Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How NOT To Solicit a Blurb

I often get asked to blurb books, and it's not unusual for me to get a request from a publisher or editor on behalf of an author I've never met or heard of before. But I have never had a request like this one, which came to me from Greenleaf Publishing through my agent (I have only edited out the name of the author, the title of her book, and a summary of the plot. The grammatical errors, missing apostrophes, etc. are from the original email):
I’'m writing on behalf of our author X, who counts Lee Goldberg as an influential and inspirational author.  I would love the opportunity to include Lee's name along with a brief endorsement in X's upcoming book from Greenleaf Book Group, XYZ. [...] Below are a few short endorsement suggestions for XYZ.  Of course, Lee can edit any of these as fit or write his own.  Attached is the book’s first two chapters to give you a better idea of X's story.  I would be happy to send you the complete manuscript if you’re interested in reading further. 
I thought it was very nice of her, before I'd even agreed to read the book, to already provide me with endorsements I could just slap my name on. Even better, she granted me the flexibility to edit them as I pleased or, if I really wanted to be daring, to actually come up with some of my own.

Naturally, I was anxious to see the personalized endorsements she'd created for me to lend my name to. I bet you are, too. Here they are:
Suggested endorsements:
X ropes you in from page one and doesn’t let go until the end.  A great read!
Anyone who enjoys fast paced, thrilling mysteries will love XYZ.  You simply won’t be able to put it down!
 Characters you connect with, a driven plot, and suspense make XYZ a book you won’t want to miss!
 From suspense to mystery to romance, X's debut has it all!
 XYZ will captivate you and not let you go until the very end.  It’s a thrilling debut.  I can’t wait for her next book!
Those sound like genuine, heartfelt endorsements to me, ones that truly reflect my unique experience of reading her book. Even if I haven't read it yet. And they are so fresh and creative, too! They also offered me an irresistable incentive.
If Lee provides a testimonial, we will send a signed copy of the finished book as soon as they are made available.
I can honestly say, in all my years in the publishing business, I have never had a publishing company approach me for a blurb and also supply a selection of them for me to choose from. Perhaps that's because Greenleaf isn't a publisher. It's basically a very,very pricey, high-end vanity press. Or, as they put it in their letter to my agent:
If you’re unfamiliar with our company, Greenleaf Book Group is a publisher and distributor best known for its innovative business model.  
Their innovative model is that you pay them buckets of money to publish your book, distribute your book, publicize your book and, apparently, send out really inept, sloppily-written appeals for blurbs.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My 6 Favorite Female Crime Writers

by Libby Hellmann

Now that most of the “Best of 2012” lists have come and gone, I thought I’d weigh in, not with a 2012 list, nor an exhaustive analysis. It’s simply the 6 female authors I will enthusiastically read—whatever and whenever they publish. It’s not a static list, either; some of the writers just appeared, while others have been on it for years. And, just for the purposes of this post, I'm excluding my Top Suspense girl friends, Naomi Hirahara and Vicki Hendricks, both of whom you should read. Right Now. 

Which brings me to one of my theories about the book industry.  I’m beginning to think an author gets 10 years in this business. If, in that time, their protagonist hasn’t changed, developed, or grown (something others call a “dynamic protagonist”), or if they haven’t reinvented themselves with a new series or sub-genre, their readership wanes. I see it happening. Authors who used to be “must-reads” aren’t any more.

Part of it is due to the broadening of the industry through indie publishing, but I tend to think most of it is due to authors writing too much of the same for too long. Given that I’m coming up on a decade myself—my first novel was published 10 years ago—I’m sensitive on that point.

But I digress. Here are my favorite 6. I think they’ve safely crossed the 10 year threshold or soon will. (Btw, I’ll be writing about my favorite male authors next time). They’re the kind of writers that make me drop everything else that’s going on just so I can finish their novels.

Sara Paretsky is the only author who’s been on my list since I started reading crime fiction. I read her V.I. Warshawski books as well as her stand-alones because I know I’ll always get a good read, a terrific story, as well as something to chew on. Yes, Sara wears her heart on her sleeve, but that appeals to me. I always know where she’s coming from, and she usually explores an issue that needs to be explored. Plus V.I. has changed over the years; she’s mellowed, she’s not as strident, and she even has developed a sense of humor. She’s also aware of her own limitations in a way that she wasn’t when the series started. But that doesn’t keep her from railing against injustice, whatever its guise. If you haven’t read her recently, I highly recommend HARD BALL.

