Publisher Interview:

CRÈME DE LA CRIME’S LYNNE PATRICK: Proving a small, new publisher with vision and initiative can thrive in the market

By Sandra Ruttan


In 2003, Lynne Patrick launched a search for the next wave of the best new crime authors and founded Crème de la Crime. I met Lynne at Harrogate Crime Festival 2005, and was delighted to have a chance to catch up with her again and have a chance to talk to her about how she became a publisher and what her vision for the future includes.

Sandra Ruttan

Perhaps we could start with a bit about the genesis of the idea and the process, because I understand you did a call for new writers.

Lynne Patrick

I’m a writer. I’ve been a writer since I could pick up a pen - but I’ve never published a novel. I used to run a big short story competition and an appraisal service and through that I realized that there were a lot of talented writers out there who were not getting published.

I was talking about this with a friend, and he said somebody really ought to do something about it. That moved on to, “Well, why don’t we do something about it?”

Neither of us had ever been in publishing. Neither of us knew anything about publishing. But we thought we’d have a go.

First of all, we asked ourselves where we were going to get the first batch of manuscripts from. As I said, I used to run a big short story competition - the biggest in the UK - so I know about running competitions. So we launched the Search for the Crème de la Crime. This was two years before Richard and Judy did it on national television in the UK. We got six hundred plus entries from all over the world, including sixty from Australia. I don’t know where that came from.

We whittled them down to about fifty and then to twenty. We offered each of the twenty people an opportunity to work with an editor. We knew there would be a fall-out rate, that people would not live up to the early promise or would not have the time or the impetus to finish the novel that they’d started. And we’ve finished up with nine, by the time we get to end of the list. Brand new authors, people who had never written crime before.

And we did it from a standing start. We didn’t do it with the benefit of a television program and we weren’t well-known - we just did it. And we still got six hundred plus submissions.

I’d finished a mystery novel before I heard about the search for the Crème de la Crime. I was absolutely determined to be one of the authors selected so I completely reshaped the book, and sent off the first 10,000 words and synopsis.

Lynne contacted me within weeks to say she loved If It Bleeds and wanted to publish it. She made a few very useful suggestions about the plot, but left me free to make other crucial decisions, which I really appreciated. I spent the next few months writing, rewriting, editing and polishing, and the book was launched in April 2005. The reviews were excellent and it was also long-listed for a prestigious literary award.

Crème is only a small publisher, but the quality of the design and the point of sale publicity is excellent, a lot better than some of the larger publishers. All the authors know each other and we try to support each other by attending book launches and taking part in crime festivals, visiting reading groups, even setting up our own Crème roadshow.

I’ve been writing for a long time, but If It Bleeds is my first book. I’ve learnt that no one really takes you seriously until you write a novel. Since it’s been published I’ve had a great time, especially meeting fellow crime writers, who have proved to be a well-balanced, friendly, party-loving crowd.

Now, although I still write plays, I’m addicted to writing novels and have ideas for at least three more. Lynne has given me the time to develop the second novel, Body Language.

The crime fiction world is taking a keen interest in Lynne and what she is doing with Crème. Authors may make more money with the big publishers but some feel that they are treated impersonally. Writing a novel isn’t for the faint-hearted and it helps to know that your publisher wants the best for you and your work.

- Bernie Crosthwaite, author of If It Bleeds


Sandra Ruttan

So what do you think gave you the credibility? I find now new presses start off and people are very reluctant, very suspicious of (wondering) are they legitimate, will they turn out to be a vanity press, will they ask me for money.

Lynne Patrick

We were asked that. We were asked, “Okay, it’s 10 pounds to enter and then I’m going to have to pay you 10,000 to publish my book, aren’t I?” The answer was no, of course not. We didn’t even ask for a contribution toward the editorial costs, even though we knew many of the people we were editing were not going to make it through to publication. The only thing we did was make every one of the twenty sign a document which gave us first refusal on the final novel.

Sandra Ruttan

That’s fair if you edit it.

Lynne Patrick

That’s what we thought. We had put money into it, so we felt we had the right to first refusal. One person refused to give us that so we didn’t give her the editorial support. But that was her choice.

