How the Houghton/Harcourt Layoffs Affect the Mystery World

On Friday, Publishers Weekly reported that four editors at the now-combined Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had been laid off, a move anticipated for quite some time after Riverdeep, Houghton Mifflin’s parent company, bought out Harcourt late last year and the two similar but distinct trade devisions were merged together.  Later that day Publishers Marketplace cited who they were: Webb Younce, Jane Rosenman and Anton Mueller on the Houghton side, and Stacia Decker on the Harcourt side.

The Houghton layoffs are bad news on the literary fiction and non-fiction front – authors who count any of the three editors as theirs include Mary Sharratt, Laleh Khadivi, Jonathan Miles, Elinor Lipman, Nicole Mones, Jenefer Shute, Timothy Egan, Mark Slouka, Anchee Min, Jonathan Chait, Taylor Antrim, Steven Sherrill and Colum McCann – but Decker’s dismissal is a huge blow for the mystery genre.

Not only was Decker tasked with editing most of the books Otto Penzler acquired for his eponymous imprint, an author stable that includes John Harvey, Thomas Perry, Andrew Klavan, Joe Gores and Joyce Carol Oates, but she acquired many excellent and interesting writers treading on the side of noir, such as Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks, John McFetridge, James Sallis and Declan Burke, as well as Inger Wolfe. No wonder Spinetingler Magazine recently voted her as “Best Editor” in their inaugural awards given out a few weeks ago.

What Decker’s leaving means for those authors, as well as Penzler’s imprint, remains to be seen, but I’m not feeling a lot of optimism at this point for an imprint that took care to publishing quality crime fiction exclusively in hardcover and trade paperback. I do feel optimism, however, for Decker, who not only has good editorial taste but some very shrewd instincts that will serve her well at her next editorial job. She’ll also, I hope, continue writing, as her work has appeared in The Missouri Review, Nerve, South Dakota Review, Small Spiral Notebook, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, and Faultline, among other publications. But once again, this news shows the dark side of publisher consolidation, a side that probably won’t lighten up anytime soon.