Pickups and Letdowns

This week, the networks announced their new fall dramas with the usual hype and hoopla. But what has been forgotten in all the attention is that most of the new dramas launched last season bombed, even those that pundits thought would be mega-hits (like FLASH FORWARD).  


In fact, not only did NBC's Leno experiment fail, but all of their new hour-long dramas tanked, too (along with such venerable dramas as HEROES and LAW AND ORDER).  

The only new dramas that have survived the primetime bloodbath are THE GOOD WIFE, THE HUMAN TARGET, NCIS: LOS ANGELES, LIFE UNEXPECTED, GLEE, VAMPIRE DIARIES and V.

So don't believe all the hype you're hearing about the new crop of pilots and don't get too invested in any of the shows…because it's a safe assumption that most of'em will be gone and forgotten by this time next year.

SHAKEN Shakes Things Up

Shaken_CoverArt  Joe Konrath is breaking new ground on the e-front yet again. Today Amazon announced that Amazon Encore is publishing SHAKEN, his latest Jack Daniels novel, first as a $2.99 ebook in October and then as a traditional trade paperback in February 2011. 

Up until now, Amazon Encore has only reprinted books that didn't make a big splash in their initial release and had fallen out of print. This is the first time they are publishing an original novel. 

Joe took the deal after Hyperion dropped the Jack Daniels series and no other publisher stepped up to publish the new book…and after his extraordinary success selling his other unpublished manuscripts as ebooks on Amazon. 

There's no doubt Amazon has noticed how well Joe's books are doing on the Kindle. From their POV, this deal had to be a no-brainer (though I suspect they would have liked to charge more than $2.99 but less than $9.99 for the ebook).  It certainly was a no-brainer from Joe's side. On top of that, Amazon will find no better cheerleader for the Kindle than Joe, which should lift up sales of all Kindle titles across the board as he works tirelessly to promote SHAKEN. In the Amazon press release, Joe says:

“My Kindle readers have been incredibly faithful fans and I’m excited to be able to release the Kindle edition of ‘Shaken’ several months before the physical version is available to purchase,” said Konrath. “Since it’s easier, faster and cheaper to create an e-book than it is a physical book, Kindle owners will get to read the seventh Jack Daniels before everyone else. The ability for authors to reach fans—instantly and inexpensively with a simple press of a button—is the greatest thing to happen to the written word since Gutenberg.”

He elaborated in on the deal, and why he took it, in more detail on his blog. He said, in part:

Traditional publishers had a chance to buy SHAKEN last year. They passed on it. Their loss. Their big loss. Their big, huge, monumental, epic fail.[…] I signed a print deal with a company that can email every single person who has every bought one of my books through their website, plus millions of potential new customers. I've never had that kind of marketing power behind one of my novels. I'd be an idiot not to do this.

I think it was only a matter for time before Amazon reached out to Joe to aggressively capitalize on his success instead of passively (they have been getting the lion's share of the money on his ebooks by doing nothing but hosting him). 

Joe is calling this deal a defining moment in publishing and so are his many fans. I'm not so sure that I'd go that far, but it was certainly inevitable. I think the only real difference between what Joe has been doing up with his ebooks and this Amazon Encore deal is that now he will have the full promotional might of Amazon behind him. As an e-venture, this will surely be a massive success, but as a print-publishing venture, I am not so sure. There's no doubt, though, that it's a win-win for Joe, who is bound to see the sales of his current slate of ebooks skyrocket as a result of the Amazon push for SHAKEN (including, ironically, the books still held by Hyperion).

UPDATE 5-18-2010: I woke up this morning to a bunch of emails asking me why this is a significant development in publishing. How is this any different, they ask, than what Joe is already doing self-publishing  his unpublished work on the Kindle?

In essence, Amazon Encore is a publisher that has picked up Joe's mid-list series from Hyperion. They are publishing the book first as an ebook then later as a trade paperback. The difference here is that the publisher is also the largest bookstore on earth and will put their considerable promotional and marketing might behind his book. But there's a bit more to it than that. Here's how Joe explained it in the comments section of his blog post:

"In this case Lee, it's a bit more complicated.

This bookseller is the number one online bookseller in the world, and they've created the number one dedicated ereading device.

Publishers need authors to write books, then booksellers to sell those books.

In this case, Amazon owns the bookstore, and the platform for the ebooks. And by cutting out distributors, publishers, and brick and mortar bookstores, they can offer a professional product faster and cheaper–and give the author better royalties–than a traditional publisher could.

