There’s a part of being a published author that I really don’t enjoy… and that’s hitting my friends up for blurbs. Blurb_3

With every book, the publisher expects you to go out and hustle some positive reviews from well-known authors (aka "blurbs"). It’s a requirement — and the blurbs really affect how your book is perceived internally at the publishing house and among the sales reps (the blurbs from Janet Evanovich, Meg Cabot, SJ Rozan and Lee Child on my DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels have made a huge impact). I know there are some authors who have editors who will slog for blurbs… or who have agents who will hit up their other clients…but I have found that doesn’t work very well. You have the best luck when you have a personal relationship with the authors you are asking to rave about you.

On MY GUN HAS BULLETS, I didn’t know anybody outside of the TV biz who could give me blurbs (and I hit a few of them up, since it was a novel about TV). But those names didn’t mean a whole lot to St. Martins Press. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.

Before the book came out, I attended my first Bouchercon and was star-struck. So many of my favorite authors were there. Even more astonishing, they were nice people, approachable and very friendly.  I remember sitting in the bar, talking to an author one night, when I finally worked up the guts to ask him if he’d blurb my book. I was ready for him to be offended, to be upset that I was attempting to trade on our very brief acquaintance… but to my shock, he smiled and said he’d be glad to read it. That emboldened me… and while I was at Bouchercon, I managed to get several authors to agree to read my book. Not all of them ended up giving my a blurb…but quite a few did.

Since then, I’ve become active in MWA and have been to many conventions, writers conferences and Edgar Award dinners.  I’m lucky to have many good friends who also happen to be authors.

But it still hasn’t gotten any easier for me to ask for blurbs. In some ways, it’s harder, at least for me.  I feel uncomfortable hitting up my friends –it puts them in an awkward position. What if they like me… but don’t like my book? Then they are worried about the impact not blurbing the book will have on our friendship. I know… because I’ve been in that position many times myself. I’ve blurbed lots of books… and there are just as many that I haven’t.

Now I’m out there doing it again… with two new books… DIAGNOSIS MURDER: THE PAST TENSE and THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE. I’ve been making calls and writing letters… and I usually start by saying I know how busy my friends are, and that I won’t be offended if they decide, for whatever reason, not to blurb the book. I give them an easy out… whether they decide to read the book or not. If they don’t like the book, they can always say they were too busy to get to it… and they know I will understand, that I won’t know whether they read the book or not, and that our friendship will remain intact.

With each book, I also try to contact a few authors I don’t know very well, if at all… authors with whom I might have spoken on a panel or who I met at a signing or, in some cases, who I’ve only read and have never met. One such bestselling author sent me a perfect reply:

Dear Lee: I’d be pleased to read your book. I should warn you, though. I only give blurbs if I really like a book, even if I like the person who wrote it. I also can’t guarantee how long it will take me to get to it…or that I will..I have a book due in a couple months and I’m rushing to complete it. Please send the book to…

If I get a blurb, I will be thrilled. If I don’t, I will understand and no harm will be done. So, all that said, I’m about to head out to the post office to send off some manuscripts to my friends… and a few total strangers.

Back to the Beach

Baywatchtitlecardop The studios must each have an exec who does nothing but troll through old TV guides, looking for series to resurrect. Variety Reports that Dreamworks — that’s Steven Spielberg and company — are fast-tracking a feature film version of BAYWATCH, a show I worked on (though I don’t usually admit it publicly).

The rights package was brought to the marketplace by CAA late last week, and before other studios could get a toe in the water, DreamWorks took the plunge with a guarantee of $1.25 million that had the lawyers finalizing a deal over the weekend.

DreamWorks’ John Fox and production president Adam Goodman spearheaded the bid; Fox will supervise the pic.

It is unclear whether any of the series regulars will be involved. The stars included Pamela Anderson, Carmen Electra and Yasmine Bleeth. Bolstering them was a batch of buff hunks led by David Hasselhoff, who starred in the series from 1989-2000 and became exec producer after the series became a global sensation. He is not at this point part of the film package.

The deal calls for "Baywatch" creators Michael Berk, Doug Schwartz and Greg Bonann to produce the pic, while Michelle Berk will be exec producer and Eli Roth will co-produce.

Can THREE’S COMPANY: THE MOVIE be far behind?