Credibility… I honestly don’t know. But three years in people seem to know who we are, and accept that we’re what we say we are.

Sandra Ruttan

In your first group of six, you can maybe mention how you ended up whittling down to six…

Lynne Patrick

It wasn’t six to start with; we published three in 2004, a year after the Search. The criterion was simple - they were the ones with finished manuscripts.

By July 2005 there were another four, and we were about to bring out Adrian Magson’s second.

Adrian is now on his third novel; the third Gavin/Palmer came out at the beginning of August 2006.

Sandra Ruttan

He was a former Debut Dagger shortlisted author… In retrospect, I know I was looking up some stuff on line and his name was on one of the lists and I recognized the name when I saw it because I bought his book when I was here. I had met him, and I saw a write-up on him in a magazine as well. To me, having never heard of Crème de la Crime before, and then seeing this author (who was) quite well respected and being written about, there was never any credibility question in my mind because obviously the quality of what you put out spoke volumes.

Lynne Patrick

Because we weren’t well known, we had to choose the best. We said right from the start that we were looking for top quality crime fiction. The main difference between us and the big publishers is that our authors are not well known when they start out.

Adrian is a working writer. He’d written short stories, he’d written journalism – he still does all this – but he had never managed to publish a novel. We loved what he did. We saw the potential of it.

Maureen Carter is another professional - she’s a journalist. Maureen sees herself now as a fiction writer. I think it’s often the case that new novelists have a track record of other kinds of writing. Writers don’t just produce a novel out of nowhere. You serve an apprenticeship. A novel is quite often the culmination of a process. This is how it’s been with several of our authors. Adrian is now working on his fourth. Maureen’s third came out at the beginning of June and she’s now writing a fourth. We like to think we launch careers. And they’re both selling well so we’re very pleased.

Sandra Ruttan

So what do you see as your long-term goals and where do you see yourself at now in terms of those. I remember you saying on the panel last year that even you were at the point now where you had the sixth author being published and you had other authors in development and how many more writers could you take? There comes a point where you already have a list of authors you’re publishing and there’s only so many books you can publish.

Lynne Patrick

Not all the debuts go on to become series. A lot depends on initial sales; we’re probably not going to be pursuing a couple of authors because their books have not sold as well as we hoped. We still believe we made the right choice, but some books capture the public imagination and some don’t. If I knew which ones would, I’d be a millionaire.

Sandra Ruttan

Would JK Rowling have had any rejection letters?

Lynne Patrick

What was it? Fifteen? Fifteen publishers turned her down before somebody had the spark of imagination to see what she was doing. And even then she didn’t make it big right from the start. It took three books before she got into her stride. I like to think that if we persevere this will happen to our authors. Eventually someone will realize that they are a really good thing, and they’ll suddenly start to sell in huge quantities.

Long-term plans… We don’t have any. We allow ourselves the flexibility of short-term planning. This is a deliberate policy. I’ve only just decided what I’m publishing next year. Most publishers are now planning for 2008/2009. I like to think that if something brilliant lands on my desk tomorrow, I can publish it within a year.

I tend to get this year’s out of the way and then start looking at next year. The final book of the year has just gone to the printer, and now I’m forward planning. I don’t operate in the same way as major publishers. I think a small publisher has to look at things differently.

Sandra Ruttan

My initial thought on that is that would give you an opportunity to be more on the cutting edge of putting out something very contemporary, very much to what’s going on now.

Lynne Patrick

That certainly could happen. Most of what we’re doing is firmly based in the 21st century. Our major police procedural series, Maureen Carter’s Bev Morriss series, is newly researched every time so that she’s up to date with developments.

Penny Deacon’s futurecrime series: if that isn’t cutting edge, I don’t know what is - it’s based in 2040. We’re way ahead of the game there.

We need to balance commercial with innovative. The bottom line is if you don’t sell books you go bankrupt. So we have to give the public what it wants and then we can take the odd risk.

