Carolyn Reidy, RIP

Carolyn Reidy, a pillar of my publishing career and the woman at the helm of Simon and Schuster for years, passed away on Tuesday of this week, succumbing to a heart attack at her home in the Hamptons.  My first two manuscripts were purchased by Avon Books in 1983 when she was president of the company.  I was a completely unknown and very minor author at that point in my career, and the people running the show in New York were far above my pay grade.  I knew my editor, John Douglas, and that was it.

A couple of years passed and Avon Books celebrated its 50th anniversary.  By then Carolyn Reidy was the Publisher at Avon and she summoned one an all to a party at Rockefeller Center in New York City.  It was there I met her for the first time, standing in the receiving line.  And it was also there that I learned the storied history of paperbacks.  They were invented during World War II, designed to be lightweight enough that soldiers could carry books with them into the field in their pockets or back pack—hence the name “pocket book.”

In the world of literary snobbism, original paperbacks, in which form I was being published, are generally looked down upon. At one point along the way, I was a volunteer for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Conference, and my job was to pick up an editor arriving from New York at SeaTac, drive her to the conference at Pacific Lutheran University, and then return her to the airport when the conference ended.  On the trip from the airport, the editor whose name I can’t recall told me that the world of original paperbacks “is where anybody who wants to get published can get published.”  Thank you very much!  I took her to the conference, I dropped her off, I have no idea how she got back.  For all I know she’s still down there wandering around in the wilds of Tacoma somewhere.  I guess I do hold a grudge, but  I digress. Again.

When Until Proven Guilty came out in 1985, Adams News, the local book wholesaler, purchased a total of fifty copies for the entire Seattle area.  Several years later, they were buying my books in pallets, thanks in no small measure to the careful shepherding of my first sales rep, Holly Turner.  But pallets of books meant something, even in New York, and when Carolyn Reidy made a publisher’s sojourn around the states, meeting and greeting authors like a member of royalty greeting his or her subjects, she and John Douglas made a stop in Seattle where Bill and I were invited to dinner.

The meal was held at a downtown Ruth’s Chris steakhouse which was located on Fifth Avenue at the time.  Carolyn and my editor were staying at the Alexis, five blocks away and straight down the hill on First Avenue.  Publishing dinners aren’t your basic fast-food dining experience.  We’re talking cocktails, wine with dinner, dessert—all very civilized and time consuming.   We had met up at the hotel and walked up the hill to dinner (No small feat, by the way!)   It turns out this was winter, however, and by the time we emerged from the restaurant, it had snowed and was still snowing.

This was in the old days.  Both Carolyn and I were wearing high heels, and high heels, ten percent grade Seattle sidewalks, and snow just don’t mix.  So finally after almost falling flat, we both took off our heels and walked four downhill snowy blocks in our stockinged feet.  Talk about a bonding experience.  Sometime after that, Simon and Schuster stole Carolyn away from Avon Books.  I was sad to lose her, but even after she left, we always stayed in touch.

More years passed.  Avon Books morphed into Morrow and eventually into HarperCollins.  In the early 2000s Harper published the first Ali book, Edge of Evil, but then they declined to exercise the option to purchase a second one.  What’s a girl to do?  I called up my barefoot snowboarding pal, and the rest is history.  Since then I’ve had two publishers—Simon and Schuster for the Ali books and HarperCollins for everyone else.

Working with two major publishers means walking a bit of a tightrope with multiple pub dates, editors, marketing folks, and publicity people, and none of them entirely comfortable with working across those corporate lines of demarcation, but I’m happy to say we’ve all managed.

Two years ago, when Bill and I were in New York for ThrillerFest, we invited everybody from both sides of the aisle to a dinner party at an entirely appropriate restaurant called The Writing Room.  It was glorious.  My longtime agent and her husband were both there as was John Douglas, my first editor and Carolyn Reidy my first and, at the time, current publisher.  We sat next to each other and swapped stories, including our barefoot-in-the-snow adventure.  Among the guests were my then current editors—Lyssa Keusch and Susan Moldow along with any number of corporate folks—Lynn Grady, Liate Stehlik, Tara Parsons, Kaitlin Harri and Jennifer Hart.  Ditto my dueling publicity ladies—Julie Paulauski and Jessica Roth.

It was a bit of a roast, but it was also great fun.  In the process I had a chance to say a sincere and very public thank you to Carolyn Reidy for all her help along the way, and I’m so glad I did.  If I hadn’t thanked her then, I would have missed it entirely.

