The category mystery as reality?

About a year and a half or so ago I put forward the idea that crime fiction, as it is being published today, ought to be thought of in the same manner as romance novels – namely, that there are “category” and “single title” novels published, and it’s not as difficult as you think to tell them apart. So now comes a bit of news courtesy The Bookseller that seems to take this idea and run with it:

Mills & Boon is to launch a crime and thriller series in its

first venture beyond romance publishing since it was founded 100 years

ago. Black Star Crime kicks off in August with five titles, and will

initially publish five titles every two months. The heavily-­branded

short novels will be priced at £3.99.

M&B anticipates sales

of between 250,000 and 500,000 units a year for the series, which would

be around 2% of the total UK crime and thriller market. Nielsen

BookScan’s crime and thriller product class was worth £138.9m in 2007,

with 22.7 million books sold.

“Since 2001, crime and thriller

sales have increased by 70%,” said M&B marketing manager Oliver

Rhodes. “There were two ways for us to go. We could either do what

everyone else is doing, and do it better, or carve out our own niche

and try to create a unique proposition. The idea is that if people find

something they like they can go back and find something similar. It is

a brand promise.”

Now Black Star sounds like it might be in the same vein as the American lines Harlequin Intrigue and to a lesser extent, Harlequin NEXT, but this is much more overtly about crime fiction than romantic suspense, a deliberate move on M&B’s part:

M&B will spend around £100,000 on its launch marketing campaign,

and is due to start presenting the series to retailers this month. The

company is keen that the brand is not tarred with the M&B brush,

and that it is kept as far as possible from its romance publishing.


has to get dedicated space in store or we’re wasting our time,” said

m.d. Guy Hallowes. “It’s important that the books are racked together,

with enough space to make impact.”

On the one hand, those published by Black Star will get some exposure as part of the line. But are any of them going to be positioned to break out and be, say, published by thriller imprint MIRA? One thing I do agree with is that M&B has international reach like very few publishers. But we’ll see if that category/single title approach does, in fact, carry through…