The first American mass-market paperback publisher, Pocket Books, also has a long history as a successful publisher of romance novels.
Pocket Books: A Publishing Innovator
A division of Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books has a name that fits the company perfectly. For over eight decades in the United States, they have released almost every kind of fiction and nonfiction–all in hand-sized paperback editions.
Branching off Penguin Books’ success in England, they played a pivotal role in the history of publishing.
New Jersey-born Robert F. de Graff was the founder of Pocket Books and cousin to Frank Nelson Doubleday. He obtained financial backing from the Misters Simon & Schuster– Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster–and their business partner, Leon Shimkin.
In 1939 they produced the first mass-market paperbacks in the States. Earlier forms of paperbacks had been produced in the mid-1800s. Pocket Books editions were made of cheap paper and bound with glue, far more affordable than cloth or leather-covered hardback with stitched spines.
At the time, Pocket Books only reprinted previously published best sellers and classics. Their first ten titles in 1939 were released in numbered order and cost 25 cents. Each title had a first printing of about 10,000 copies.
Pocket Books #1 was Lost Horizon by James Hilton. The novel had been a great success overseas for Penguin and was a Frank Capra-directed film in 1937. It sold 2.5 million copies for Pocket Books alone.
They quickly found much success. Before World War II, the vividly designed covers sold millions during the first pulp fiction revolution. Other paperback houses would follow in their footsteps, such as Avon and Dell.
After World War II, Pocket Books started to publish other genres besides works of popular or literary acclaim. Science fiction, television adaptations, sports, astrology, horror–you name it, they’ve released it.
Entering the Romance Genre
The advent of the 1970s sexy romance revolution caused a massive ripple in the publishing industry. Pocket Books had published romantic books and magazines previously, but now the company stepped up its game. Because of this, Pocket Books released many romance novels and bodice rippers in that decade.
Purity’s Passion by Janette Seymour (aka John Michael Butterworth) was published in 1977. It sold millions of copies. Following would be two more sequels in the highly successful Purity Jarsy series.
1977 would also see the first two of Jeanne Williams’ bodice rippers, A Lady Bought with Rifles and A Woman Clothed in the Sun.
Journeyman author Con Sellers released Marilee in 1978. Drusilla Campbell’s The Frost and the Flame came out in 1980. The prolific Harry Bennett designed both covers.
Pocket Books Nabs Janet Dailey from Harlequin
Pocket Books would poach superstar author Janet Dailey from Harlequin in 1978.
They gave Dailey the star treatment for her full-length releases. Cover artists such as Roger Kastel, Robert A. Maguire, and George H. Jones would produce illustrations for her books.
Her 1979 novel, Touch the Wind was one of the first mainstream romances to have a stepback cover.
Pocket Books previously had used a die-cut stepback to great acclaim with V.C. Andrews’ Flowers In the Attic. Her Dollanganger series was a huge sensation. To this day, despite her death many years ago, her books continue to sell.
As for the stepback, it would become hugely popular in the romance genre. Other publishers like Berkley’s Jove division would follow suit.
Richard Gallen, Book Producer of the Future?
Richard Gallen, an entrepreneur and self-proclaimed publishing producer, had worked for Dell. In 1979, he published two historical romances and two contemporary romances a month. Pocket Books would then distribute them.
A book producer was to be the “book creator of the future,” not unlike film producers. Gallen was in charge of small teams of editors, designers, and writers. He used them to create books that would “be distributed to the trade by the well-known houses of Publishers Row.”
Gallen would also create books for Tor Books and Pinnacle. In 1981, he helped produce 100 titles for all book publishers. By 1982, it was twice that number. Pocket Books had signed a contract with Gallen to disseminate them. However, they only released 90 romances under the Gallen moniker from 1978 to 1982.
Authors who had books “produced” by Gallen included Candace Camp, under the pseudonym Kristin James, Dorothy Garlock, and Jude Deveraux.
