Pegasus Books Takes Flight
“Publishing is a very mysterious business,” Thomas Wolfe famously said, and it’s no secret that those interested in the publishing field look in wonderment at the entire process. New publishers have come on the scene over the last decade or so that have begun to revolutionize the industry with fresh takes on bringing books to market.
One such publisher is Pegasus Books, a New York-based publishing house that launched in 2006 and almost immediately made a splash with its first release, H. P. Lovecraft’s Book of the Supernatural, edited by Stephen Jones. Following that debut came the company’s breakout hit in 2008 with a new translation of Alexandre Dumas’s The Last Cavalier, a rousing Napoleonic revenge saga that was subsequently chosen as The Washington Post’s Best Book of the Year. That catalyst helped drive Pegasus to where it is today, publishing more than 100 books annually.
A Pillar in the Mystery World
Claiborne Hancock started Pegasus after working as an editor with mid-sized independent publisher Carroll and Graf. After Mysterious Press publisher Otto Penzler encouraged Hancock to start his own imprint, he launched Pegasus just over eleven years ago. Hancock has been energized by the number of talented authors the company has been able to work with over the years. “Our most important author to date has been Camilla Lackberg, the Crime Queen of Sweden,” Hancock tells The Strand. “Camilla is a world-renowned mystery writer and her books have been the cornerstone of our new catalogs for many years now.”
Pegasus has released a mix of fiction and nonfiction, and its novels have ranged between genre fiction, literary fiction, history, and mystery, says Associate Publisher Jessica Case. The company’s writers have nothing but praise for the firm and its commitment to its talent. Molly MacRae, writer of the Haunted Yarn Shop Mystery series, says, “From the moment I set foot there, I’ve felt welcome and valued and they’ve been out there championing my books.”
As Pegasus has cultivated relationships with new writers, the company continues to strengthen its bonds with existing talent, which can be a rare but welcome trait among growing firms. “I’ve now done three books with them—three more in the pipeline—and that alone is a testimonial to the quality of the relationship,” says Leslie Klinger, author of the three-volume set The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.
The company’s support goes far beyond the editorial phase and continues into publicizing the books, which can be just as important as perfecting the editorial quality. “Where Pegasus has really proven itself has been in the marketing and promotion of my books to the US market,” says Sarah Sykes, author of Plague Land. “I particularly love my American covers, using classic works of art, overlaid with an archaic typeface—the design just seems to capture the tone of the novels perfectly. Pegasus has also been particularly strong from a promotional point of view, securing reviews for my last two books with such illustrious publications as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.”
If the devil is in the details for publishers, then Pegasus’s focus certainly wins in this category as well. Author and screenwriter Derek Haas has published five books with Pegasus and is continually astounded at the specifics that the company addresses. “Claiborne carefully considers everything from covers to publishing dates to audio book reading talent, and digs for one more reader, one more bookstore, one more international publisher to carry my novels,” he says.
Looking Toward the Future
Today, Pegasus Books continues to grow into one of the most successful independent publishers on the market and shows no signs of slowing down. The company is also innovating and recently launched a collection of short stories based on and inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper. “That was great because we had some wonderful writers attached to it—Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Connelly—but it’s an unorthodox premise, and it’s an anthology,” Case said.
It’s Pegasus’s courage to pursue risks like this that have led to its becoming one of the biggest names in independent publishing today. The resulting anthology, In Sunlight or in Shadow: Stories Inspired by Paintings of Edward Hopper, was edited by Lawrence Block and earned reviews in publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Publishers typically shy away from anthologies, Block says, but Pegasus was bold enough to take the leap and work with him. “Happily, my agent, Danny Baror, found just the right publisher in Claiborne Hancock of Pegasus. Claiborne saw the book’s potential immediately, loved the project wholeheartedly, and backed it all the way. He and all his people proved to be bright and responsive and resourceful, and they produced a physically beautiful book and did very well with it.”
Pegasus has its roots firmly in place and is ready to grow. “Ten years from now, we’d love to have some more established a uthors, but that doesn’t mean we won’t always have a special place for debuts,” Case says. “Debuts are always thrilling… It’s always exciting to introduce a new voice to the market.”
When asked what advice Pegasus Books can offer aspiring writers looking to work with the firm, Hancock points to professionalism and potential representation as being key. “It’s always a plus to have an agent on board to represent you,” he says. “Blindly submitting to Pegasus, or any New York publisher, is a difficult proposition these days. Figuring out a way to promote your novel is the secret to success in our business. Not to say we haven’t acquired dozens of novels over the years simply because we loved them—that has to come first, of course—but an author should try to bring something to the table as well.”
In addition, don’t expect to submit your work and then forget about it. “Be prepared to get your hands dirty,” Case says. “We love working with active, engaged authors. As an independent publisher, it’s kind of an all-hands-on-deck approach. So we typically try to work with authors who are active and want to get out there. We want to help writers as much as we can.”
As the company moves into the future, it’s clear that Pegasus puts writers front-and-center, making the firm immeasurably appealing for both the publishing world and the writers themselves. Perhaps even Thomas Wolfe would be impressed at the way Pegasus has unraveled the mysteries of publishing to create an innovative platform that’s revolutionizing the industry.