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.

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…

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?

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.

The Shooting Script

dm3fullTwo copies of THE SHOOTING SCRIPT, the third Diagnosis Murder book, were delivered by UPS today. I was thrilled to get them, of course… but the real shocker was seeing the “sneak preview” of the first two chapters of THE WAKING NIGHTMARE at the end of the book.

What was so shocking was I only turned the manuscript in last week. Then I remembered that a couple days after my accident (the one that left me with two broken arms), I had my wife email my editor the first two chapters of my incomplete book so they could publish the tease.

Even so, it was jarring to see portions of a book I’d finished writing only last week already in print.

You can see’em for yourself on Aug 3 when THE SHOOTING SCRIPT comes out in bookstores everywhere…

A MOMENT TO PREY

I’m supposed to be concentrating on writing my next MISSING script, which preps in a week. But I made the mistake of picking up Harry Whittington’s A MOMENT TO PREY and couldn’t stop reading it until I was through. Wow. What an amazing book.

I stumbled on Whittington and this classic noir tale thanks to a posting on Ed Gorman’s blog:

HARRY’S BEST
I had to get my car repaired so I grabbed A MOMENT TO PREY by Harry Whittington to take along. I’d nominate this as Harry’s best. I’d forgotten how good the monstrous villain is. This is Max Cady (Cape Fear) country, Cady played by Robert Mitchum, not Robert DeNiro (though I’m generally a huge DeNiro fan–he had a terrible script). This may be (and I mean this in a reasoned, thought-through way) the spookiest villain in crime fiction outside of Hannibal the Cannibal. He is a sexual psychopath unlike any I’ve ever encountered before. And the plot is sensational. There are three perfect twists in the storyline, each marking the curtain in the manner of a three-act play. Though it doesn’t offer the depth of John D. MacDonald in backstory, it does, I think, equal MacDonald is sheer storytelling power. And I’d certainly put it above any of the Travic McGees which, much as I like them, were never JDMs best work. Harry cranked them out, never had an agent who tried to move him up, and I don’t think had the faith in himself he deserved. This is a first-class book that merited hardcover publication and many, many, many paperback reprint editions. What you would call a minor masterpiece or cult classic.

He was right.

That’s a Mighty Nice Hat, Partner…

I’ve been on a western kick lately, devouring books by Elmer Kelton, Frederick Manfred and Larry McMurtry among others… and gobbling up western movies and TV shows, too. Tonight, I went to a book signing/reading of western authors at Dutton’s in Brentwood. Virtually all the authors who showed up (45 minutes late, by the way) were wearing cowboy hats and western garb. I thought it was a little silly… and they looked terribly out of place.

I’m a crime writer… I don’t show up at signings in a cop’s uniform… or dressed as a crime scene tech… or wearing in a trenchcoat and Fedora. Why do western writers feel they have to dress the part? If they don’t, will readers think their work isn’t authentic?

The Waking Nightmare

I finished the fourth DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel, tentatively titled “The Waking Nightmare,” today and sent it off to my publisher… two weeks ahead of my deadline. I wrote the book in four months, despite breaking both my arms and working by day as a writer/producer on MISSING.

It was real important to me to make my deadline, even though my editor offered to extend it. I think the book helped me recuperate faster than I might have otherwise. But now I’m afraid I’ll never be able to get a deadline extension from my editor in the future. He can always say “how bad can it be? You made your deadline before with two broken arms!”

The rush to finish the book is also why you’ve seen fewer postings here lately. I’ll try to contribute more frequently…

Paul Quarrington is Back

My friend Paul Quarrington has written two of the best, and funniest non-fiction books about fishing ever (Fishing With My Old Guy, From the Far Side of the River: Chest-Deep in Little Fish and Big Ideas )… along with a bunch of novels that have earned him well-deserved comparisons to John Irving and Robertson Davies. He’s got a new novel coming out, prompting Canada’s Globe And Mail to devote some serious column inches to his wit and wisdom. Here are some of his choice quotes…

His preferred pastime is, famously, fly fishing. He has travelled the world to indulge it, and keeps on a nearby bookshelf Ernest Schwiebert’s two-volume work entitled Trout. The heavy tomes are, exclusively, about every variety and possible permutation of trout fishing. “I have always thought,” Quarrington says with studied neutrality, gazing on them, “that there is room for a novel about the struggle between dry and wet fly fishing. That would be a thoughtful novel.”

“For a long time I thought of myself more as a musician than a writer,” he says. With the Queen Street Toronto band called the Continental Drift, he toured across Canada. “It’s a great life for a writer. You’re on tour in cities where you stay in 25-cent hotel rooms where the main item of furniture is an ashtray. And you’ve got nothing to do. So what you do is write.”

You can hear Paul read from his new book GALVESTON here.