Jim Huang Starts Blogging

Bookseller Jim Huang has opened his blog with an interesting post on the state of mystery novel publishing today…

Where the business gets fouled up is in how is goes about trying to create blockbusters, in what publishers perceive is necessary to create a bestseller. Mostly, the approach boils down to “throw money at the problem.” They basically do this for one reason, so that the house can turn around and brag about how much money it’s spending. We’re supposed to be impressed that Putnam paid Jilliane Hoffman a seven-figure advance for her first novel, that they planned a $300,000 marketing budget and announced a 250,000 copy first printing. So impressed that as a bookseller, I’ll be compelled to stock lots of copies and that you as a reader will be compelled to buy it.

On the back cover of the advance reading copy of Hoffman’s RETRIBUTION, there are more words describing the marketing than there are describing the book itself — a lot more – and the few words devoted to describing the story are generic clichés. When Hoffman herself talked about the book at the Dearborn Library last fall, it was the money and the movie deal that she described. Readers — and we are all readers first — don’t relate to your advance. We relate to your book. In pitching this book on the basis of dollars and print-run, all Putnam does is bring to mind Oscar Wilde’s comment about people who know “the price of everything but the value of nothing.” That’s Wilde’s definition of a cynic, and it seems especially apt for a business with Jason Epstein’s attitude.

Three months into the book’s release, Nielsen’s Bookscan, which claims to cover 70% of the market, said that RETRIBUTION sold 16,000 copies. If the percentage is right and you do the math, you end up with total sales of 22,860. Under the circumstances, that’s pitiful. Personally, I’ve sold one copy.

I’ve been suckered by a few of those books… BREATHTAKER and DERAILED come immediately to mind.

The New Spy

bondToday’s news that Pierce Brosnan is stepping down as James Bond isn’t entirely surprising given the huge success of THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (which topped DIE ANOTHER DAY’s opening weekend by more than $6 million with a $54 million opening). Even Variety was musing that Bond’s days were over…

Could “Bourne” be the new Bond?

Universal’s “The Bourne Supremacy” bowed to a boffo $53.5 this weekend, unspooling at 3,165 locations.

The spy thriller opened bigger than any pic in the James Bond series, topping 2002’s “Die Another Day’s” $47 million debut, and beat the bow of the biggest-opening Tom Clancy film, “The Sum of All Fears,” which grossed $31 million on its first weekend in 2002.

Studio was optimistic going into the weekend, but U didn’t expect to nearly double original “Bourne Identity’s” $27.1 million opening and set its best opening of the year, topping the $51 million drawn by “Van Helsing.”

The two Bourne movies, and Matt Damon’s performance, prove that it *is* possible to do a successful espionage movie that will appeal to a wide audience without resorting to your hero surfing a tidal wave (which Bond did, ridiculously, in DIE ANOTHER DAY).

In many ways, the two Bourne movies are throwbacks to the Bond of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and even GOLDFINGER, two of the best 007 films. Bourne is surprisingly human and relatable…and yet still able to accomplish almost superhuman feats.

So who will be the next Bond? According to Entertainment Weekly…

Unless Brosnan’s statement is a negotiating ploy — Sean Connery, for example, quit for a whole movie before being lured back for bigger bucks — England-based Eon productions, which produces the Bond flicks, must find another star to carry 007’s Walther PPK in the as-yet-untitled 21st Bond movie, which is already scheduled to be released on Nov. 18, 2005. Speculation surrounds Brits Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffudd, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Gerard Butler, Jude Law, and Ewan McGregor, as well as Aussies Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, and Eric Bana.

My hope is that the Bond producers will cast Clive Owen (who had a small part in BOURNE IDENTITY) as 007 and return to something closer to BOURNE than MOONRAKER.

Diagnosis: Work

wakingnightmareI’m pleased to announce news that I will be writing four more DIAGNOSIS MURDER books, which will bring me to eight titles in the series by early 2006. The third book in the series, THE SHOOTING SCRIPT, comes out on August 3. The fourth, THE WAKING NIGHTMARE, the one I wrote with two broken arms, comes out in January 2005. I’m starting work on the fifth book, THE PAST TENSE, today…

Donut Holes

The SEC is investigating questionable accounting practices at Krispy Kreme, which has sent their stock price tumbling…

Krispy Kreme, which operates nearly 400 stores in the United States and overseas, said it is confident in its accounting practices and is cooperating fully with the inquiry.

The company’s shares, which have fallen nearly 50 percent since the company’s profit warning, were down $2.08 at $16.58 in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The real, burning question that no one has answered yet is… does this mean they are going to stop giving away free samples when you walk in?

