The Mail I Get – Grab Bag Edition

From the grab bag…here’s a bunch of recent mail that I’ve received and my replies:

I’d like you to adapt my unpublished novel XYZ for the screen or perhaps a TV series. It could also be multiple movies. It’s about XYZ. In the alternative, I hope you will refer me to a producer who might be interested.

I replied: I’m not interested in adapting your book and I can’t think of any screenwriter or producer who would be. Studios don’t buy ideas. They buy the execution of ideas (i.e. who is writing it, who is directing it, who is producing it etc). And they don’t buy books that aren’t huge bestsellers. Since you aren’t a brand-name author, or a first-time author with a bestselling book, there’s almost no chance in hell of anybody reading it or buying it. I don’t say that to be mean, but to give you a realistic view of your chances. Your best bet is to get the book published and hope it does well enough critically or commercially to attract Hollywood interest.

Here’s a question I got about MONK:

 I’m a teenager who has become a HUGE fan of Monk just 8 years too late!!  I grew up watching the show with my Dad. Not so long ago, I discovered that there was a BOOK SERIES. My heart quite literally jumped out of my chest!!  THE CHARACTERS WEREN’T DONE!! Over the next 2 days I went to the library and checked out 10 Monk books, and I can’t stop reading them!!  THEY ARE SO GOOD!! About 2-3 times every book I get teary-eyed because the characters you’ve described in the books are so heart-wrenching.  Why did you write the series from Natalie’s perspective?

If my “detecting skills” tell me anything, you probably chose to write the series from her perspective because the television series is already told form Monk’s perspective.  We get the chance to understand him thoroughly, so it only makes sense to write from the perspective of the closest person to him… literally of course.  

I replied: I wrote them from Natalie’s perspective because I think it humanizes Monk. It gives us a necessary distance and, at the same time, a perspective to frame what we’re seeing. In a way, Natalie’s eyes become the replacement for the TV screen that was between us and Adrian Monk. Also, a little Monk goes a long way. You can overdo the joke and all the obsessive/compulsive stuff. By telling the stories from Natalie’s point of view, we aren’t with him all the time. We get some space, a breather from his shtick, and I think that’s important. It’s also a conscious homage to Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe, who were seen as well through the eyes of their assistants.

And, finally, here’s a question I got about screenwriting:

I stumbled across your post Diagnosis Murder & How to Plot a Mystery, while looking for information on adapting a low-budget, niche, middle grade, mystery book series into a TV script of what seems to be 22-25 pages for a 30 minute show? I found a good article on sitcoms, but not a good breakdown for a kids’ mystery series. Is there any chance you can direct me to a script/page-timing outline? Or any information on this specifically?

I replied: No offense intended, but if you are asking about script page/timing, that suggests to me you still have a lot to learn about the principles of screenwriting. There is far more involved than knowing whether a page of script translates to a minute or five minutes of action (it depends whether its a one camera or three camera show and what is on the page — how many locations/sets there are, what action is involved, and how fast characters speak. Page count is not the issue you should be concerned with. There are “hour long” shows with 45 page scripts and 69 page scripts — every series is different). I recommend Richard Walter’s ESSENTIALS OF SCREENWRITING, Pamela Douglas WRITING THE TV DRAMA SERIES, William Rabkin’s  terrific WRITING THE PILOT, Alex Epstein’s CRAFTY TV WRITING, and SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING by William Rabkin and yours truly.

She wrote back:

Thank you very much for your quick response. I know very little about television scripts. But will get the books you mentioned.

The Mail I Get – Convicted Conman James Strauss Edition

You’d be stunned how any people have reached out to me to share their horror stories of being swindled or harassed by convicted conman & fake TV writer James Strauss… everybody from aspiring screenwriters to stiffed shopkeepers, from enraged military veterans to swindled conference organizers, from stiffed restaurants to stiffed Hawaii vacation-home renters. There’s been a surge in those emails in the last couple of weeks. I guess he’s stirring things up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, perhaps the only place on earth that hasn’t learned that he’s a total fraud. Here’s an excerpt from one of the many emails that I’ve received:

I live in Lake Geneva Wisconsin and today The Geneva Shore Report, which this James Strauss owns, told bold face lies […] saying [my] church and former pastors were in cahoots with the fire department where people were to vote.  His bold face lies and hurtful newspaper needs to stop. Please don’t use my name. But can you help my community?! And please hurry.

