The Peddler Is Being Peddled

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My friend Richard Prather sent me a signed copy of his book THE PEDDLER today. It’s so nice to see this "lost" classic it back-in-print again in a Hard Case Crime edition with a  stunning new Robert McGinnis cover. Prather and McGinnis have reunited after a long and rewarding partnership-of-sorts on Prather’s wildly successful Shell Scott detective novels in the 1960s (over 90 million copies sold!). Those books were Prather and McGinnis at the top of their form…and so is THE PEDDLER. I only meant to glance at Richard’s kind inscription but I was pulled into the prose and before I knew it, I found myself reading nearly the entire book again. It’s a dark, gritty, utterly compelling read…and is nothing like the funny, sexist, and gleefully entertaining detective romps that Prather is best known for. Kudos to Hard Case for making this great book available to readers again!

Who Do You Know

I got this email today from a reader of my MONK books.  I’ve changed the names, but otherwise I haven’t edited it:

I can’t help but recognize your name. Of course Goldberg is rather common in L.A.  Do you recognize the last name of Sandstrom?  Howard or Betty or Steve?  They lived on Sherbourne in B.H. Then, after Papa Bob died Grandma moved to a "blue" apartment at (I think Rodeo and Olympic), after that on Palm Drive near "little" Santa Monica and Doheny.  Steve was my father.  Grandma also mentioned a Joe Swanson and Mike Berger several times.  I brought lox and bagels to Esther Berger (his mom) when she was in a nursing  home in Reseda, but never had any reason to meet Mike.  Grandma was just getting up in years and I lived in the Valley at the time.  I am estranged from my used-to-be immediate family so when a name rings a bell I so try to connect.  I know so little about my father.  I have no idea how well Mike knew him. 

I wrote back and said that I don’t know any Sandstroms…or any of the other people she’s talking about even though I, like them, am one of the millions who live in Southern California.

The Desperate and the Impatient

All aspiring writers are desperate to get into print. That’s a given. I certainly was, but that was before the advent of  POD vanity presses, which prey on the "I-want-it-now" impatience that afflicts so many aspiring writers these days. These aspiring writers just don’t want to invest the time and effort that’s a necessary part of shaping their voice, their skills and their careers. Bestselling Tess Gerritsen writes about that today:

What makes a new writer today think he should be immune to that
desperation I felt?  What makes him think this is SUPPOSED to be easy?
What makes him think his very first book is going to get published — or
deserves to get published?

I’ve lost count of how many crappy novels I wrote before I got my break. Tess wrote three unpublished books before she finally sold her fourth. And she knows another writer who wrote seven books before finally selling her eighth.

Think of her desperation, her
hunger, to be published.  It had to be there, driving her, or she would
have just given up.  But she just kept going and wrote manuscript #8. And it sold. Think about that — writing seven books that don’t sell.  Would you
have the persistence to start writing #8?  Do you accept the fact that,
yes, there’s an apprenticeship involved in being a writer, a period of
training that you will be forced to undergo before you finally
understand what the craft is all about?

No, it isn’t easy to get accepted by a publisher, and get paid for
your work.  It’s a lot easier to whip out the checkbook and pay a
vanity press to print your manuscript.

That’s the real danger posed by these vanity presses — besides the emptying of a gullible writer’s bank account. The self-publishing companies are also robbing the writer of the experience that’s required to become a successful writer (and part of that is learning to deal with, and learn from, rejection).  Too many aspiring writers fall for what appears to be  "the easy way" — when, in fact, it’s not — rather than
accept the fact that their books are unpublishable and that they have a lot more work to do on their writing.  They don’t want to work. They want a book now. Or at least the illusion of one. But it’s a career-sabotaging move…not to mention stupid and expensive.

And if you can just pay to get published, where’s the incentive to hone
your craft, to study your own work with a critical eye, to polish and
polish some more?  Where’s the incentive to write books number seven
and eight and nine if each one is just going to mean you have to whip
out that old checkbook again to pay to see yourself in print?

There isn’t any. Sure, there are a handful of people who have found a measure of success self-publishing, but for the vast majority it is a financial sink-hole and a self-destructive mistake.

UPDATE 11-26-2006: Author Mat Johnson blogs about how the lure of vanity presses is ruining African-American fiction.

If I had hit my wall just three, or even two years later, all of those
self-publishing options would have been available to me. As desperate
as I was, I don’t know if I would have said no to the idea. I don’t
think I would have known to. At the time I was working on that book, I
actually considered it good enough to be published. I might have jumped
at any opportunity not to take "No" for an answer.