In other words, Amazon is cutting out just about all the players in the traditional publishing industry, and directly connecting reader with author. 

If ebooks, and Amazon, continue to gain popularity, will there still be a need for the Big Six? Or would authors do better by either self-publishing, or dealing directly with the sellers of the new technology? I think this is pretty significant in the publishing world." 

: Jason Pinter, author and former editor, shared his worries on The Huffington Post about what this deal means for the future. He said, among other things:

Amazon and other online retailers have made it incredibly easy to publish books on their servers. They give each author the ability to format books price them how the authors themselves see fit. There is certain freemarket sensibility here that is inspiring, and in a way each author becomes the proprietor of their own small business. However, I feel that the example of Konrath will inspire other, less successful and even less talented authors to publish their works online. They might see the Kindle as a bypass, a way to showcase their works that the Evil, Stupid Publishing Overlords in New York were too blind to realize are, in fact, literary masterpieces.

Now, publishing is not a perfect industry. And the examples of books that were rejected numerous times or even self-published that went on to become great successes are many. Because book publishing is a wholly subjective business–the only books that are published are the ones that editors truly love (let's ignore celebrity and cynical publishing). Many wonderful books are rejected because one or more editors simply didn't 'get' it. There are plenty of books I passed on as an editor that went on to be published to tremendous critical and/or commercial success. Every editor has their list of books that they kick themselves for having passed on. That is a flaw inherent in the system, only now it is easier than ever for authors to circumvent the system.

The Ark: A Kindle Success Story

Cover_theark_large  On Joe Konrath's blog, author Boyd Morrison shares the amazing story of how he turned his Kindle ebooks into a four-book print deal, kicking off with the launch today of THE ARK. His story is unusual, and inspiring, but newbie writers should read it carefully before thinking they can easily replicate his success. 

One thing he didn't do was go to a print-on-demand vanity press, and for reasons beyond just the outrageous, and unreasonably, high cost and false promises:

I decided to put all three books on the Kindle store just to see what happened. Irene (Goodman, his agent) was fully supportive of the plan. I had nothing to lose.

What I didn’t do was self-publish in print because I would have something to lose. From the beginning, my goal was to get a traditional publishing deal (remember this was in early 2009, which seems not so long ago, but the ebook market was still in its infancy, and making a living from self-published ebooks seemed like a pipe dream). If I had published print books, not only would it be a hassle I didn’t want to deal with, but it would also mean my novels would need ISBNs.

ISBNs are international standard book numbers that can be tracked by publishers. If my sales were low, publishers would be able to see that and might not even want to look at my next book. But with ebooks on the Kindle, you don’t need an ISBN. If my sales were bad, no one would ever have to know. And if they were good, I could use that data as evidence that readers were interested in my books.

[…]Would I recommend self-publishing ebooks? It depends what your goals are. If you want to see your book in print, as I did, I wouldn’t choose that path as your first option. I was in a unique limbo because I had an agent and blurbs from bestselling authors, but I couldn’t get a publisher. Once my sales jumped, my agent was able to act on it immediately. If I had to start the agent search from scratch at that point, it would have been much more difficult.

Good luck doing that if you, unlike Boyd, don't already have power-house representation. But the e-book market has changed. It's actually possible to make good money on an ebook. So why go thhe print route at all? Here's Boyd's take:

My goal was always to be traditionally published. I wanted to get my books in front of as many readers as possible, and while ebooks are the fastest growing part of the market, they still represent only 3-5% of all books sold. If I wanted to reach a broad market, I’d have to be in print, and the only way to get into most bookstores is through a traditional publisher. Plus, foreign rights, which represent a surprisingly large segment of the market, would have been virtually impossible to sell without a deal with a traditional publisher. And as much as I love ebooks, there’s still no substitute for holding a print book in your hands to make you feel like a real author.

I agree and am not ready myself to forsake print for the digital publication. 

But the publishing world is changing very fast. If you'd told me a year ago that I could actually make $18,000-a-year off my out-of-print work on the Kindle (or potentially $55,000 with the new royalty rate), I would never have believed it. 

So some of my attitudes are changing as a result. I am beginning to rethink the advice that I've always given aspiring writers not to self-publish their novels. I still believe that going the vanity press route is a huge mistake…but posting on the Kindle cuts the print-on-demand scammers entirely out of the equation and all the risk of getting swindled (you DON'T need Lulu or Authorhouse or any other vanity press to get your book on the Kindle or iPad, no matter what they those self-publishers may tell you). So why not do it?