James Strauss’ mugshot, taken before he was sentenced to federal prison for fraud.

It’s YOUR community. YOU do something about it. If you, as a resident, don’t have the guts to stand-up against him, under your own name, and reveal him for what he is, how can you expect people who don’t live there, who have no stake or interest in what is going on, to do anything about it? Here’s an excerpt from a very lengthy email I received:

I am asking you to please not publish my name. Frankly, we cannot afford to feel the wrath of Mr. Strauss’s mean-spirited writings and video “reporting”. I am a long-time resident in the Geneva Lakes Area in Wisconsin. Sadly our lovely resort community is home to The Geneva Shore Report, a mean-spirited rag of a “newspaper” for which James Strauss is the creator and editor. He promotes his rag as “The most feared newspaper in America”.

I am writing to you because Mr. Strauss is damaging good people in our community. Mr. Strauss has made accusations via innuendo and flat out lies about our now retired pastors of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Chaplain on our Lake Geneva Fire Department, [and] slandered Karen Stein of KS Ministries who, out of her own pocketbook, invested a healthy half a million dollars in a clean and sober living house. What can I do to expose his con man lies? Please help!

I told him this: I’m sorry to hear that Strauss is continuing to ruin people’s lives…but there is nothing I can do about it. I’m not a journalist or a cop. The best advice I can give you is to spread the word that he is a convicted conman and fraud who spent years in a federal prison for swindling people. It’s information easily found on the Internet.

Outside of the Lake Geneva folks, I recently also got a desperate email from an aspiring filmmaker (he asked me not to quote his email on my blog) who was wary of doing free work for Strauss, who promised in return to use his contacts to help the kid break into Hollywood. This poor kid was shocked to learn that Strauss has zero legitimate Hollywood experience and asked me what he should do. My answer was simple: walk away. Strauss is a pathological liar and convicted felon who will screw you over.

It’s amazing to me that Strauss is still able to con people when the truth about him is so easily found in a google search. The way I look at it, anybody stupid enough to get into business with him deserves what they get.

The Mail I Get – Long Overdue Monk Edition

I’ve been getting lots of questions about my MONK series. Here are just a few of them.

Hi Lee, quick question about the Monk books. I know they’re stand-alones, but did you intend for the characters to have gradual progressions from book 1 to book 15, which wouldn’t necessarily require the reader to read them in order, but that the reader would get more out of the overall storyline arc if they *did* read them in order?

Yes, particularly after MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT and onwards through my last book, MR. MONK GETS EVEN. Also, early in the series, the books MR. MONK GOES TO GERMANY and MR. MONK IS MISERABLE (aka Mr. Monk Goes to France) take place basically within hours of each other, so those are best read in order.

Love the Mr Monk book series. I’m in need of a jacket cover for a hardcover book “Mr Monk on the COUCH”. Any idea where I might be able to go and get just the cover?

I don’t have a stack of dust jackets in my closet. You’ll have to buy a used book. There are plenty on Amazon and ABEbooks.

I just finished reading your last book on Monk and something bothers me. Where was the daughter of Trudy – Molly? How is it possible that she was not at the wedding Ambrose and Yuki? After all, she is part of the family. Why she was not invited to the wedding? Was there any reason why you did not mention Molly Evans in your book? Please reply.

If memory serves , I had Molly appear in “Mr Monk on The Road” and I felt that was enough attention paid to her. The character appeared briefly in the last episode of Monk, so she barely registered as a character . She wasn’t monk’s daughter, so she wasn’t related to him or Ambrose. Her character barely existed in the tv show. I saw no reason to spend any more time with a character that viewers and readers didn’t really know or care about. That approach has proven correct since you are only the second person, out of the tens of thousands of readers who bought the book, to bring her up to me in the years since the novel was published. 🙂

Thanks for writing the Monk series. I love them. I love the way you have developed the characters, especially…all of them. I am just very disappointed that you are not going to write any more of them. If you change your mind I shall rejoice.