Gillian Flynn delivers the most lyrical, gorgeous prose of anyone in the crime genre these days, and the paradox between the beauty of her prose and the evil of her subject matter takes my breath away. I know everyone has been talking about GONE GIRL, but you should start with SHARP OBJECTS and then DARK PLACES. It’s in these crime novels that you will find a Machiavellian spirit laced with a splashof Pollyanna: dark, but a hint of light at the end of the tunnel.

Mo Hayder jumped onto the list after I read THE DEVIL OF NANKING, and I am slowly making my way through her other novels. Like Gillian Flynn, Mo Hayder’s prose is precise and lyrical, and the crimes she details are often horrid… sometimes almost unbearable. But I admire her courage. And her ability to write a believable, persuasive police procedural series featuring a male character, JACK CAFFERY. And, of course, the way she writes women is fabulous. I always get lost in her stories and race through them, which makes me sad when I finish. I want more.

I first read Val McDermid’s PLACE OF EXECUTION and was entranced by her story-telling abilities as well as her straightforward depiction of crime and evil. I have not been disappointed. She’s another author who can write men as well as women (have you noticed the best female authors tend to write men better than male authors write women?), but when she’s writing female characters, her books really take off. Carol Jordan could be a doppelganger for every woman who is afraid to reveal her shortcomings and yet defiantly remains female. Not that I dislike Tony Hill. On the contrary. I loved THE TORMENT OF OTHERS. And I love Kate Brannigan. Val is the kind of writer that sweeps me into her world from the first page, and I want to stay there forever.

Karin Slaughter: I read her early novels, but she didn’t capture me until her Will Trent series. Will’s unique mix of genius and shame is appealing, and I fell in love with him right away. At the same time, Slaughter’s female protagonists deal with the duality of femininity and strength in an utterly plausible, fascinating way without resorting to stereotype. Even her side characters have their own back story (I’m thinking of Lena) which makes them memorable. I don’t understand those who say her writing is too graphic… but how can we really understand evil if we don’t see its manifestations in the physical world? I havent read her latest yet, but it's on my TBR pile.

From THE SURGEON, I discovered that Tess Gerritsen writes pure unadulterated suspense, and I love having to keep turning the pages to find out how her characters are going to get out alive. Like the others, Tess doesn’t shy away from detailing the dark side of human behavior. But, as I said above, how can we understand the nature of evil if we don’t see it in all its guises? Tess makes sure that we do. It may not be pretty, but the satisfaction of seeing Jane Rizzoli and/or Maura Isles prevail against it in each outing is seductive. At least to me. Happily, I’m behind on some of her books, so I have some great reading to look forward to.

OK. This is just my personal list — I know I’ve left out tons of excellent authors… but what do you think of these six?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hot Sex, Gory Violence

