What better way “to promote the professional advancement of women who write mysteries,” Chesapeake Chapter thought, than to put together a short story anthology. Three anthologies and more than a few headaches later, we sometimes find ourselves wondering, was it worth it? Then someone invariably points to our six Agatha nominations (and two wins), two Anthony nods (and one win), previously unpublished contributors being considered for representation by agents, and at least two with publishing contracts at major houses, and we smile and say, “Yeah, it was definitely worth it.”
Setting up the process — we wanted to be completely fair — turned out to be the easy part. Submissions were blind — our volunteer judges couldn’t tell whether the story they were reading came from one of our established authors or from an aspiring one — and because Chessie Chapter boasts over one hundred members, we had little trouble selecting fifteen quality stories to include in each volume. We’d invited a published member to write a preface (Laura Lippman, Donna Andrews and Sujata Massey, respectively), and to our surprise and delight, attracted the attention of a small, traditional press that specialized in mysteries. We signed a two-book deal.
Chesapeake Crimes I came out in hardback and was the publisher’s #1 seller that year. A paperback edition followed. Chesapeake Crimes II was published the following year, and then, things got ugly. Bookstores couldn’t get the books, we couldn’t get the books, the publisher stopped communicating with us — or with any of its many authors. When the dust settled, chapter members were out more thousands of dollars for personal copies of books ordered and paid for, and the chapter lost thousands in unpaid royalties.
Publishers go bankrupt. It happens.
So, we dusted ourselves off and moved on, finding an enthusiastic, mystery-loving editor at an established regional press who, incredibly, was offering to reprint Chesapeake Crimes II (fewer than 100 copies had been printed by the Former Publisher Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken) as well as Chesapeake Crimes 3, provided each story have a Chesapeake Bay theme. We happily called for submissions. A year later, when the completed manuscript of Chesapeake Crimes 3 was ready for delivery, we were told by the new managing editor that, oh, by the way, we’ve decided we don’t want to publish mystery fiction after all.
Editors move on; publishing priorities change. It happens.
Once again, we dusted ourselves off and moved on, this time making arrangements with a small press to print Chesapeake Crimes 3 for us, just in time for the Malice Domestic conference, as we’d planned.
Chesapeake Crimes 3 is a beautiful product. And so is the reprint of Chesapeake Crimes I that we produced for ourselves at www.lulu.com. By now, there’s little that Chessie Chapter hasn’t learned, first-hand, school-of-hard-knocks, about the volatile publishing business. (And don’t get us started on distribution!)
Will there be a Chesapeake Crimes 4? The jury’s still out. But, there must be some publishing method Chessie Chapter hasn’t tried yet. An e-book, perhaps?
Marcia Talley serves as secretary of Sisters in Crime National and is past president of Chesapeake Chapter. She is the author of Dead Man Dancing, and six previous Hannah Ives mysteries. For information about Chesapeake Crimes I, II and 3, please visit www.chesapeakecrimes.com.