Thank you, but to quote a cliche, the ship has sailed on the MONK books. I won’t be doing any more. I think writing fifteen books and three Monk episodes is more than enough Monk for me!

I was wondering if you still talk to the maker of monk because if you do I was wonder if you could ask him to make a monk movie! I would love that and I know a lot of fans would love it too!

Andy Breckman wrote a MONK reunion movie several years ago for USA Network. But, from what I understand, it ended up being too expensive to produce.

I’m a HUGE fan of the Mr. Monk book series and the TV series! I’m having a very hard time finding your first book, “Mr. Monk Goes To The Firehouse” so, I was wondering if you could send me a copy at your earliest convenience. Here is my address. Please sign it, too.

I’m so glad that you enjoy the MONK books. I don’t know why you’re having troubles finding MR. MONK GOES TO THE FIREHOUSE. It is widely available from hundreds of booksellers, in some cases for as little as one penny plus postage! That said, I’m not a bookseller nor do I send out free copies of my books to anybody who asks.

I am a huge fan, I have seen the Monk tv show and read all of the Monk books.  How do I go about obtaining a copy of the short story Mr. Monk and the Seventeen steps?

The short story is actually a chapter from one of the MONK books… MR. MONK ON THE ROAD. All the short stories that were published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine were excerpts from the books that just worked as standalone stories

The Mail I Get – Scammers Edition

Even in this age of easy self-publishing, the scammers are still out there… and there are still plenty of suckers. I recently ran into an author who not only “published” his book through Authorhouse, he also paid them extra to buy positive reviews for him in the worthless “self-published books” versions of Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Not only that, he was seriously considering a sleazy marketeer’s $25,000 campaign to “get his book on bestseller lists” by paying people to buy copies and leave positive reviews on digital platforms. He firmly believed that this is how Stephen King, John Grisham, Janet Evanovich and others get their books reviewed and on the bestseller lists. I, of course, told him was wrong and that he’d been swindled. Afterwards, he emailed me this plea:

Okay, so I’m ready with open ears to figure out how to get my book marketed, put on best seller lists, then get it made into a movie. I asked you last week if I could send you a copy to take a look at, cause it’s pretty damn dynamic. I know you have your own writings to take care of, but If there’s anything at all you can do to help me, I would be more than happy cut a nice juicy percent of gross profits…of everything. Please, please, please guide me in the right direction and if possible, drive the damn car for me.

The first thing you need to know is that Authorhouse is a notorious scam that operates under several names (Author Solutions, iUniverse, xlibris, etc.). They prey on the desperation of aspiring authors and squeeze them for every last penny they can get. Don’t pay them another dime for anything. You’ve been swindled out of enough money by these crooks as it is. Here’s just one of many posts out there about the Author Solutions/Authorhouse scam. The good news is that people have finally gotten wise to their con and the company is in a downward spiral.

But before they crash and burn, you should demand that Authorhouse revert the rights to the book back to you, along with the PDF and Kindle files that you’ve paid for, and pull the book from sale. Your book is ranked at 2 million on Amazon, which frankly means you aren’t selling any books anyway, so you aren’t risking anything by yanking it. Nobody knows the book exists.

I’m sorry, but I don’t have the time to help you untangle yourself from Authorhouse or to walk you through self-publishing your book. But before you consider self-publishing again, or marketing your book to real publishers, you should really go back and rewrite the manuscript. I read the Amazon sample and, I mean no offense, but it needs substantial editing by a professional. It’s bloated with endless, dull exposition…and isn’t ready to sell to anybody. Rewriting the book under the guidance of an experienced freelance editor, or a knowledgeable creative writing instructor (perhaps through UCLA Extension), is really the best use of your resources now rather than investing time, effort, and money self-publishing a book that is unlikely to find an audience in its present form.

The Mail I Get: Booktweep Edition

I’ve been getting spammed with emails lately from an awful book promotion service called Booktweep.