0348 Goldberg POD The Jury Series Final CreateSpace
published this My Turn essay of mine back in mid-1980s, while I was still a college student and writing my JURY books, then called .357 Vigilante, under the pen-name "Ian Ludlow." Now that I have re-released the books, I thought you might enjoy it:
How One Student Earns Course Credit and Pays Tuition 
My name is Ian Ludlow. Well, not really. But that's the name on my four ".357 Vigilante" adventures that Pinnacle Books will publish this spring. Most of the time I'm Lee Goldberg, a mild mannered UCLA senior majoring in mass communications and trying to spark a writing career at the same time. It's hard work. I haven't quite achieved a balance between my dual identities of college student and hack novelist. 
The adventures of Mr. Jury, a vigilante into doing the LAPD's dirty work,  are often created in the wee hours of the night, when I should be studying, meeting my freelance-article deadlines or, better yet, sleeping. More often than not, my nocturnal writing spills over into my classes the next morning. Brutal fistfights, hot sexual encounters and gory violence are frequently scrawled across my anthropology notes or written amid my professor's insights on Whorf's hypothesis. Students sitting next to me who glance at my lecture notes are shocked to see notations like "Don't move, scumbag, or I'll wallpaper the room with your brains. 
I once wrote a pivotal rape scene during one of my legal-communications classes, and I'm sure the girl who sat next to me thought I was a psychopath. During the first half of the lecture, she kept looking with wide eyes from my notes to my face as if my nose were melting onto my binder or something. At the break she disappeared, and I didn't see her again the rest of the quarter. My professors,  though, seem pleased to see me sitting in the back of the classroom writing furiously. I guess they think I'm hanging on their every word. They're wrong. 
I've tried to lessen the strain between my conflicting identities by marrying the two. Through the English department, I'm getting academic credit for the books. That amazes my Grandpa Cy, who can't believe there's a university crazy enough to reward me for writing "lots of filth." The truth is, it's writing and it's learning, and it's getting me somewhere. Just where, I'm not sure. My Grandpa Cy thinks it's going to get me the realization I should join him in the furniture business. 
I don't admit to many people that I'm writing books. It sounds so pompous, arrogant and phony when you say that in Los Angeles. See, everybody in Los Angeles is writing a book or screenplay. Walk into any 7-Eleven, tell the clerk you're an agent or producer, and he'll whip out a handwritten, 630-page epic he's been keeping under the register for a chance like this. 
I do involve my closest friends in the secret world of Ian Ludlow. When I finished writing my first sex scene, I made six copies and passed them around for a critique. I felt like I was distributing pornography. "How do you compliment a sex scene?" a girl I know complained. "It's embarrassing." Another friend rewrote the scene so it sounded like a cross between a beating and extensive surgery. 
Among my family and even my friends, I find myself constantly apologizing for what I'm doing. Maybe I wouldn't if I were writing a Larry McMurtry or John Updike book. But I know what this is. This is a black cover with a rugged hero in the forefront, shoving a massive gun into the reader's face. I feign disgust, mutter something about "a guy's got to break in somehow," and quickly change the subject. 
But the truth is, it's fun. And since Ian Ludlow is the guy who will take the heat for it, I can let myself relax and enjoy it. I'm building on those childhood hours spent in front of my mom's ancient Smith-Corona, banging out hokey tales about super spies and super villains. My work is still hokey; except  now someone is paying me for it. And paying me not badly, either; I can pay for a whole year of college from the advances for the four novels. 
The opportunity came my way thanks to a journalism professor who writes those bulky conspiracy thrillers and harbors dreams of being the next Robert Ludlum. I used to read his manuscripts and debate the merits of Lawrence Sanders and Ken Follett. Then, when Pinnacle asked him to do an “urban man’s action-adventure series,” he passed it on to  me. Pretty soon I was buying books like “The Butcher,” “The Executioner, “The Penetrator,” “The Destroyer” and “The Terminator” by the armful and flipping through the latest issues of Soldier of Fortune and Gung Ho. After a week or two of wading through this, I was ready to spill blood across my home computer screen. 
There’s a part of me that doesn’t like what I’m doing. It lectures me while I’m making some bad guy eat hot lead. It tells me I should be wrting a novel about relationships and feelings, about the problems my peers are facing. I will, I say to myself, later. There’s plenty of time. 
My God, has it really been thirty years since I wrote that? What's really astonishing is how little I've changed. I'm still writing the same kind of stuff -- and I've yet to write that "Larry McMurty" novel. I like to think that, even now, there's still plenty of time.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Free eBook

In the years following the Great War, a skeptical conjuror and a spiritualist medium merge their interests to tour the regional lecture halls of the United Kingdom.

This eBook novella is a free download, offered to coincide with US paperback publication of The Bedlam Detective.

Set in the aftermath of the Great War, it follows the pairing of stage magician Will Goulston and spiritualist Frederick Kelly as they tour the lecture halls of provincial Britain.

A Criminal History

"We look into a world that is not our own, distanced by time, to find a timeless drama of fear and conflict. The historical panorama fascinates but it’s the crime, the crime that drives the tale." 
From my piece on the use of historical settings in crime novels and thrillers, written for The Weekly Lizard.

You can read the whole thing here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Writing What You Have To

People are always asking Lawrence Block when he's going to write another Bernie Rhodenbarr book. He doesn't know. Besides, he's not interested in writing what you want him to write... because that's not what drives him, or most writers, to put words on the page. He says: 

It’s counterproductive to tell me what you want me to write. I sincerely hope that my writing pleases you, but if you think I’m here to give you what you want, there’s a lot you don’t understand about writing, and no end of things you don’t understand about me. The greatest disservice I could do my readers is to try to give them what they want. That’s just not part of my job description. All I can do is write my books my way, and try to make them so irresistible that you enjoy reading what I want to write.

[...]as much as I might want to write a book about Bernie, or any other character, the desire’s not all that’s required. There are writers who can write anything they’re asked to write, and I thank whatever gods may be that I am not of their number. I probably was, early on, but I got spoiled, and for years now I’ve been unable to go on writing a book unless it engages me.

I love my readers. I need my readers. But some readers have the ridiculous notion that the novelists they read work for them and have an obligation to keep churning out the same book over and over. Some authors are quite content to do that. But even among those authors, I know many of them keep writing book after book about the same characters because they love it, because that's what they are driven creatively to do, and not only because its what their readers and publishers want from them. I'm on my 14th MONK book, and I can tell you I'm not writing them for the money. If I was, I would have quit long ago, because the money is far from spectacular.