The Amazing Sperm Race

Just when you thought reality shows couldn’t get worse… Variety reports that Endemol, the folks behind BIG BROTHER, have two new reality formats they are debuting in Europe.

They’re called SPERM RACE and MAKE ME A MOM. Honest. I’m not making this up…

Endemol has said that despite the obvious shock value of the format titles, the subject matter addresses a serious problem– infertility– in an entertaining and informative manner.

Yep, there’s nothing more entertaining than watching infertile couples try to conceive. I can’t wait to see the CBS version…

Murder She Fucking Wrote

dyingtoretireIt seems a reader at the Davis County Library in Layton, Utah has finally had enough with the obscenity and sex-laden adventures of Jessica Fletcher in the MURDER SHE WROTE books. Sarah Weinman discovered an article in the Deseret Morning News reporting that someone at the Davis County Library is “cleansing” the MURDER SHE WROTE books of obscenity.

I didn’t know there was any obscenity in those books. Christ, if people find that offensive, my DIAGNOSIS MURDER books must be hardcore porn…

The Big Grab

Your agent is supposed to look out for your best interests. Now, it seems, you’re going to need an agent to deal with your agent.

Publishers Weekly reports that some literary agents are now sneaking in a clause that grants literary agencies the right to exclusively represent a work for the life of its copyright.

The contract provision, known as an “interminable rights clause,” means that even if the original publishing agreement has ended, the book has gone out of print or the author’s agent leaves the agency, the agency continues to be the agent of record for the work. The practice contrasts with that of some other agencies, which give up their claim on a work once the publishing agreement the agent negotiated ends.

“That was a deal buster for me. There was no way I was going to sign away all of those future rights,” said romance and suspense author Tina Wainscott, who recently left her agent, Mel Berger at the William Morris Agency, who had represented her on four books over the course of four years.

(Mel used to represent me, too… but I left him about five years ago and not because of this new, and frightening, power grab by lit agencies)

This clause strikes me as terribly unethical. An agent is supposed to be looking out for the best interests of their clients… but how could any author trust their agent after being asked to sign a contract with the interminable rights clause buried in it?

Unadulterated Plugs

MonktitlecardOur episode of MONK, “Mr. Monk and The Godfather,” airs this Friday, July 23 on the USA Network… and while you’re at it, don’t miss the latest episode of MISSING, which airs on Saturdays at 10 pm. on Lifetime.

Booksigning Hell

Years ago, before I started collecting books, I remember seeing Elmore Leonard signing books at a Crown Books in Encino… and there was no one there. He was sitting at a table alone. I couldn’t believe it.

Flash forward a few years later, and I’m doing booksignings. Sometimes people show up… and sometimes you’re all alone… or worse, it’s just you and the bookseller, reading you her horrible erotic poetry for two hours (One began: “Hello, He Throbbed…”)

Despite having seen Elmore, desolate and alone, all those years ago… I still feel bad whenever no one shows up for a signing. So, in a perverse way, I take pleasure in reading that even the big boys (or, in this case, the big girls) still occasionally experience the midlist signing blues. This dispatch came from Aldo The MysteryDawg:

Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to meet the multi-talented Laura Lippman at the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. She was signing her latest novel By A Spider’s Thread, the next installment in the PI Tess Monaghan series. There was a standing room only crowd – Bobby, Claire and Shelly (The Mystery Bookstore staff) along with my friend Alan and me. Never the less, Laura was a good sport and talked to us for the entire hour as she signed our books and the bookstore stock.

That, of course, is the sign of a pro. She didn’t get pissed off that no one showed… she realized that the most important person in the room was the bookseller… who would be hand-selling her book long after she left. It’s not how many people show up when you are there that’s important… it’s how many books are sold after you leave.

Dick Wolf is My Hero

jorja_fox_1Dick Wolf is a hero among many writer-producer-showrunners… and not because he’s a brilliant writer who has created some of the best dramas on television today.

It’s because he isn’t afraid to fire his stars. Ever since he fired the leads of “New York Undercover” when they demanded salary increases and perks, producers have been cheering him. And his willingness to repeatedly recast “Law and Order” has wowed us, too. Wolf has proven that as long as you aren’t doing a single-lead show, it’s the franchise that’s the star, not the actors in it. He empowered producers to do what had been unthinkable and frightening before… booting out your stars.

Wolf’s spirit was being channeled over at the offices of “CSI” this week, when the producers abruptly fired Jorja Fox and George Eads when they didn’t show up for work while demanding salary bumps five years into their seven year contracts.

I hope that put a little chill into the hearts of more than a few series leads in town.