(I’ve) have had two novels published by Crème de la Crime – A Kind of Puritan and A Thankless Child. They both centre round Humility, a woman who lives on a barge and tries not to get involved in other people's problems (she'd much rather be trading smuggled cargoes of wine with the local fence) but can't stand it when decent people are treated as insignificant, or when the vulnerable are exploited right under her nose. Which means she tends to get into trouble because she won't leave things alone. The kick in the story is that this happens about thirty-five years from now in a future, which fits well into any film noir scenario. It's crime, not sci-fi, it just happens a few years along from now. Crème gave me a chance to see Humility in print where mainstream publishers thought I was crossing genres.

– Penny Deacon, author of A Thankless Child


Sandra Ruttan

Are you focusing exclusively on a UK market? ** See notation at the end of the interview for an update regarding this question.

Lynne Patrick

We are looking at America at the moment. We’re in discussion with a distributor who we’re hoping will take us over there.

I would love to go into Europe, but although we have an agent selling European rights for us and there’s been interest, no one has yet offered to publish us in Europe. To get into Europe would be good.

I think you have to concentrate on your strengths. Apart from A Certain Malice, which was set in Australia and is written by an Australian author, all our books are set in the UK and written by British authors. I think this is where we focus.

Sandra Ruttan

I bought A Certain Malice. I haven’t read it yet but I bought it just because it was Australia.

Lynne Patrick

It’s beautifully done. It’s correct in every detail because she’s researched it, she lives it, she knows it. The bushfire brigade plays a large part in it; she’s a volunteer in the bushfire brigade. The police procedural side is taken care of by her brother-in-law, who’s a detective superintendent in the Australian police. She has all the sources. It’s slightly exotic in this country and in America. But it has to be done properly in order for it to work and she does it very properly indeed. It’s a page-turner as well. You’ll thoroughly enjoy it when you do read it.

Sandra Ruttan

One of the things I find the most interesting is about your website. I love it, because you actually say what turns you on and what you’re not interested in. Did you do that right from the very beginning?

Lynne Patrick

Right from the start.

Sandra Ruttan

What motivated that? It’s fantastic, as a writer, because you know.

Lynne Patrick

A publisher has to believe in what she’s publishing, and be 100% behind every book that goes out. If there are things I hate I’m not going to be 100% behind them. It’s as simple as that.

There’s also a very large element of it’s been done before – we don’t want Nazis because there are so many books about Nazis out there. Alexander McCall Smith has got Africa tied up. What we do want is well-written, well-plotted tight crime fiction that will work at 70,000-80,000 words. We feel that that is the gap in the market. The two-inch thick blockbuster proliferates. We focus on the ‘read it in a couple of sessions’ end of the market - tightly written and pacy, so you want to keep turning the pages, and you know that you’re not going to have to go through a lot of hoops to get to the denouement. We cater to the two-hour train journey market, or the short haul flight market, rather than two inches thick, read it on the beach, make it last a week.

Sandra Ruttan

I’m hearing this more and more from writers, saying, ‘Yes, my book is 70,000 or my target is 80,000’ and it used to be you felt like you had to write the 120,000 word book.

Lynne Patrick

Where Crème de la Crime go, the rest of the world seems to follow! Have you seen red and black covers everywhere these days?

Sandra Ruttan

But that makes you on the cutting edge, leading that trend.

Lynne Patrick

We set the trend, other people seem to follow it. We set the search for the Crème de la Crime trend and Richard and Judy picked it up and ran with it. We set the trend for publishing new authors, specializing in new authors. Macmillan New Writing popped up six months later. We seem to be ahead of the game all the time.

Sandra Ruttan

What are you doing next? I’m just kidding.

Lynne Patrick

We don’t give our marketing ploys away!

Sandra Ruttan

This business is very competitive. I do find that everybody’s very supportive of each other –

Lynne Patrick

It’s competitive too - if there’s a good idea out there, everybody wants a piece of it.

Sandra Ruttan

And obviously you guys are a few years in now, you’ve got authors on their third book, so you must have made a pretty decent start of it.

Lynne Patrick

Well, we’re still here after three years. I think that says it all. So many small publishers go under and we haven’t. We’re still there, actively seeking new work, publishing the authors we’ve got and planning on staying around.

Sandra Ruttan

I think that pre-planning has probably helped in that success.