And that’s the reason I’m telling you about Carolyn Reidy today.  Lots of us are locked up at home right now.  Maybe there’s someone in your life that you could take the opportunity to say thank you to them in a very heartfelt way.  Maybe some of them are at risk, and I’m sure they’d appreciate hearing whatever you have to say.  Saying thank you will be good for them and good for you.  I believe that counts as a win/win.

Besides, there’s always the possibility you won’t get another chance.

25 thoughts on “Carolyn Reidy, RIP

  1. You remind me that we really live in a small world. When I read about Carolyn Reidy’s death this week I felt that the publishing industry would be changed. I had no idea that she was a part of my history because I have read and enjoyed your books for years. Thank you for sharing her with us this morning. The image of two dignified women walking bare foot in the snow made me smile. Thank you for being you.

  2. Your words today left me in tears. Thank you for sharing your memories and suggesting connecting with people who made a difference in our lives I’ve been writing postcards and letters to friends and family members. We are living in a turning point time and it’s time to do what we came here to do while we have the chance

    • From the time I was very little, I remember the first of November, my mother would start getting her christmas cards ready. With each card she would write a personalized letter to each recipient. All these christmas cards would always go into the mail on December first. My mother loved to get mail, she never learned how to use a computer. Now that mom has passed, anytime we speak of her, everyone comments on how much they loved getting her letters. Mom’s letters were never sent just at Christmas time, but frequently during the year. So, yes, it’s good to remember everyone in our life and acknowledge them.

  3. I preferred paperbacks for a long time. As a teacher I didn’t think I could afford hard backs. Idaho doesn’t pay teachers very good. Now I prefer my kindle. When you live out of town, it works the best.

  4. Being without a public library in the town where I grew up, I ended up reading my mother’s magazines. I don’t think she actually read them since she was too busy doing other worthy things. In 8th grade, our teacher brought in ‘bulk loans’ from the County library and I loved being able to have a real book to read. At some point during my growing up time, my best friend gave me a copy of Anne of Green Gables. I never had the rest of the series until my daughter was born. I wanted her to have the ‘Anne’ books.
    Then on to paperback books which were inexpensive and I could put on in my purse.
    Fast forward many years and I started working in my first public library. I worked in 7 different libraries for 30 years.
    Why am I telling people this? Well, now I use audiobooks because of an eyesight problem. Hardback are not an option. E-books are also a challenge. So I am grateful that one of the first audiobooks I listened to was a J.A. Jance title. I was especially grateful that I could get it through a program offered by the library called Overdrive. I often run out of titles I can borrow for the month on another program called Hoopla. Overdrive is always there for me. I loved JP Beaumont, the Walker books, but especially loved Joanna Brady.
    So thank you to the powers that be who allowed your books to be available through audiobook form.
    Not sure why so many look down on audiobooks. I have actually listened to Anne of Green Gables again and have gotten a whole perspective on Marilla and Matthew.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and reminding us to do the important things in this crazy life! Stay safe and well! Reading Sins of the Father! Enjoy your books so much,I can escape the real world and I need that sometimes! Thanks so much!

  6. A couple of years ago I went to matinee of one of the plays in downtown Seattle with my two daughters, sister-in-law, and niece in February. It is our tradition to go out for a very nice meal and there is plenty of laughter from the cousins (the older ones were roommates in college). By the time the meal was completed, snowfall had been going on for some time and I decided to stay overnight, not knowing the conditions on I-5, rather than try to drive home. The night was still young so the younger daughter took me to one of her clubbing places and we had to walk uphill in the snow. I remember slipping and falling a couple of times, but that didn’t stop me from dancing. And then walking baby steps back to her place. The black and blue showed up a couple days later.

  7. If that editor thought paperbacks were beneath her what would they think of ebooks and audiobooks? I made the transition to ebooks several years ago and only go back when I have to. Now instead of one book fitting in your pocket you can have thousands.

  8. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend! I’m glad you had the opportunity to thank her!
    I would like to thank you for your beautiful writing as I follow all your characters and always look forward to a new book coming out! Please keep those wonderful stories coming.
    Prayers for Bill and your health!

  9. I buy a lot of paperbacks because I like to read in bed and they are easier to hold. I like to have one to take to doctor’s appointments. I carry a Gideon edition of the New Testament in my bag, too. I get some strange looks when folks see me reading it, but I don’t care. I taught a Sunday School class when I was a senior in high school. (Lutheran)

    Send those cards and letters to folks you want to thank. They will be happy to hear from you.

