Thursday, March 18, 2010

Black Dog Books

Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books


I began publishing in 1997. The first forty books were in the chapbook format, with a couple giveaway titles and memorial books added to that figure. In 2006, I launched the trade paperback line. I have 25 titles in print, plus 2 non-fiction titles, and have just sent 5 more titles to the printer. I expect to be releasing 8 to 10 new titles a year.
To date BDB has one hardcover available, Cornell Woolrich’s The Good Die Young, which collects his early romance works, very rare and hard to come by material, and have several other hardcover collections in production.
I began Black Dog Books (BDB) as an outlet to keep the classic adventure genre alive by reprinting works of his type from the early pulp magazines. It is quite amazing the influence on popular culture that the pulp magazine field has had.
Current authors such as Clive Cussler, whose work I enjoy, are really pulp authors in new clothing in my opinion. Many of the series characters like The Executioner and The Destroyer, and westerns series such as Longarm or The Trailsman are modern incarnations of the adventure story. They are no longer called this, now having sub-genre classifications (everything has to be labeled for buyers). But the classic adventure stories, the lost city in the jungle, or desert, the hidden treasure, or shipwreck, or nautical adventures by rough and tumble, two-fisted captains in the Malaysian Archipelago still have appeal and have an audience.
And it is to this audience, where my own primal reading tastes lie, that I have attempted to cater some of my titles.
The BDB backlist does have 5 mystery titles and 5 science fiction titles, and a couple non-fiction books as well. Genres often cross over anyway. A derelict ship at sea is discovered. What happened? The first mate sets off to solve the mystery. It is set against an adventure background, but is a whodunit too. A cowboy rides into town and discovers that the prospectors are being ran off their claims. Who is behind it? Same thing in different set dressing.


I suppose that label would have to be attached to me. As the Grand Poobah, I make all the final decisions. But I have a couple associates, Gene Christie and Doug Ellis, which are extremely knowledgeable, even more so than myself in regards to particular authors or pulp publishing houses, and both have extensive collections of pulp magazines. They have recently contributed some collections, and suggested others, in addition to occasionally helping me acquire the story material needed for projects that I am the Acquisitions Editor on.
As well, I have many acquaintances such as authors Robert Weinberg, or Will Murray, who are also pulp collectors, that are always helpful when presented with questions or when asked for opinions.


Well, this can be a tricky question because all of it is based upon my opinion.
Some titles are selected upon my own reading tastes, or what I determine is a niche to be filled for a particular author’s work. Bodyguard by Roger Torrey fits into that category. Long known in hard boiled circles for his work in Black Mask and Dime Detective, Torrey died young, prior to the paperback boom of the 1950s. He had only one book printed during his lifetime, and has become an overlooked figure. But Torrey was quite prolific and deserves to be remembered.
Some are based upon other happenings in the field. BDB’s soon-to-be released title, Twice Murdered, a collection of mystery stories by Laurence Donovan, (who ghostwrote some Doc Svage and other herp pulp adventures) is a direct offshoot of Donovan’s stories of The Whisperer, currently being reprinted by Sanctum Books. If readers enjoy Donovan’s stories of The Whisperer or Doc Savage and want to read more of his work, of which there is virtually nothing available, then this title offers that option.
Some titles are just a gut feeling, and others happen when material finally becomes available to complete a single-character collection.
Or if mystery titles sell well in the third quarter, perhaps I’ll release other mysteries to follow up.
There are naturally those BDB titles that do not sell as well as other BDB titles, but for the most part my “gut reactions” have panned out, and I’ve been spared any real duds.
I won’t say I have any better feel than someone else, or do extensive market research. I just keep doing what I do, and customers keep coming. So I don’t want to tinker with it too much.

In recent years, a plethora of pulp reprint houses have sprung up. Some of these are publishing pastiches, often thinly-disguised off-takes of famous characters such as Doc Savage or the Shadow, while others put out collections of what I’ll call “common” material; material that is easy enough to obtain in the original magazines if you choose to pursue them. And still some release what appears to me to be hastily produced books brought into print to make a quick buck, compiled from e-texts available for free online.
Since my first BDB title, I have went out of my way to produce collections of material that is difficult to come by from rare magazines, and overlooked character collections. My recent title, The Golden Goshawk, by H. Bedford-Jones is a good example; a short collection of a character nearly forgotten, produced by one of the most famous writers during the pulp era. These stories originally appeared in magazines nearly impossible to come by today due to their rarity. It took me several years to acquire photocopies of the stories for this collection.
This book was enthusiastically reviewed by James Reasoner on this blog, “Rough Edges,” and has met with steady sales. Proving, I believe, that the adventure genre, and good storytelling still has an audience.
But back to your question. In addition to the obscure material, with all of my titles I try to have something unique added with the stories. Sometimes it is a bibliography of the author’s work, or a vintage autobiographical column by the author, or an informative introduction, a photo of the author and so on. Give the consumer a reason to want the book.
Some collections have been years in the planning and legwork. It is this extra effort I hope that sets me apart from similar publishing enterprises. I care about what I do, take pride in what I produce, and I hope it shows.