Lynne Patrick

Yes. We knew what we wanted to do and we’ve stuck to it. They say you should expand to develop and progress – I think not necessarily. I think you find what you’re good at and play to your strengths. We’re at that small company stage where there’s a little bit too much work for one person and not quite enough money to pay somebody else at the moment. It’s a bit of a testing time for any small business but we’ve made a decision that we’re going to try not to expand. That way, I can keep my hand on everything. I think it’s important that one person is in control. I think if you spread the load too far then you get conflicting ideas being fed in and you don’t necessarily find that everybody’s singing from the same sheet.

If the company gets bigger then obviously, it all has to change. But not yet.

Sandra Ruttan

It sounds like you’re doing the actual hands-on editing.

Lynne Patrick

Some - not all of it. I have a junior editor who reads every manuscript that comes in; she acts as a filter and sends me the ones that she thinks are worth pursuing. I trust her judgment implicitly. I trained her well.

Sandra Ruttan

And you have to be able to do that, otherwise you’d go mad.

Lynne Patrick

Absolutely. I couldn’t read everything. I do read anything that comes from an agent. And there are some things that just attract my attention and I have a look at those. But mostly they go through the filter.

My job is mainly co-ordination - making sure everything happens at the right time - and marketing. Actual editing, I try to do a couple books a year myself, because I think it’s important to keep that hands-on touch. And nothing goes to the printer without me reading the final version. I read everything that we publish before it gets to the point of no return. I think it’s important that there is a kind of unified vision.

Sandra Ruttan

Well, obviously your unified vision is coming with a bit of foresight.

Lynne Patrick

I like to think so. I know what worked last year and I hope I know what’s going to work next year. One in particular is completely different from anything we’ve done before. I’m really hoping that that one is going to work.

Sandra Ruttan

I was actually going to ask how flexible you are, because you’ve mentioned police procedurals with a few of your authors –

Lynne Patrick

There’s one major police procedural series. The other police procedural was set in Australia, so if that isn’t different I don’t know what is.

Sandra Ruttan

And then you’ve got people like Adrian who’s following a freelance reporter, and one who has maybe a flexible position on their career options you might say –

Lynne Patrick

Exactly.

Sandra Ruttan

So I was wondering how focused you are on one end or the other, because when I was starting his (Adrian’s) I had the feeling this is almost more of a thriller than it is a mystery.

Lynne Patrick

I would say it’s kind of on the cusp.

Sandra Ruttan

It is, right there, teetering.

Lynne Patrick

Generally, we would lean towards crime and mystery rather than thriller, but we are flexible and I see something I like and I feel it fits what we’re doing then I will publish it. I just liked what Adrian was doing. I felt he set out a partnership that had some potential. I think Frank Palmer is wonderful!

Sandra Ruttan

It’s always great when you get to handle a story… to say that we published that, and it’s such a fantastic story.

Lynne Patrick

It gives me a real buzz. I think it gives me just as much of a buzz as writing my own work. I haven’t seriously written for the last three years. The only thing I write these days is press releases.

Sandra Ruttan

I remember this from meeting Adrian last year. He said he’d come up to support you on the book launch for another author.

Lynne Patrick

The authors do support each other. If they possibly can, they attend each other’s launches.

Sandra Ruttan

I was so impressed by the level of support, that you don’t get in a big publisher.

Lynne Patrick

Something that I hope is going to happen – it’s a bit slow to get started but there are moves afoot – is a kind of marketing group which will consist of our authors. Some of them have already been into libraries with a murder mystery evening we’ve written specially. The payment, if you like, is that the library buys our books. If there’s money in the pot for some fees for the authors, that’s great, but the bottom line is they have to buy the books. We have a quiz as well, which has 120 questions. We’ll go into libraries, bookshops, anywhere, provided they buy the books. I don’t think many publishers do this. We like to feel that we’re giving people value for money and this is one of the ways we do it.

And some of them work hard on marketing in other ways. Adrian goes into bookshops himself every weekend. The only reason he’s not at a bookshop today is that he’s here.

Sandra Ruttan

I haven’t even seen him.

Lynne Patrick

He was at the readers’ group this morning.

Sandra Ruttan

You have a unique approach to marketing.

Lynne Patrick

I like to think so. We haven’t a lot of money. For goodness sake, this (points to t-shirt printed with book covers) is the marketing budget. We put our efforts and energy into marketing rather than money and the profile of the company is certainly being raised. Everybody here I’ve spoken to this weekend so far knows who we are, which is brilliant.