  10. Really good story but your stories are always good . This Pandemic is having a weird affect on a lot of people A lot who were nice before are really nice now and some are really stupid I’m one of these who cries at TV commercials . I didn’t used to anyway as we get older I tend to be more sensitive. Anyway I’m going out of my way to talk, text Facebook old friends people who have somehow drifted away . We don’t know the future but hopefully we will make time now for others. I want to make sure I didn’t forget to say hi then find them gone that would hurt more than losing them. Wow what a subject your books Alway make me feel so good and uplifting after I read them Take care of you and Bill stay healthy be safe and thank you for the hours of pure joy you have given me … Jan

  11. This time in our history has given all of us an opportunity to slow down and to view what is really important in life. Faith, family, friends, an opportunity to clean our homes, and become more frugal. I have been thinking for some time about contacting my husbands children and thanking them for all the help they gave us in the last few days of his life. Your comments are now pushing me over the edge to do more than think about it, but to pick up the phone, and do it. Carolyn Reidy was one smart woman. She knew talent when she saw it. I do so much appreciate all of your books. Reading them while my husband was going through chemo, hospital visits, helped keep me from falling apart when my world was spinning out of control. I love all of your books. Thank you!

  12. Here’s a BIG thank you to you, Judith. Several years ago, quite by accident, I picked up the newspaper at my daughter’s house near Salem, Oregon. What did I read? J.A. Jance will be at the Salem Public Library for a book talk, TONIGHT. I’m going.

    When I arrived, a bit early, I saw you standing in the aisle, chatting with some folks. Well, I had to tell you my tale of woe. I was recently divorced, and while reading J.P. Beaumont and Joanna Brady books, it occurred to me that both of these to characters in those books, were happily married. I was jealous of BOOK CHARACTERS! Of course, I began to cry. You hugged me and told me everything would be okay.

    When you got to the stage and began your talk on After the Fire, you acknowledged that someone in the audience was hurting and dedicated the reading of one of your poems to me. (More waterworks) That was a kind, most thoughtful gift! You were absolutely right. Everything is okay, even wonderful in my life.

    We really don’t know what the future holds for us seniors, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to say a BIG THANK YOU for your wonderful writing and empathy at a time when I really needed it.

  13. Thank you for your books!
    Thank you as much for your author signings.
    Thank you for your blog.
    The signing talks and blogs make me feel as though you’re a long time friend.
    My friends thank me for your books I’ve lent them.
    Win Win Win

  14. Wish I had someone like her in my life…wish I could sell a 50 copies of my book…
    She was a wonderful friend to you. God rest her soul.

  15. Is the fact that you have two different publishers the reason you have not coupled Ali Reynolds with any other character in a novel yet? Sorry for the loss of your friend. She certainly recognized great talent.

  16. I started my reading career as an adult with Readrer’s Digest Condensed books because that was a way for me to read on the cheap. You had to work a lot of hours at $1.25 an hour to buy any kind of books. RD opened the option with several per volume. Then came paperbacks for me (many of which I still have in the bookcase down stairs). I discovered JAJ when I had exhausted theTony Hillerman shelf at the bookstore one holiday season and JA Jance was the next in line. JP Beaumont quickly became my new pal.
    Now days I am like Nan and have to “read” with my ears. With a library with Audible of over 600 books, I am proud to say JAJ’s nearly 60 books occupy nearly 10% of that list and I’ve listened to many of them more than once. My mimi iPad fits in my purse and goes everywhere. I have introduced many a nurse over the last year to JAJ.
    No matter the delivery, reading a book is is the most important part of the message.

  17. Growing up my Father owned a drugstore. If it had not been for the paperbacks that were sold there I would not have my love of reading. After the paperbacks had been for sale for a certain amount of time, for some reason Daddy tore the front covers off which were returned to wherever they came from and the paperbacks were thrown away. I’m sure returning the front covers was so that the drugstore could get credit for unsold books. But Daddy knew my love of reading and I could go thru the books sans a front cover and take whatever I wanted. I probably read some that Daddy would not have approved of LOL. I’m now 76 and still read as much as possible. And of course Ms. Jance your books are among my favorites.

  18. First let me give you my sympathies on the loss of your friend. Paper back books may be looked down on in the publishing world but without them, I would not have been able to afford very many books. As a military spouse, our income was limited and both my husband and I loved to read. We always had to wait until a title went to paperback to purchase a book from a beloved author, but at least we could get it. Some would be on such a long waitlist at the library that it would be in paperback before we came up on the list. Now I do all my reading on my iPad with the Kindle app.

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