[…]I saw a generation of black writers fall into this
trap, authors that could have been original voices that added to the
canon, who instead became literary canon fodder. They went pop, blew
up, and then almost instantly started vanishing, their worth dwindling
with their sales.

Sadly, instead of working actively on getting better, many of this crew instead try to falsely justify the merit of their work.

It’s a Wrap

Pb170038
Maddie and I went to the Monk Wrap party last week. Of course, all thePb170040_1
pictures that Monk creator Andy Breckman took of me with Tony Shalhoub didn’t turn out. Pb170041
But here are a few that did…that’s me with Andy Breckman, Jason Gray Stanford and my daughter with Stanley Kamel. (Click on the pictures for larger images)

32 Flavors of Awesome

Some yahooer sent me this link to a Live Journal blog post that mentions yours truly. I don’t know about you, but I think it was my brother Tod who sent it to me:

Also, totally love Tod Goldberg. He’s the brother of Lee Goldberg,
known for throwing periodic hissy fits over the existence of fanfic.
But while Lee is an asshat, Tod is a brilliant writer. His blog
is wonderful, and his short-story collection "Simplify" is . . . umm,
lots of good things that I am not qualified to elaborate on. I am
usually not a fan of straight fiction, because I hate reading about
normal people doing normal things, but Tod Goldberg is 32 flavours of
awesome.

She’s right… I am an asshat and Tod is a brilliant writer. But I’m thinner and have a lot less body hair.

More Parasites

A well-known author friend of mine got a letter the other day from the vanity press Airleaf Publishing regarding one of his older titles, which he republished for free a few years back through the Authors Guild’s Back-in-Print program at iUniverse. I’ve omitted the name of the book and the author:

For over four years, Airleaf Publishing & Book Selling Services has blazed a ground-breaking trail selling independantly published books directly to bookstores […] We recently discovered your book XYZ and we believe it has the potential to be a national bestseller. Your book comes highly recommended and is precisely the kind of book we have had the most success selling. That is why we extend to you thiis special invitation. We want to include XYZ in an unprecedented national publicity program. As part of this program, we will:
1. Place your book in 15 retail bookstores.
2. Assign a full-time telemarketer for daily calls to stores to sell your book and set-up signings.
3. Recommend your book in person to decision-makers at five regional bookstore chains.
4. Place your book with 24 others on our unique campaign website
5. Place your book on the homepage of our retail store bookselling website
6. Place your book for sale on amazon and periodically on ebay.
7. Produce a 30 second television commercial to 630,000 views, 240 times.
8. Include your book in a full color glossy newspaper insert delivered to 200,000 subscribers.
9. Include your book in an email campaign to 500,000 book club members.
10. Broadcast two ten minute interviews on national syndicated AM/FM radio shows.
Our goal is to put XYZ in bookstores nationwide and make X a household name. While we have spent thousands, your cost to participate is only $7000!

It’s astonishing to me that there are people who will fall for this. It’s obvious that Airleaf didn’t do any real research into the author…or they would have discovered that he’s already very successful and well-known, and that the book they think has great potential was original published in 1990, in paperback in 1991, and was nominated for the equivalent of the Academy Award for excellence in its genre. Clearly, they are just trawling through the lists of iUniverse, PublishAmerica, and Authorhouse titles looking for suckers who still have some credit left on their Visa cards.

Let’s analyze their "incredible" offer, shall we?

Read moreMore Parasites

The Parasites of Publishing

The multi-talented Keith Snyder makes my favorite comment yet about PublishAmerica, Authorhouse,  and other vanity presses. Brace yourselves, because he tells it like it is:

THESE PEOPLE ARE OUT TO SCAM YOU. There is nothing about that
question that’s the least bit in question, except in the minds of the
ignorant and naive.

If you want to see your stuff printed and bound, and get (wow!) an
ISBN number and see it (wow!) on Amazon, that’s your business.

But Jesus Christ, you legion of suckers, open your goddamn eyes.
Whether vanity presses have a place in the Grand Scheme of Things or
not, they are parasitic entities that base their business models on the
assumption that talentless wannabes will not only empty their bank
accounts, but volunteer to become shills for other talentless wannabes.

[…]On the other hand, do you want to be published? LEARN TO ####ING WRITE!

[…]Vanity press suckers can scream all they want that they ARE
published, they ARE they ARE they ARE!!!, but that’s all it is: Lots of
screaming.

There’s an actual publishing industry. It’s as screwed up as any
other industry–and mores screwed up than some–but it’s not evil.
There is no conspiracy to keep newbies out.

He is so right. It may be painful to hear, but that’s the  cold, hard truth.