Spotlight on Titan Books

This fall, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tossed something different through the hoop: Mycroft Holmes, an acclaimed mystery starring Sherlock Holmes’s crafty brother. Fiction might Titan-Logo-300x180have been a first for Abdul-Jabbar but not for his publisher, Titan Books, long noted for its licensed products and graphic novels. In the past half-dozen years, however, Titan has been building a varied list of genre-delicious titles that speak to fans.

Founded in 1981, Titan Books is a division of Titan Entertainment Group (TEG), based in London, UK, and owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Nick Landau and Vivian Cheung. Along with Titan Books, TEG comprises the UK retail chain Forbidden Planet, Titan Merchandise, and Titan Magazines & Comics. Titan Books aims to deliver high-quality genre and fan-culture titles that include originated fiction and illustrated nonfiction art books, as well as tie-in fiction and illustrated nonfiction books for major brands in film, TV, and gaming.

That focus is, however, relatively new. During its first 30 years, Titan Books concentrated on licensed products and graphic novels, distributing DC comics in the UK market and publishing classic UK graphic novels in the United States. The licensed products covered imports of U.S. tie-in books to the UK and originated licensed books, which it distributed globally.

Fiction start-up

In 2009, however, Titan Books radically overhauled its business. The publication of graphic novels was moved to the newly established Titan Comics (a division that grew out of TEG’s Magazines division), and Titan began developing a fiction line emphasizing sf and fantasy, crime, and horror, together with its illustrated nonfiction titles.

“At that time, we decided to focus on bona fide fiction books,” explains Editor Miranda Jewess “including film novelizations such as The Dark Knight Rises and brand-new novels based on TV shows.” Given Titan’s success with licensed products and the enormous enthusiasm of fans for extra content, this move made sense. And, of course, synergy with Titan Magazines, as well as TEG’s Forbidden Planet chain of shops, didn’t hurt.

At the same time, Titan also began building the list with reissues of classic Sherlock novels, starting with four pastiches: David Stuart Davis’s The Scroll of the Dead and The Veiled Detective, Daniel Stashower’s The Ectoplasmic Man, and Manly Wade Wellman and Wade Wellman’s War of the Worlds. It began buying the UK rights to U.S. tie-in books as well.

Then the proverbial lightbulb exploded. “We had lots of previously published Sherlock Holmes novels that we were reissuing,” explains Jewess, “and we thought, ‘Why not give readers new books?’ So we went from buying in world rights for out-of-print novels to originating the books ourselves.”

The Titan backlist had been huge, but as the rights to pre-2009 titles lapsed, the publisher stopped looking for reissues, instead banking on new material. It has, however, mined its drearcliffbacklist, publishing new works by authors whose books had been getting a second life with Titan. Among these authors are American fantasist James P. Blaylock; “Newbury & Hobbes” author George Mann; William Sutton, author of the “Campbell Lawless Victorian” mysteries; and horror/fantasy writer Kim Newman, whose current The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School is called “no less impressive than the best of the rest of his writing” by Tor.com. [See also “Current and Forthcoming Titles | Titan Books.”]

In 2011, Titan gave a boost to its fiction list by buying Hard Case Crime, which offers both reprints of classic American hard-boiled crime fiction and original works in that style. That proved to be another smart move: Joyland, an original work by Stephen King released by Hard Case Crime in 2013, was the author’s first New York Times No. 1 best seller in a decade. In the coming months, the imprint will release Ed McBain’s classic Cut Me In, Shamus Award winner Ken Bruen and Barry and Anthony Award winner Jason Star’s new Pimp, and a rafter of “Quarry” titles from Max Allan Collins, tying in with Cinemax’s forthcoming Quarry series. (Collins is another author who has gone for backlist to frontlist.)

Into 2016

Thus, in a few short years, Titan’s fiction list has been bumped up seven-fold and totally reconfigured, with more than 40 brand-new, nonlicensed fiction titles appearing in 2016. akersThere’s something for everyone among those titles, ranging from Tim Akers’s epic fantasy, The Pagan Night; to Andrew Cartmel’s The Vinyl Detective, a mystery charmer; to Chris Ould’s The Blood Strand, a moody, complex puzzler set in the far-off Faroe Islands [See “Walking The Blood Strand with Chris Ould.”] Crime fiction, a top circulator in U.S. public libraries, is a particularly strong element of Titan’s burgeoning list.

“That’s my fault,” laughs Jewess. “I love crime fiction. But it’s also the biggest part of the genre bookshelf.” Jewess points out that crime fiction appeals broadly, drawing in both genders and people of all ages. It renders a powerful sense of justice that we all hunger for, and its infinite malleability, ranging across subsets from cozies and historicals to hard-boiled mysteries and psychological thrillers, means that “almost every single crime book is its own genre.” Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t cracked the spine of a good crime novel or at least seen a crime show on TV.