Others, like Lawrence Block, would rather go where-ever their muse takes them, regardless of whether it makes the most commercial sense or disappoints some of their fans (I am sure there are scores of readers who wish he'd do nothing but write Scudder and Burglar books for the rest of his life). He writes the story that he has to tell...not the story that you, or me, or the publishers want him to tell.

I admire that about him.  Maybe it's that dedication to his muse, and not his readers, that's one of the keys to his prolific output and great success. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Digital Synchronicity

by Libby Hellmann

One of the happy—and unexpected—benefits of going digital with your books is the production of related (or what used to be called “subsidiary”) content at a reasonable cost.

It’s probably most noticeable with audiobooks, although I’m experimenting with foreign translations as well. 

But… back to audio. I remember longing for a company to pick up my Ellie Foreman books on audio, but being told by both my agent and my editor that the series had to be selling at a higher level to interest an audio producer. I also remember thinking that shouldn’t be the case. That, just as people have a wide selection in paper books, that selection should be available in audio, too. I remember being told—by a large audio producer—that it cost thousands of dollars to produce an audiobook back then (this was only about ten years ago, btw.) and I’d have to sell about 50,000 copies per title before they’d consider me.

I have a background in film and video production and used to work for a radio station. I wasn’t an audio producer, but I knew even then that was —er—hyperbole. Large producers typically have their own studios, and after the initial construction costs, production costs are minimal. Yes, a narrator can cost a few thousand, especially if they’re a “big” name, but other than that, audio is the one format that was considered affordable, even before things went digital.

Today the costs are even lower. I produced an audio of SETTHE NIGHT ON FIRE over the summer with a professional narrator for about $1500. But that’s not the best part—at least for authors.

Audible (which is owned by Amazon), in an aggressive move to corner as much of the audio market as they can, has launched a fabulous program, at least for US authors. Through their subsidiary, ACX,  you can list the books (you need to have the rights) available for audio. There’s also a database of narrators, and you can search through them, find a voice you like, and make an “offer” for that narrator to record your book. There are several options as far as costs go, also several options for distribution, and yes, there’s a way for you to pay nothing upfront. Yup. It can be free.

Not a bad deal.

I’m happy to say that over a period of about six months I have now produced TEN audios. All my novels, plus my novella and collection of short stories (which is on special right now for $1.99!)  are now available on Audible.

So far I haven’t seen a similar program for book-to-film or video.  But costs for video production have come way down too. How far behind could it be?

Are you listening, Netflix? I hear you need new content these days. And what better way to create good-will with authors? 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Writing on the Fast Track

Fast Track - Lee GoldbergI've had so much commercial and critical success with my ebook McGRAVE, which was based on an unproduced pilot I wrote for Sony International Television, that I've decided to write novelizations of all of my pilot and TV movie scripts, produced and unproduced, on which I retained the publishing rights. 

So during a brief hiatus between books in 2012, I novelized my first draft screenplay for FAST TRACK, the action movie I wrote and produced for Action Concept and ProSeiben in Berlin a few years ago.

FAST TRACK was a two-hour pilot for an American-style action series that would have been shot in English and German with a cast of American, Canadian, British, French and German actors and followed the lives of four young people in the world of illegal street racing. ProSeiben commissioned the pilot movie and six episodes. Making the movie, which was directed by Axel Sand and starred Erin Cahill, Andrew Walker, Alexia Barlier and Joseph Beattie, was one of the highlights of my career and the friendships I made during the production continue to this day. It was a fantastic experience professionally, creatively and personally (if you watch the "Making of Fast Track" documentary, I think you'll see why). Unfortunately, the series didn't happen...but perhaps because I've remained close to many of the actors, the characters have stayed fresh in my mind. I haven't been able to let go of them, and have tried to resurrect the project several times over the years (we came close with Cartoon Network, but it fell through).

So I approached the opportunty to revisit the FAST TRACK world with enthusiasm. I used the first draft screenplay as the basis for the book because it had some action elements that we either had to omit or re-imagine due to budget/scheduling/location issues and a prologue that was shot, but that I ultimately cut, in the final edit (I've always regretted cutting the prologue).  

The film took place in Berlin, but I decided the novella would work better in the United States, so that required some rethinking of the characters' backstories and reworking some of the scenes. I also did a complete update on the cars, with the help of Sam Barer, the same technical consultant we used on the movie.  Fast-Track-No-Limits

I had so much fun writing the FAST TRACK novella that if it does well, I may revisit the characters in sequels based on the twelve episode ideas that I came up with during the development of the pilot (though they may have been so Berlin/Europe-centered that they may not work in the new, Los Angeles setting).

But this experience has definitely spurred me on to take a look at my other scripts. I don't know yet which one I will tackle during my next short hiatus.