Mel Gibson: TV Mogul

I’m not in the hospital yet… but William Rabkin, who will be blogging for me while I am,  offers this observation on today’s cancellation news:

Remember when Mel Gibson started shooting THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST? All the brilliant thinkers in the entertainment industry said he’d gone out of his mind — a religious tract in Aramaic would not only be a financial disaster, but would sink his career.
Well, once Gibson made several hundred million dollars on that folly, the brilliant thinkers had to change their minds. Now he was a genius, and everything he touched would be golden. Of course, everybody wanted to be in business with him, and suddenly the actor/producer/director sold two series to two networks — despite a complete lack of TV experience. And of course, they would have to become the huge hits of the season, because, well, he was the guy who made a religious tract in Aramaic.
So how’s he doing? Well, one of his two shows was cancelled today — CLUBHOUSE, the CBS drama about… a ballboy for a baseball team. (Yes, a concept that couldn’t have been less appealing if it had been in Aramaic.) The other, a sitcom called COMPLETE SAVAGES, was supposed to be this season’s breakout comedy, and it’s a complete disaster, with a tiny audience and nobody paying attention.
Of course, when these shows were picked up, it was all Mel all the time. But an entire article in Variety on the cancellation of CLUBHOUSE doesn’t mention Gibson once…

Strike Two

On the heels of canceling DR. VEGAS, Variety reports that CBS axed CLUBHOUSE. Two of the networks three new dramas this season… the only ones without CSI in the title… have failed.

With the exception of JOAN OF ARCADIA, the only shows that have clicked on CBS over the last season or two have been police procedurals in the style of CSI… like CSI MIAMI, CSI NEW YORK, NCIS, COLD CASE, and WITHOUT A TRACE.

Considering that, it’s probably very wise that CBS is going with another police procedural, NUMBERS, to take the place of DR. VEGAS.


Tonight, the second part of the CROSSING JORDAN/LAS VEGAS cross-over airs. Jill Hennessey, star of JORDAN, is no stranger to cross-overs, as she told the folks at zap2it. When she was on LAW AND ORDER, she did a cross-over with HOMICIDE. But this cross-over was her idea…

Hennessy takes some pride in the fact that the whole thing was her idea. At a pre-upfront meeting for advertisers, NBC bigwig Jeff Zucker trotted Hennessy and the "Las Vegas" cast out as proof of the network’s recent success stories. Hennessy looked around at the glitzy "Vegas" set and suggested to that show’s creator, Gary Scott Thompson, that a meeting of the minds would be a great idea. Although she claims she threw out the idea in jest, there were ulterior motives. "From what I’ve heard, they have a very strong young male following and we’ve got a very strong young female following, which works very well for both of us," she notes. "Put them together and they can procreate. I’m all for that."

She’s thinking like a producer. She just went up a notch in my estimation.

The only reason to do a cross-over episode is to goose the ratings, get some extra publicity… and bring new viewers to your show. I’ve done it a couple of times

But it’s complicated, especially if the two shows are done by rival studios.

On DIAGNOSIS MURDER, we did a cross-over with the show that led into us, PROMISED LAND, to create a promotable event on Thursday night.  We were the higher-rated of the two shows and, arguably, the better show from a creative stand-point as well. So the motivation for us was purely the one-time ratings spike the event might get.

Unfortunately, because the show was shot in Utah, we weren’t able to do a "true" cross-over… the only cast the two shows shared were guest-stars, none of our principals guested on each other’s series, which I think was a mistake. The hardest part of doing a cross-over is crafting a story that would begins on one show and ends on another… but that stays true to the tone of each series. We worked closely with their writers who, as it happened, were old friends of ours, as managed to craft a story that meshed well. The ratings bump wasn’t as big as we hoped…but I attribute that to the fact the stars didn’t cross-ovver.

We toyed with cross-overs with JAG and NASH BRIDGES, but we couldn’t pull either of them off for various reasons. We did, however, bring back MANNIX and MATLOCK for stunt episodes that scored enormously well… though those weren’t crossovers, more like TV reunions.

On MARTIAL LAW, we did a crossover with the show that followed us, WALKER TEXAS RANGER. We came up with the idea and CBS went nuts for it. The cross-over made a lot of sense. It not only created a promotable Saturday night "event," and one that could get some WALKER viewers to sample our series, but the two shows were perfectly compatible from a creative stand-point… (unlike, say, the MARTIAL LAW/EARLY EDITION cross-over that the previous showrunner tried the season before).  As it happened, two of our writers had written for WALKER before and we were friends with the show-runner, so crafting the storyline and the two scripts was suprisingly smooth. The hardest part was having to watch a half-dozen WALKER episodes so I had a feel for the show. We made sure Sammo sounded right in their script, and they made sure Walker sounded right in ours. And most important  of all, our stars guested on each other’s show. Chuck Norris spent a few days on our show, and we sent Sammo down to Dallas for a few days as well. We even used the WALKER theme when Chuck first shows up on screen… and they did the same for Sammo when he first appeared in their show.  We got a lot of press and the ratings were terrific… the highest ranking episodes on both series that season.  We got a big bump from the stunt…but not big enough. We were canceled that season anyway.