While Jewess readily concedes that all editors have personal taste, she has certain rules of thumb when she’s looking to buy. “We look for commercial titles, books we can compare to bloodstrandother market leaders. But there has to be something about it”—that hook that makes her miss her train stop after she’s read through and tossed two dozen manuscripts.

For Jewess, there was clearly something special about Ould’s The Blood Strand. “It seems to start so gently,” she muses, “and then it just drags you in.” Part of the book’s appeal is the strong sense of place, salt-wind-swept islands lying between Norway and Iceland about 200 miles northwest of Great Britain. Jewess describes the mystery as British Scandi, which also embraces award-winning writers Peter May and Anne Cleaves, who have set works on the Isle of Lewis and the Shetland Islands, respectively. The Blood Strand, she concludes, is “very Mankell, but from an English point of view.”

Which audience

Indeed, place is a crucial aspect of crime fiction, and it can determine where a book will sell. “Different audiences have difference tastes, and we must decide which audience we are publishing for,” explains Jewess. American-set novels are best for American audiences, though British and Australian readers can cozy up to them owing to their familiarity with American TV shows. British-set novels appeal to Americans particularly when they are historicals, but anything that feels too British likely won’t work, and settings like Birmingham or Manchester won’t have the draw of more recognizable cities like London.

All of which makes for some careful choices when it comes to buying rights. Clarifying that knotty issue, Jewess explains, “Our primary focus on all new acquisitions is World or World English rights, which we’re less likely to buy if we don’t feel we can sell it to an American audience. Similarly, if we’re offered UK rights to something where U.S. rights have already sold, and the book is very American, we’re less likely to go for it.”

Given American tastes, readers here will likely gravitate to two forthcoming Titan titles, Gavin Scott’s The Age of Treachery and E.G. Rodford’s The Bursar’s Wife. Both are series openers bursarset in famous university towns, and Scott’s mystery is also an historical, set directly after World War II. It features Special Operations Executive agent Duncan Forrester, who’s returned to Oxford as a junior ancient history fellow and finds himself investigating murder. “It’s a really wonderful new period series,” offers Jewess, and it bridges to the early days of the Cold War, an era that is popular with many crime fiction readers.

Rodford’s The Bursar’s Wife takes place in Cambridge, smaller than Oxford and in a colder, more northern clime but with the same town/gown tensions. (Jewess should know, as she was raised in Oxford and attended Cambridge.) It stars a private detective named Kocharyan (his Armenian name flummoxes the locals) who in classic hard-boiled fashion is offered a case by a beautiful woman. Written pseudonymously by Commonwealth Writer’s Prize–winning literary novelist Mischa Hiller (Sabre Zoo), it’s “quite tongue in cheek but also has dark humor,” says Jewess—dark humor seemingly a characteristic of several Titan crime fiction titles.

Crossover

If high style might peek through in Rodford’s mystery, it’s surely on display in Conrad Williams’s Dust and Desire, dark and gritty crime from a mostly fantasy author whose writing Jewess calls beautiful, and Vaughn Entwistle’s The Angel of Highgate. A prequel set 50 years before the first book in Entwistle’s well-known series, “The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,” The Angel of Highgate is a luscious, near-Dickensian Victorian gothic that ends in London’s Highgate Cemetery and could have crossover appeal for literary readers. “The research is impeccable, and the language is not overly ‘ye olde worlde’ but stylized enough that you feel it’s Victorian,” confides Jewess. It helps to know the previous casebook titles, but this work can stand on its own.

Other current and forthcoming titles range from Akers’s The Pagan Night, a nearly 600-page impureepic fantasy set in Braveheart territory and recalling in scope the works of David Gemmell; to debut novelist Michelle Belanger’s Conspiracy of Angels, which Jewess calls “urban fantasy you can get your teeth into”; to Peter Morfoot’s Impure Blood, set in Nice, France, and reflecting the publisher’s eye toward international mysteries.

Notably, these are all series titles, a mainstay at Titan Books for their ability to capture readers for the long haul, though the publisher does stand-alones as well. Is there any kind of book Jewess wouldn’t do? “Right now, we have no torture porn,” she says, “but that’s not to say that we wouldn’t. Never say never.”

Dark comic mysteries, genre-bending horror, edgy sf, female psychological thrillers, crunchy vampire fantasy…and torture porn? Whatever Titan Books publishes next, its fiction list will surely be expanding. And you can depend that its new titles will be a great fit for American audiences. After all, says Jewess, “We are a U.S. publisher.”

Prepub Spotlight is a sponsored supplement to Prepub Alert, featuring profiles of publishers, their selected authors, and upcoming titles. For more information on sponsorship, contact Roy Futterman.
Share
Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.