If you'd like to know more about FAST TRACK, here are some links:

The Making of Fast Track documentary

The Fast Track Trailer

The Fast Track Movie

My Blogs About the Production, Post-Production and Promotion of Fast Track

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Good Writing Advice

Lee Goldberg here...I found an excellent piece of writing advice in Randy Boyagoda's 2011  New York Times review of Charlies Frazier's novel Nightwoods.
It’s too bad the writing gets in the way of the storytelling — or, to be truer to Frazier, it’s plangently unfortunate the writing style gets all up and troublesome-like in the whisper-leaved way of the true and fine telling of this terrible and valiant tale of priapic violence and distaff recompense. A little girl doesn’t hurt her nose, she “pierced the wing of her nostril.” Bottles don’t spill or break, they are left “shattering with spewing concussion” and falling “in festive breakage.” Furniture doesn’t just age with time and use, but instead is “buffed to a pale silver nub by many decades of buttocks.” Writing that invites this much attention, that so strives to concentrate our attention on its effects, has to achieve more than precious and overwrought evocation.
That's so true. If you're a writer, that's advice worth remembering.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Everyone's a Critic

I guess I'm old-school in that I think you should draw the line at asking friends to give you favourable reviews or, even worse, writing your own. During the research period for Crusoe, I chased down various Daniel Defoe biographies; the worst-organised and least useful of them carried a glowing five Amazon stars from its own author, writing about himself in the third person.

But the eBook jungle favours the barefaced; one self-published writer's strategy involved organising a squad of friends and family to buy multiple copies of his book within the same hour, with a simultaneous order for one of the site's topselling titles. The aim was to ride the 'customers who bought this item also bought...' algorithm to public attention.

Did it work? I've no idea.

Until four or five years ago, the writing game was fairly clear-cut. You wrote your first book and when it got turned down you wrote another. Here's how that works: your writing evolves as you go, and you realise that as you look back. It's not about that one book, but about developing your skills. Eventually you plunder your early work and it sees the light of day in a form you hadn't originally imagined.

There was one debutant I knew who'd written an 800-page SF epic and was determined that he wouldn't write another word until the world had recognised the work he'd put in. It wasn't a bad first book but it wasn't special, either. I urged him to write short stories and submit them to small presses as a way to build up his writing skills and connect with an audience, but it wasn't what he wanted to hear.

Last I heard, he was very bitter and had still written nothing else. But how would I advise him now, now that it's possible to go straight into self-publication?

The handful of stories of debut authors who self-publish and do well, beating the odds like lottery winners, provide ammunition to counter any argument for a learning process. Especially when it's a painful learning process that used to be involuntary, but which can now be sidestepped.

Some of them may be terrific writers. The few that I've looked at aren't, but they do fall into an honourable tradition of fast fiction, offered cheap, that runs from the feuilletons of the nineteenth century through the story papers, pulps, and mushroom jungle paperbacks of the twentieth.

Just like those 'mushroom publishers' of the postwar period, created in an explosion of low-cost bulk fiction occasioned by the lifting of paper rationing, the vendors of eBooks are more concerned with turnover than quality. They're exploiting an opportunity, and doing so to the hilt. But I'd like to think that, as with those same postwar publishers, e-publishing's business moves may eventually enrich the field without destroying it. Darcy Glinto may well be unreadable now, but it's a grim culture that has no room for Lady - Don't Turn Over.

My most-retweeted Twitter remark of recent weeks is Still befuddled by ppl who drop serious money on an eReader but won't pay more than 99c for a book. Clearly it chimed with a shared perception that a generation of buyers are being trained to expect all books to be dirt-cheap or given away. But after reading this blog post by Romance writer Elle Lothlorian, I brightened a little. She writes:
While skimming various Kindle reader forums, I ran across a thread on the topic of pricing. One reader wrote that she never bought a book that was $2.99 or less because it was sure to be self-published “indie crap” riddled with typos... (by setting a low price) I think I had inadvertently turned my Amazon page into the equivalent of a dubious used-car lot, with blinking neon lights screaming “SALE, SALE SALE! EVERYTHING MUST GO!”
The thrust of the piece is that by raising her prices, she engaged with a more committed and interested readership. Her sales actually went up, suggesting that there are still readers who are interested in something other than a race to the bottom in quality and price. They're out there; they've always been out there; it's just that there's a 'fair field full of folk' obscuring them from our view.

I don't control the eBook price of The Kingdom of Bones or The Bedlam Detective. Those prices are fixed by the publisher. But while I don't plan on putting my backlist titles in the premium bracket, I'm not about to throw them in the bargain bin either.