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Saturday, October 13, 2018

NEW WEST

NEW WEST
Debuting as an imprint of Kensington Books in 1975, Pinnacle became a hugely successful publisher of paperback original action-adventure series typified by their vanguards, The Executioner series created by Don Pendleton, and The Destroyer series created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir. Pinnacle displayed long-term market savvy, either by setting genre trends, or quickly responding to popular output from other publishers by creating similar series of their own—which were usually a cut above the originals. 

 
Pinnacle blazed the men’s action adventure genre trail, quickly responding to reader preferences and adjusting their output. One of their most prolific and genre hopping authors, William W. Johnstone, sold more than 30 million copies of his novels. His output included the long-running post-apocalyptic Ashes series, the equally long-running The Last Mountain Man series, and right-wing fantasy and government conspiracy theory novels. Johnstone and Pinnacle understood their audience and brilliantly tailored the books to their working-class tastes.

 
Despite Johnstone passing away in 2004, Pinnacle has managed to continue the Johnstone Brand and has turned it into a Western genre juggernaut. According to an article in Publisher’s Weekly, 2017 was the Johnstone brand's best year ever, with 18 novels making the Publishers Weekly bestseller list, and 15 titles charting on the USA Today book listings for a combined total of 27 weeks. Currently, approximately three-quarters of all westerns sold in any given week are Johnstone books.

Pinnacle handled Johnstone’s death in an interesting manner. The fact Johnstone had passed away remained officially unconfirmed for nearly three years. All books published during this time period were all attributed to Johnstone on the covers and via the copyright page. Debates raged in the fan forums until the 2006 paperback release of Last Gunfighter: Devil's Legion. On the copyright page, in small type, Pinnacle confirmed William W. Johnstone died and that a carefully selected author has been chosen to carry on his legacy. 

The name of Johnstone’s niece, J.A. Johnstone, began to appear on the covers under the more prominent William W. Johnstone byline. The fiction has been maintained that J.A. Johnstone is continuing all of her uncle's Western series, while also spinning off new series based on outlines and partial manuscripts left behind by Johnstone himself—to the tune of 25 new books a year. That’s a hell of an output for a single writer.

Despite this, the legion of Johnstone fans, who eagerly gobble up every book, ask no questions and are happy to believe Johnstone is writing from beyond the grave or that J.A. herself is handling all the chores. However, it’s common sense a number of writers, sworn to secrecy via non-disclosure agreements, have been chosen by Pinnacle or Johnstone’s management team and turned into a Western fiction factory.

Knowing they are onto a good thing, Pinnacle has published a number of other Westerns, packaged to match the Johnstone Westerns. Theory has it these short run series are possibly tryouts for writers who may eventually be invited to step behind the veil and pseudonymously pick up the writing chores of a current Johnstone series...or perhaps be given a new Johnstone series to start.

If this is true or not doesn’t matter. Westerns published under the Johnstone Brand have kept the Western genre viable in the modern market. Johnstone’s Westerns have made it possible for a number of other Westerns to breakout, either from Pinnacle or other publishers. Over the next few blog posts, I want to point out some of these new Westerns from traditional publishers, and then move on to the booming realm of independently published and small press Westerns.

To be continued...

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