We saw your book “The Pursuit: A Fox and O’Hare Novel” at Amazon. We would like to help you in the Promotional efforts of “The Pursuit: A Fox and O’Hare Novel” to boost the number of sales and ranking. We will act as an extra helping hand in marketing your book so that you can get more time to write your next one. You can check our website and discuss your promotion queries and your Book Sales target. For more info just visit our website and write to us. Our website is https://booktweep.com/product/signup/

So I took a look at the Booktweep website. It’s a mess. Basically, you pay them $14.99 a month and they will send out terrible twitter ads about your book.  Here are three examples of their work:

CnqnWbWVMAAZ_mL

 

CnqmQzSWgAA2-8I

CofRrqkVIAAjDhP

I sent the promotional visionaries at Booktweep this note:

Here’s some advice for you on your promotional efforts.

1. Research the authors you are contacting. If you had looked into me, you’d know that THE PURSUIT hit #1 on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists on its debut four weeks ago and that we don’t need your tweet help.

2. Hire someone familiar with the English language to write your twitter ads. The ads you are running now humiliate you and your clients.

3. Hire someone familiar with the English language to write your website. It’s embarrassing and unprofessional to have phrases like this as subject headings on your website:

Why to choose Booktweep?

How it works?

So, why to wait ?

(FYI, the correct phrasing is: Why choose Booktweep? and How does it work? and So why wait?)

In addition to those inept headings, you have phrases like this:

5.8 Millions Tweet Impressions

15.7 Thousands Profile visits of @Ebookjunction

Million and Thousand do not need to be plural. Someone familiar with English would know better.

I could go on and on. Why would anyone pay you to promote their work when you do such an awful, sloppy job?

The Mail I Get – Screenwriting Advice Edition

Direct-Mail1I get a lot of emails asking me for advice on selling stuff to the networks. Here’s a recent one:

I have a friend, historical romance writer, who, after thirty-something books, is interested in writing something for Hallmark and/or Lifetime. Just out of curiosity, since you’re the only TV writer I know, any idea what a basic screenplay advance/pay/etc. would be for a simple made-for-TV-Hallmark-type screenplay? Or who she might turn to for that type of info?

It doesn’t really matter what Hallmark or Lifetime pays for a TV movie… the chances of her selling a script to them is nearly zero. They order very few tv movies, and the ones they do buy are usually from production companies they’ve worked with before (or with whom they have output deals). Most of those companies  produce their films in Canada to take advantage of tax benefits etc. Or the films are co-production deals involving Canada, France, Germany, etc, which are necessary to make a film for the extemely low license fee that Hallmark and Lifetime pay (they need foreign presales to off-set the cost). The Canadians have a very strict point system that governs whether a production gets the tax credit…the point system is based, among many things, on how many Canadians are working on the production. In most cases, the screenwriter has to be a Canadian or non-American. The other problem is that if they do use an American writer, it will be someone who is experienced and adds some cache for foreign pre-sales. Its extremely rare for a TV movie to be based on a spec teleplay written by a newbie. All that said, I believe the current cable TV movie writing fee is $38,966 for a 90 minute movie, $51,064 for 2 hours (that’s the actual runtime of the film, not the film with commercials, etc).

If your friend is a major, bestselling author, she would have better luck selling her book to a studio, which would then hire an experienced screenwriter to do the adaptation. Screenwriting is a LOT harder than authors think it is. There’s more to it than telling a story in a screenplay format.

The Mail I Get – Advice Edition

59_bigPeople are always writing me for advice about TV and publishing, not that I have any great wisdom to impart. But that doesn’t stop me from replying anyway.

Hello Mr. Goldberg:
I was referred to you by a friend of your friend XYZ…I am 64 years old and I have a screenplay that desperately needs a place to go, and your name was delivered as the unquestionable favorite.  Please let me know if you might be able to provide me any guidance or wisdom. Should you not be able or interested, (she tries to put away that big pouty lip), your suggestion of someone else would be greatly appreciated.