There’s a long history of cross-overs on television… so many have been done, there’s even a site dedicated to them. Check out what they had to say about the Diagnosis Murder/Promised Land cross-over, the Martial Law/Walker crossover, and, of course, everybody’s favorite, the Manimal/Nightman crossover

Testing Hell

The network just tested a friend of mine’s pilot in front of an audience. He writes to me that it didn’t go well. 

Death and devastation.  Surely one of the worst focus group tests ever.  They hated everything about it. 

We’ve all been there. I remember observing a focus group discussion after the audience screened a couple of DIAGNOSIS MURDER episodes. Several of the audience members said they didn’t find the guy playing "Steve Sloan" believable at all as Dick Van Dyke’s son. Fair enough. Except the guy who played Steve was Barry Van Dyke.

During testing, the audience members hold a dial, and they twist it one way or another throughout the show to indicate whether they like what they are seeing or not. In the backroom, we see a read-out of these dial reactions that reads like an EKG. You can literally see your show dying… or getting a sudden jolt of life. It allows you to get instant feedback.

We tested some episodes of MARTIAL LAW and, of course, the scores went way up whenever there was an action sequence. That was no surprise. What was a surprise was that the scores went up even higher when Kelly Hu walked into a room. She didn’t even have to say anything.

So… what did we learn? We could have scrapped every single one of those expensive action sequences and simply asked Kelly Hu to stand in front of the camera for five minutes. Naturally, the network immediately asked us to get her in front of the camera as often as possible… which infuriated our star Sammo Hung, who already felt threatened by her. But that’s another story…

I Wish Bush Would Do the Same Thing

After 12 years in municipal government, The Acton Beacon reports that Town Treasurer Stan Smith will step down to pursue his passion of mystery writing.

"I’ve always thought I’d like to give it a shot, and now that I’m about to turn 45, it seems like the right time of life as well as the right opportunity to make a change of this kind," Smith wrote in his letter to Town Administrator Natalie Lashmit. Smith commended the town and wished his colleagues the best of luck.

We wish you luck, too, Stan. Maybe if you hit it big, other politicians will follow your lead.

Surgery Update

I will be having surgery on my right elbow on Wednesday, Nov. 17th. In my absense and recuperation, my brother Tod and my writing partner Bill Rabkin will keep you entertained, informed, and offended…and let you know how I am doing. Until then, I’ll do my best to fulfill those awesome responsibilities.

Palm Springs Book Buyers

Last summer, Bill Rabkin & I spoke at a big library event in Palm Springs where  were supposed to talk about our new book, answer questions, and then sign copies afterwards. About eighty people showed up, the talk was one of the best we’ve ever given, and the people in the audience were obviously enjoying themselves and asked us lots of great questions. I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough books to accomodate everyone who was going to want to buy one.

After our presentation, we were mobbed at the table. Everyone wanted to tell us how much they enjoyed listening to us.

But we sold less than a dozen books. I couldn’t understand it. How could the audience like us so much… but not buy anything?

Today,  my brother Tod and I spoke at an event together in Palm Springs. Again, we had a big crowd, and they seemed to love us, laughing and applauding and smiling. Once again, I thought we hit a home-run. Afterwards, they all came up to thank us, take their pictures with us, kiss us…

But did they buy books? Not really. I think I signed less than 12.

So what’s the deal? Is it the age of the audience (well over 60)? Was it something I said? Were they all Battlestar Galactica fans? It’s not because these were seniors on a fixed income… these were very wealthy seniors.

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worthwhile doing speaking engagements in Palm Springs…at least from a bookselling point-of-view.

There was a bright side. We spoke at a fundraising event for a charity… and the event managed to raise a lot of money for the cause, so that was good. And I had a good time, met a lot of nice people, had a tasty lunch, and got a very unusual gift… a book mark that’s also a magnifying glass.

I gave the book mark to my daughter, who plans to use it to fry ants.

Palm Springs Signing

I was interviewed on CBS 2 TV in Palm Springs on Thursday… and my daughter Madison, who was in the studio with me, joined me on the air. I’ll have the video clip on my website soon. In the meantime, here’s a picture from my signing last night (click on it for an enlarged image) Leesigning at Celebrity Book on their stage at the Palm Springs Street Fair. I met tons of DIAGNOSIS MURDER fans and even managed to sell some copies of THE WALK, too. It was a fun night and I look forward to returning in February for THE WAKING NIGHTMARE.