would be a goer" on the local market.

Two months later came this from HarperCollins:

"Sorry it's taken so long but our sales manager has finally managed to sit down with some of the key accounts buyers and discuss this.

"In a nutshell, there wasn't a lot of interest in the idea, as all reported that the traditional westerns have very slow sales for them and the only ones that have worked recently have been movie tie-ins of the 'modern western' type, such as Missing.

"I'm sorry to have taken so long to be the bearer of disappointing news, but if our key customers aren't interested then it isn't possible for us to take up your offer."

I replied that I realized HarperCollins' assessments of markets would vary in different regions, but I did think it interesting that US paperback publishers still had faith in the Western genre.

The commissioning editor then said: "Yes, well the key to that is US - they kind of own the western genre - it's the market here in NZ we have to consider and if the three major retailers nationally who between them represent over 75% of the market tell us no, they wouldn't support them there isn't much we can do I'm afraid."

And that was the end of the story in New Zealand.

Nik Morton said...

Do we really think that publishers read what they publish? I wonder - check out my review of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' - over 30 typos, one on the first page - after 42 reprints... If they're that careless, what hope have we to influence them? Defeatist, I know, but that's the real world out there and they do appear not to care.

Ray said...

There are some positive thoughts in these comments.
I have e-mailed Penguin along the lines in my blog.
Chap - the story doesn't end until all the loose ends get tied up. But you've given me another idea.
Nik - I agree and bad typos do not do publishers a service. I often wonder if there are too many books being editted by too few people.

Christopher Grant said...

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond AKA here in the States, we can't get Black Horse Westerns on the websites, let alone on the shelves, of our stores.

Try it with Barnes & Noble and Borders and you'll come up with Black Beauty and other various, unrelated books.

I'm going to ask at the local B&N today if they would order Black Horse and I'll report back what I get as far as a response goes.

I don't like the odds of getting something favorable. Hopefully, I'm wrong.

Ray said...

Christopher - I know how you feel.
Black Horse Westerns can be purchased through Amazon - but The Book Depository is the place to go and it comes with worldwide free delivery.
What I would like to see is Black Horse Westerns in paperback. In the meantime a fair trade of westerns across the pond is the way to go.

Anonymous said...

Christopher, Last year the Black Horse Western publisher's trade manager told me the company did have a US agent. You can find their details -- and some email addresses -- under "New Black Horse Westerns" at www.blackhorsewesterns.com

If you, or anyone else on your "side of the pond", wanted to join the WW Monday writing bee, perhaps you could write and ask why they don't list the BHWs on their website?

Meanwhile, the Book Depository, as Ray says, could answer any immediate wants.

Good luck!

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

A search for HALE WESTERNS seem to work on the US sites and not the black horse western name.

Anonymous said...

The main reason for an absence of the western in Penguin's UK list may be the perceived unpopularity of the genre. But Penguin did publish Charles Portis' "True Grit". The first western to bear the Penguin UK little bird. This may have been due to the widespread acclaim for this novel, certainly the writing is high quality and a superb evocation of the time in which the story is set. For me the grit the title referred to was that of young Mattie Ross, and not Reuben Cogburn whose grit was already established from the start and and never in question.

I have been an avid reader of westerns by Louis Lamour, Zane Grey, Larry McMurtry, Glendon Swarthout, Elmore Leonard, Thomas Eidson, Jack Shaeffer, Ernest Haycox and many others of that calibre since I was a schoolboy. To any critic of the western who would doubt the quality of the writing to be found in the genre I would point them to Monte Walsh, The Shootist, True Grit and Lonesome Dove. All first class writing and the equal, if not the better, of any modern novel by fashionable modern writers.

If Penguin won't sell 'em, I'll get 'em from the guys that do.

Terry Collins