Unfortunately, I don’t have good news for you. In fact, I have very discouraging news for you. Everybody in L.A. has a screenplay they want to sell. You are one of thousands…and you’re competing with them all, inexperienced and experienced screenwriters alike. I’m neither an agent nor a studio exec, so there’s really nothing I can do for you. I don’t know of any agents who are taking on new clients (they are having a hard enough time selling the scripts written by the experienced clients they already have).
The best advice I can offer is for you to contact the Writers Guild of America to see if they can give you a list of signatory agents who are accepting unsolicited screenplays. The other thing you should be aware of is that ageism is rampant in Hollywood…and if you haven’t already established yourself in the business by 30, you are considered elderly and out-of-touch with popular taste 🙂 I’m 54 and feel ancient when I go into meetings…and despite my extensive credits, it’s still a hard sell for me. I’m just telling you this so you realise that you’re facing a very steep, uphill battle.

I am sure you get a lot of emails and maybe this may not reach you, but here’s hoping. I am an aspiring actress/model and went to a meeting with XYZ at Culver Studios last week. He claims to have been a director/producer for NBC/Universal but the IMDB just doesn’t seem legitimate. He also claims to be married to actress XYZ but there is hardly any information on her either.
He says he wants me to come and work for him and learn the business to become an assistant producer and star in his upcoming movies, but things just aren’t adding up. I called NBC Universal and asked them if his name was on the employee list and was not.  Due to all of the scams and human trafficking which he spoke a lot about, I want to be safe. Do you know how I can navigate safely through this industry and or have any advice for me on how I can obtain legitimate information and backgrounds on producers and directors?

Well, it sounds like you already checked this guy out and learned that something is very fishy. His picture on Imdb also seems amateurish to me… as if by standing beside the studio gate, which anybody can do, he’s trying to confer legitimacy on himself. I’d steer clear of him. Keep in mind, anybody can rent studio space. Just because their office is on a movie studio lot does not mean they are legitimate. In addition to imdb, you can check out producers with the PGA (Producers Guild of America) to see if they are members… or, if they are writer/producers, you can check with the WGA (Writers Guild of America) to see if they are members (or if their companies are guild signatories). You can find out if a director is legit by contacting the DGA (Directors Guild of America) and seeing if he or she is a member. If they are offering you acting jobs, check them out with SAG (Screen Actors Guild) to see if they are signatories or if there are any issues with their company that the union knows about. Lack of produced credits on imDb and non-membership in one of those guilds would raise a big red flag for me.

The Mail I Get – Lame Pitches Edition

Direct-Mail1People are always hitting me up with lame pitches. Here’s one:

Hello sir Lee, how are you ? It’s a pleasure to write you and I’d like to ask you something that my future might be depend on.  I have up to 8 scripts.  I have done the pitch and synopsis of all but unfortunately I don’t have enough resource to do the screenplay of all but I did the most important part of the screenplay of one of them called American DictatorsAmerican Dictators is not a political movie.  It’s a comedy I’m which America will be ruled by dictators for the first time, the first lady has a little daughter and her daughter is so important for her up to spend 80 millions of dollars at her daughter’s birthday but one guy will try to overthrow in order to create a new world order.. .  I’d like to submit to centropolis but they told me to find an established agent.  Sir Lee I’d be very glad if you help me.
Thanks.

I wonder what you mean by “I did the most important part of the screenplay for one of them.” I’m assuming you mean the title page. I’m not clear what help you are looking for from me. Do you want me to complete your screenplay? Find you an agent? Whatever it is, the answer is NO…and that wail you hear is me, running away screaming.

Lee, I see that you are a TV Producer.  Would you have an interest in looking at my novel that  I recently self published on Amazon/Kindle?  It’s XYZ.  It has received excellent reviews from Kirkus Reviews.  Might work for a movie or TV Series?  I await your reply.

That’s not much of a pitch, is it? Why would anyone investigate further based on that lame query? I did, but only so I could ridicule you. The first thing I noticed is that the “excellent reviews from Kirkus Reviews” was actually one review from their paid review service, meaning you bought a positive notice. That screams desperation and, frankly, stupidity. And since you only have two reader reviews, both from “An Amazon Customer,” and your book is ranked in the millions, it tells me that no one has actually bought your book except, perhaps, you or two members of your family (a review that says only: “The best book I have ever read. I couldn’t put it down. I loved it” is a dead giveaway). I didn’t look at the sample because, frankly, there’s only so much punishment I’m willing to inflict upon myself for procrastinating. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that no, it won’t work as a TV series. Unless it’s on a network in hell.