I get praising comments from appreciative customers about how they always wanted to read this story or that author, and now they can, thanking me for making the book(s) available, or their opinion of a particular collection. But my titles are not mass market distributed. They have limited exposure.
It is often difficult for an independent press to get much notice, overshadowed by the major publishers, and I, as basically a one-man operation, can only get so much accomplished. I’m trying to breech the library sales market at the moment.
My sales are achieved through my website,, Amazon, and appearances at conventions and shows. The rest is word of mouth. I have a growing number of stores that carry my titles. Online reviews are helping spread the word too, but it is an uphill battle. I know that the audience is expanding as myself and other publishers make more of this type material available, and people become aware, but it is still a small audience at this stage.
One stigmatism is unfortunately the word “pulp” or “pulp fiction.” People seem to shy away from material carrying this label with a pre-determined opinion that it is schlock, or because of what the Quentin Tarantino film presented.
A huge amount of well-written and very entertaining fiction appeared in the bound pages of those newsstand magazines, which significantly influenced the entertainment media of our culture. Some of the best examples are Tarzan, Zorro, The Shadow, the Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy. The creators are not household names, but their characters were.
The films based upon material originating from the pulps number in the hundreds.
It’s no secret that writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederic Brown, Agatha Christie and Sax Rohmer sold to the pulp magazines, as did Damon Runyon, Rafael Sabatini, MacKinlay Kantor and Tennessee Williams. Each very successful and recognizable in their day.
Nearly every word Max Brand wrote was sold to the pups. And how many Louie L’Amour books in print carry works he sold to these magazines?
This list does not even touch those authors that wrote science fiction.
Alone, the magazine Adventure, under the editorship of Arthur Sullivan Hoffman, had contributions from Sinclair Lewis, who would win the Nobel Prize for Literature; T.S. Stribling, later to win the Pulitzer Prize; Harold Lamb, Guggenheim Fellowship winner and recipient of an award from the Persian Government for his historical fiction; George E. Holt, Consul-General of the United States to Morocco; John Buchan, later elected Governor General of Canada; and art by Rockwell Kent among many other contributors. Needless to say, these accomplished individuals did not produce schlock.
There were certainly things written for the pulp magazines that were simply page-fillers and potboilers, but to categorically show distain for the whole field is narrow-minded and does great injustice.
The education of this to consumers remains an ongoing process.


More volumes in the Talbot Mundy Library, 2 collections of early short works by Sax Rohmer, including stories never before available in the U.S, a “Best of Adventure” collection, plus an anthology of early horror stories.
Our first book of new fiction is Mindship, by Gerry Conway (producer of Law and Order), will soon be available. This is a science fiction novel.
Oh, and I’ll be putting out two Western collections over the next year as well, plus whatever else my “gut reaction” marketing approach offers.


Laurie Powers said...

Fantastic interview - I've been wanting to get to know Black Dog Books a little better. I'd be interested in finding out what Tom plans on putting in his Western collections.

Cunningham said...

Excellent email interview. It's nice to get an insight into another pulp publisher... and when one of us does well, we all benefit.

Congrats, "Grand Poobah."

Bill Cunningham
Mad Pulp Bastard
(That's my job title)

Anonymous said...

Is that the same Gerry Conway who wrote for Marvel Comics back in the 70's?

Jeff P.

Nikki Thornton said...

Liked your post. Someday I hope to write a book where the royalties will pay for the copies I give away.

Nikki Thornton said...

Liked your post. Someday I hope to write a book where the royalties will pay for the copies I give away.

Richard R. said...

Excellent, just excellent. I'm getting fascinated by the pulp reprint market and have been buying some things, but I must say Black Dog Books has the best selection of things that appeal to me of any.

Long may BDB flourish!