Small Press Creates Warm Family Atmosphere For Readers and Authors Alike
When Dr. Patricia Rockwell retired in 2007 from her career as an Associate Professor of Communication, she never imagined that her skills as an educator might still come in handy. After a few days of loafing, Rockwell quickly became bored with retirement and began searching for a new outlet for her talents. Although she had an extensive number of academic publications to her credit, all of her writing was scholarly––not commercial. She had spent eight years as an editor of a regional journal, but none of her publishing experience involved making a profit. After experimenting for a while with blogging, writing non-fiction articles, and other creative ventures, Rockwell settled on an activity that suited her perfectly––writing cozy mysteries.
“A cozy mystery is a gentle mystery,” she explains. “The emphasis is on figuring out clues, also on unique––even quirky–– characters. It’s not about blood, violence, or rough language. A cozy is a book your grandmother can read.” Rockwell quickly produced her first cozy mystery SOUNDS OF MURDER and decided to publish the book herself. “I submitted it to a traditional publisher at first who demanded lots of revisions––which I did––but after over a year of waiting for a response, it was eventually rejected. I said to myself, that’s a year of my life wasted. I’m too old to send this book out to dozens of publishers just to be rejected over and over again. I’ll be eighty before I find a publisher at this rate. I decided to publish it myself.” Luckily, her decision coincided with the development of the ebook and the accompanying rise in independent publishing, a fortuitous confluence that has allowed her company to prosper.
Once Rockwell resolved to publish her own work, she also decided to form her own company and vowed to publish other cozy mysteries as well. She wanted to provide a home for authors who couldn’t or wouldn’t travel the route of either traditional or self-publishing. Cozy Cat Press was born. Since its inception in 2010, Cozy Cat Press has published nine of Rockwell’s cozy mysteries––the Pamela Barnes acoustic mysteries and the Essie Cobb senior sleuth mysteries.
Shortly after its birth, the young company began attracting other cozy authors. The first––Diane Morlan––who writes the Jennifer Penny mystery series (TOO DEAD TO DANCE and SHAKE DOWN DEAD), works closely with Rockwell––both in spirit and proximity––because Morlan lives in a small town close to Rockwell’s home in Aurora, Illinois. The two women frequently attend author shows together and brainstorm ways to make Cozy Cat Press a better publishing house––both financially and in responsiveness to its authors and readers.
“I met Patricia before my novel was completed,” says Morlan. “Her guidance and encouragement helped me to finish the book and get it ready for publication. I knew that she believed in me and that was what I needed to move me along.”
Morlan was followed by Allen B. Boyer, author of the Bess Bullock Retirement Home mysteries (GUMSHOE GRANNY INVESTIGATES, CLUES OVER CROISSANTS, and MARRIED TO MYSTERIES). Boyer lives in Pennsylvania, and was not able to personally participate in regular CCP “production meetings” with Rockwell and Morlan. Even so, Rockwell tried hard to make him feel a true part of Cozy Cat Press. Of joining CCP, he says, “It was a relief to find someone who loved a character and loved a story that was so close to my heart. I actually said ‘no’ to a previous publisher because of the demands and impersonal communication I had with them. The best thing I could have done for my dear retirement home detective was to place her with Cozy Cat Press.” Shortly after the addition of Boyer, the company acquired Sharon Rose, who writes the Parson’s Cove Cozy mysteries (SLIP AND GO DIE, PERPLEXITY ON P 1/2, CALAMITY @ THE CARWASH, and SAVE AS MURDER). Like Boyer, Rose lives far away from CCP headquarters in Aurora, Illinois, and the small publishing company began to experience growing pains as it added more far-flung authors, while still trying to keep its intimate, family atmosphere. Rose describes her feelings about CCP: “I love the personal contact . . . and the small intimate group of writers who obviously have the same dreams.” As Rose notes, Cozy Cat Press authors maintain a bond that doesn’t seem to exist among authors affiliated with most publishing companies. CCP authors have their own Facebook forum and interact regularly to support each other, with more experienced authors assisting newer ones by offering advice and providing answers to questions about writing, editing, and book promotion.
Rockwell says she views her thirty some authors more as a family than as business associates. She claims she often feels like a parent, guiding her children to success. “I try to create an atmosphere of concern and support for them. It’s the same atmosphere I try to establish for our readers, or as one CCP author––Blanche Day Manos (co-author of GRAVE SHIFT with Barbara Burgess)––puts it, “Cozy Cat Press conjures up visions of settling down . . . in front of a blazing fireplace, a cat curled up nearby. It invites the reader to come on in and enjoy the warmth.” This is how Rockwell wants both her readers and her authors to feel.
But just as with real families, there are also problems. Rockwell notes that with the addition of each new author, her job becomes more difficult. “I have to keep tabs on all of them. It’s really like having over thirty children––even though they’re all out in the world on their own. You know those television shows where the married couple has dozens of kids? That’s how I feel sometimes. The more authors I have, the greater my ‘parenting’ load. Even so, I wouldn’t change a thing. Each one of my authors is very important to me.”
With so many authors in the Cozy Cat family now, Rockwell spends less time on her own writing and more time working with her authors. She’s intensely involved with editing each author’s latest work, a task she feels comfortable doing, given her many years as a teacher. “As a university professor, I spent a lot of time helping my Masters’ students hone their theses to a publishable condition. I learned that being an editor means being a good motivator as well as a critic. At CCP, I’m the editor as well as the publisher. I want my authors to succeed, but I also want their books to be the best they can be. With most all of my authors now working on their second or even third book, it’s a balancing act to do both.”
One of the more recent additions to the CCP family is Stephen Kaminski whose cozy mystery IT TAKES TWO TO STRANGLE is doing quite well in sales. He describes why he joined CCP: “I submitted queries to scores of agents and publishers. I had requests from quite a few who wanted to review the entire manuscript. But it was the insightful woman behind Cozy Cat Press––Patricia Rockwell––who hit upon what had been staring me in the face: my book was a cozy mystery caught in the literary body of a commercial fiction novel. It was that insight that led me to sign as a Cozy Cat Press author.”
In addition to Rockwell, Morlan, Boyer, Rose, Manos, Burgess, and Kaminski, the other CCP authors are Elissa D. Grodin, Drema J. Reed, Leslie Matthews Stansfield, Andrea Taylor, Heather Shkuratoff, David Selcer, Lyla Fox, Emma Pivato, Jennifer Vido, Joyce Oroz, Amy Beth Arkawy, Bart J. Gilbertson, Lane Stone, Julie Seedorf, Jacqueline Corcoran, Joe and Pamela Reese, Christian Belz, Owen Magruder, Lane Buckman, Nanci Rathbun, Jacob Appel, Marlo Hollinger, JT Toman, Tim Hall, Sally Carpenter, Bret Jones, Helen Grochmal, and Steve Shrott. Their biographies and books are all described here on the Cozy Cat Press website: www.cozycatpress.com. Readers and potential authors are invited to drop by.