Gallen’s relationship with Pocket Books ended when Pocket Books started the Tapestry imprint in October 1982. These historical romances spanned the globe and all time periods.
Many famous authors wrote for the line. They included Jude Deveraux, Julie Garwood, Ruth Ryan Langan, Linda Lael Miller, Patricia Pellicane, Maura Seger (aka Josie Litton), and Ena Halliday (aka Sylvia Halliday & Louisa Rawlings), whose book Marielle was Tapestry #1.
Harry Bennett, Robert Maguire, George H. Jones, and Elaine Gignilliat were frequent cover illustrators for the line.
Approximately 94 Tapestry books were released, with the final novel released in August 1986.
Simon & Schuster’s Category Imprint: Silhouette Books
In 1980 Simon & Schuster entered the “Category Romance Wars” by developing the Silhouette imprint. Although not a division of Pocket Books but rather a “sister” imprint under their parent company, both departments used the same cover artists and often the same authors.
Silhouette famously poached author Anne Hampson from Harlequin, whose book Gates of Steel was the first Harlequin Presents published in 1974. Hampson was unhappy with Harlequin as her more “old-style” (i.e., less sensual) works were being pushed aside in favor of newer authors such as Charlotte Lamb and Carole Mortimer.
Ironically, Harlequin would buy Silhouette from Simon & Schuster just a few years later and unceremoniously dump Hampson.
Silhouette catered to a primarily North American audience. Their romances had more relatable themes than Greek magnates and heroines so beautiful the heroes could not help but kidnap and ravish them.
Silhouette’s flagship line was called “Romance” to compete with the same-named Harlequin line. Their Silhouette Desire series, however, was even more sensual than Harlequin’s erotically-tinged Presents and was a big hit with readers. Harlequin hurried to follow suit with their Temptation line.
Silhouette had other lines, including a teen and inspirational series, although they achieved mixed results and soon ended. More successful was the Special Edition series and, later, the Intimate Moments series.
Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Diana Palmer, and many author well-known authors got their start with Silhouette.
Pocket Books Big Three Romance Authors
In due time, the three “J”s, Jude Deveraux, Judith McNaught, and Julie Garwood, would prove to be powerhouse historical authors for the company.
Their romances in the 1980s and 1990s often hit the NY Times Best Seller lists. Millions of copies of their books were sold worldwide. Later, the three authors branched off into contemporary fiction and other genres.
Another blockbuster romance writer whose name starts with a “J” would join them as a Pocket author years later.
In 1999 Pocket Books released another romance imprint, Sonnet Books. Instead of clinch covers, these books had “discrete and tasteful” looking covers. Authors who published with them included Linda Lael Miller, Jen Holling, and Stef Ann Holm.
Unfortunately for the company, their debut coincided with the rise of digital format, and Sonnet folded after just a couple of years.
Romance Genre Legacy
By the end of the 20th century, Pocket Books would sign romance authors like Kresley Cole, Susan Mallery, Meredith Duran, and Sabrina Jeffries.
One of their most notable collaborations was with Johanna Lindsey, who left Avon for Simon & Schuster in 2001 after writing 37 books with her former publisher. She remained with Pocket Books until she died in 2019.
Pocket Books successfully produced mass-market paperbacks into the next decades and continues to do so.
Their contributions to the romance genre cannot be overstated, as they paved the way for many authors to follow. Pocket Books offered readers a variety of choices, from historical romances to contemporary love stories and everything in between. Their commitment to promoting new authors also made them a powerhouse in romance.
While the rise of digital media may have impacted the company, Pocket Books’ legacy continues to endure. Their impact on the romance genre is felt to this day. Moreover, contributions to the world of literature will not be forgotten.
Pocket Books remain a force to be reckoned with in an ever-more-decreasing paperback marketplace.
- Goodreads: Pocket Books Romances
- Pulp Covers
- Rob Imes.Blogspot: A Guide to Category Romance Series
- Simon & Schuster: Pocket Books Romance
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