The Mail I Get – It’s About Time Edition

Direct-Mail1It’s been a looonnnggg time since I opened up the mailbag and shared it on the blog. But I’ve been saving some of the best for you (or is it the worst?). Here’s are two recent queries I received:

Would you ever consider working on a graphic novel?  I’m an illustrator that can work on spec.  I  have a couple ideas … Idea B: Anne Frank: Demon Hunter.  It turns out she and Kafka and Hitler all faked their death.  Kafka and Anne’s plans to make a golem and prevent the awakening of the King of Demons and a Norse giant were encoded into her journal, also mystical power boosts for telekinesis and martial arts.  So Hitler races them to the annex to fight over the journal and fights Kafka and Anne there, as the golem fights the norse giant and Demon King.

OMG. How unbelievably awful is that? But what’s really astonishing is that for some reason he thought I would be the right guy for that story. Did somebody steer him my way?

Anne Frank, Kafka and a golem in a kung-fu battle to the death with Hitler? Oh yeah, Lee Goldberg is the guy you want to talk to for that. It’s just his kind of thing.  But you might want to make the golem a talking dolphin instead. That’d really excite him.

I think my brother Tod must have put him up to it. Here’s another query I received.

Dear Professional Amazon Reviewer,

Amazon gave me your details so that I can provide my new book for review.I understand that you may wish to be on the Vine reviewer list. I want to help if you let me. I would welcome an honest review of my free ebook being published today on Amazon. I am aware that, once you are a Vine official reviewer, as Amazon CEO explained to me, you will have access to the top amazing hardware available around for free. I want to help you get there. I have 18 books for review on Amazon but only one every month. So there is plenty of opportunities to offer me a reasonably worded honest potentially powerful clear review on the material I write. This is the way Amazon judges a potential Vine reviewer. My books are non-fiction.

Let’s join forces. The book that I need a review for is based on EFT, tapping techniques, also called emotional freedom technic. In a generic mode, EFT uses acupuncture points also known as acupoints, to release stress, to reduce addiction, to eliminate phobias and in general terms, to rebalance the psychological health of a disturbed individual. If you can rewrite this essence, you are worth the Vine badge.

Pretty sleazy, huh? His books are ranked in the millions, meaning not even his mother ever bought a copy. I wrote back to this guy. Here’s what I said:

You should be ashamed of yourself for misleading people into thinking that writing a review of your books will prove to Amazon that  “they are worth the Vine badge” or will lead them to Vine membership. You clearly have no understanding of how the Vine program works…or you do and just want to mislead people. Writing and posting review of one of your obscure books will have negligible, if any, impact on the likelihood that a reviewer will be selected for the Vine program. But I can understand why you’ve engaged in such desperate measures, given how poorly ranked and badly reviewed your books are…if they are even reviewed at all, which is rare. I have passed your solicitation on to Amazon to alert them to your misleading campaign.

I never heard back from him, of course. I think Tod sent him to me, too.

The Mail I Get – Follow Up Edition

I heard back from that 12-year-old girl who wrote me the other day, asking if she was too young to write & produce her own TV series. I basically told her there was no hurry, and to use the years to come to learn about the business and hone her craft. She replied:

Thank you for all of the advice! I know for right now I my work won’t amount to do squat but when I’m older hopefully it will. My only fear is that between, competitive swimming, Improv, School, making music, trying to become a better artist, Church, mission trips, wanting to spend time with my family, traveling, writing, wanting to be social, and at least relaxing a little I’ll lose the will to do what I want.

Relax, you’re 12. You have plenty of time! And this is the age when you are supposed to be exploring all of those other things. Who knows, you may discover a passion that means more to you than writing for TV, and that’s fine. Your interests and priorities are bound to change as you get older, learn more about the world, and grow as a person. It’s not something to be anxious about but to embrace.