Sandra Ruttan

Now, what’s next for Crème de la Crime?

Lynne Patrick

We have a new book coming out at the end of September, by Linda Regan. It’s called Behind You!. It’s set backstage in a pantomime, and there’s a mysterious death. It’s a kind of closed environment murder mystery - set up in such a way that only a member of the cast can have done the murder. It’s about rivalries backstage.

I can't thank Lynne Patrick enough for introducing me to a life of crime. I am about to find out if the saying crime pays is true, when my first novel is published on September 28th. Its title is Behind You! - and I am hoping for many more in front of me!

Unlike other publishers, Crème de la Crime takes risks. Risks are dangerous and exciting and so is crime. I am very proud to be part of them. I love being a crime writer; I can murder who I like, any way I like, and stay out of prison.

– Linda Regan, author of Behind You!


Linda Regan is a professional actress. She knows all about rivalries backstage. The background is spot on, because, of course, it’s a world she’s familiar with. Linda’s working very hard promoting her book as well, and of course she has access to places I wouldn’t even know existed. Amateur theatre groups are booking her. If people want to book Linda they’re going to have to be pretty quick.

Adrian Magson’s next book is just out - No Sleep For the Dead. He is already writing the fourth in the series and into that book will be incorporated a character who was the result of the competition we ran in conjunction with one of the major library suppliers. We put out a call for people who use libraries to invent a character who would then be used in one of our books. Adrian’s fourth is that book!

The really nice thing is it wasn’t an individual who won it - it was a library reading group who created this character. We went up to a meeting to present them with their prize.

I’m hoping we’re going to be able to do more of that kind of thing. We do have a very strong library presence. Crime books fly off their shelves. We have good relationships with a couple of the big suppliers and we’re aiming to extend that.

**Exciting News! Since the time of this interview, Crème de la Crime has signed the contract for North American distribution. Their entire list to Sept 2006 will be available to the trade in Canada and the US from spring 2007 through Dufour Editions Inc, of Chester Springs in Pennsylvania.

CRÈME DE LA CRIME
PUBLISHING SCHEDULE 2007

5 April 07Broken HarmonyRoz Southey
3 May 07Truth Dare KillGordon Ferris
7 June 07Hard TimeMaureen Carter
5 July 07No Tears for the LostAdrian Magson
2 Aug 07The Crimson CavalierMary Andrea Clarke
6 Sept 07Passion KillersLinda Regan


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Sandra Ruttan’s debut suspense novel, Suspicious Circumstances, will be released in January 2007.

Praise for Suspicious Circumstances:

“A gripping adventure, a large cast of marvelous characters, and twists that follow turns. Read it. You’ll love it too.””
Robert Fate, author of Baby Shark

“Sandra Ruttan has graced the world of psychological thrillers with this fast-paced, absorbing tale, fraught with corruption, murder, mistrust, a number of unconscionable villains and two exceptionally likable protagonists, all craftily entangled in a delightfully twisted plot. Sit back and be prepared to get lost in this riveting story, because you won’t want to put it down until you’ve turned the very last page.”
JB Thompson, author of The Mozart Murders

"Suspicious Circumstances is a plot with endless twists and turns, lots of unexpected heroes and villains, and enough unanswered questions to keep you reading to the very end!"
Julia Buckley, author of The Dark Backward

“Suspicious Circumstances twists and turns and twists again, leaving the reader breathless and unsure which end is up. And that's just the beginning. Ruttan's deft touch intrigues and satisfies, making her a powerful new force in the mystery field.”
JT Ellison, author of All The Pretty Girls, MIRA 2007

“A well executed procedural with a spark between our protagonists, an excellent feel for political machinations on a small town scale and a plot that twists and turns like a bad tempered rattlesnake.”
Russel D. McLean, Crime Scene Scotland


Return to Fall 2006 Table of Contents

© 2006 SPINETINGLER Magazine - All rights reserved
FEATURED BOOKS

Baby Love
If It Bleeds
Behind You!
No Help For The Dying
A Kind of Puritan
A Thankless Child
A Certain Malice