On the plus side, Kindle/ebook publishing can be cost-free and, if your book is really good, and you are very lucky, you could make some real money…and, perhaps, attract the attention of a major publisher. 

But if your book is awful, and truly "not ready for prime time," you can embarrass yourself, create negative word-of-mouth, and potentially seriously harm the reputation you are seeking to build. 

I am still thinking it all through. That said, there's no question that these are very interesting, potentially game-changing times in the publishing business. I am very interested to see how Joe's two new horror novels, published for the first time on the Kindle, sell and whether the royalties match what he could  have earned with a print contract.

CSI Goldberg returns

Hilton bathroom

I had a great time at the Forensic Trends conference, though, to be honest, I only attended the talk that I gave. Before I began my presentation, I made a quick visit to the Hilton men's room…which may be good for relieving your bladder but, as the photo illustrates, won't do much to bolster your self-confidence before you speak to a few hundred people (you can CLICK on the photo for a larger view, no pun intended).
After the conference, I had a very nice dinner with Jim Clemente, a former FBI profiler turned TV producer & consultant (CRIMINAL MINDS, THE CLOSER, etc.). He' s a fascinating guy and a very talented story-teller. I actually met him for the first time two years ago at a forensics conference I spoke at in Pittsburgh.  Meeting people like Jim is one of the big reasons why I agree to all these speaking engagements and teaching opportunities….you never know who you will meet or what might come from those relationships.

I was stunned by how much Las Vegas has changed since I visited three years ago. The skyline is radically different…and yes,I know that's a cliche observation, but it's true nonetheless.

Le Notre bakery is no longer at Paris Las Vegas… c'est triste. I loved that place.

Caesars Palace has had more facelifts than a Malibu trophy wife, but the latest one is very nice. The Forum Shops is still the best looking shopping mall in America, but the shops at the Venetian are a close second. 

The Aladdin is now a Planet Hollywood resort. I visited the former Aladdin Shops, which were once like the Forum Shops but now they are renovating out the character so it will look like any other shopping mall. I went into an ABC convenience store and was surprised to see Extenze and Top Gun, both advertised as a "fast acting male enhancement that can make you larger," on sale beside the Rolaids & Tums & M&Ms. Only in Vegas.

I also visited some of the new hotels — Palazzo is spectacular, Wynn/Encore are gaudy and garish riffs on the Belagio decor, Aria is super sleek and contemporary, and the face-lift at the Mirage is very nice, downplaying the dated gaudiness Wynn seems to revel in nowadays.

The conference was held at the Hilton, which is a decaying dump…not quite as bad as The Riviera, but heading in that same direction. The rooms aren't bad, decor-wise, but the walls are so thin you can hear the people in the adjoining rooms making love, farting, talking on the phone, etc..and if you manage to finally get to sleep, the talking and bitching of the maids and workmen in the hallway will wake you up before 8 am. 

The Hilton pool is no better than what you might find at off-the-highway motel…and the music that blared from the out-door speakers was so loud and distorted that you couldn't hear yourself think, much less read a book. The Star Trek Experience is gone, but not the corner of the casino that's decked out in a science fiction theme. It now serves as a portal to the Vegas Monorail. The Hilton certainly is not the classy, elegant place James Bond stayed at it in Diamonds are Forever anymore…and probably hasn't been for twenty-some years. 

CSI Goldberg

Today I am off to speak at the third annual Forensic Trends: Psychiatric & Behavioral Issues Conference in Las Vegas. The conference is supposed to tackle "current advances in forensic research and theory with subsequent translation into assessment strategies and interventions […]to produce the best possible legal and therapeutic outcomes for those encountering the medicolegal system." I think they invited me to speak by mistake. But I am looking forward to it… I had a great time faking my way through a similar conference in Pittsburgh two years ago. The topic of my presentation is How Fictional Detectives Solve Crimes, which they've billed as "a humorous, inside look at how authors and screenwriters craft their mysteries, bend the rules of science, and abuse their forensic and medical technical advisors to create entertaining crime novels and TV shows." It's a four hour drive from L.A. to Las Vegas, so I'm hoping that will give me time to figure out what I am going to say.

But this is also doubling as a research trip, since a chunk of my next book, MR. MONK ON THE ROAD, takes place in Las Vegas and journey there.  So au revoir, a bientot, see you back here soon.