The Decline of the Western Writers of America

For some time now, legendary western writer Richard S. Wheeler has been charting the demise of the western and, sadly, the preventable decline of the Western Writers of American (which should stand as a cautionary tale of what could happen to the Mystery Writers of America if we aren’t careful). On Ed Gorman’s blog, he notes that prominent agent Nat Sobel has resigned from the WMA as both its agent and as a member.

… it is
not hard to fathom why a successful New York agent would abandon the western
writers. For decades, WWA conventions were marketplaces in which New York
publishers, editors and agents gathered with solidly professional authors to do
business. That is how I got launched, and how many other western novelists got

At the last convention, only one editor showed up, and he came
because one of his authors had won a Spur Award. When I first joined WWA in the
early eighties, there would be ten to twenty editors and publishers on hand, all
of them ready to do business, plus various agents, and often a few publishing
executives as well. Part of the reason they have vanished is that western lines
have shut down due to shifts of fashion. But there is more: A few years ago WWA
amateurized itself, at first covertly in defiance of its own membership bylaws
and then as a result of a bylaws amendment that permitted self-published authors
to join. That brought a flood of new members, so WWA is fat financially, but it also
meant that it was no longer a guild with clout in the publishing world or that
western literature was significant. Thus, Library Journal, diligent about
listing literary awards in other fields, no longer bothered to list Spur Awards.
What it also meant is the end of the western marketplace at WWA conventions.
Where once editors came to conventions to look for talent and good stories, now
they don’t come at all. It is pointless for them to show up.

I am a strong believer in limiting MWA membership to published mystery authors — and what’s happened to the WMA is a good example of the reasons why. Allowing self-published writers to become members diminishes the professional stature and legitimacy of the organization, not just among its members, but to the industry as a whole. This is going to make me very unpopular, but I also I believe associate memberships should be limited to people in the industry ( booksellers, editors, critics, publishers, etc).

Best Wishes to Ed Gorman

Author, editor, and publisher Ed Gorman reports on his  must-read blog that he’s about to undergo radiation treatment in his battle against cancer.

I noted a while back that I wouldn’t be commenting on my health unless things
changed. I’m about to go through three five day weeks of radiation therapy. I’ll
work in the morning and have my radiation session in the afternoon. I’m hoping
to get 1,000 words a day done on my book so I don’t fall out of its rhythm. But
I won’t have the energy for the blog. So I’m doing Blog’s Greatest Hits, pieces
by contributor’s that I thought were particularly noteworthy. And if anybody
wants to submit anything original, I’ll be very grateful to run it. Thanks,

So please send Ed your best wishes and if you’ve got some thoughts on publishing or the mystery genre, send him a post for his blog, too.

He-Men and the Masters of the Universe

My friend Gregg Hurwitz and his family came over to our house yesterday afternoon for BBQ, swimming, and lazing around.  When it got dark, the kids went inside to play and the grown-ups stayed outside to talk. We were having a nice conversation when Gregg’s wife very calmly pointed out that there was a tarantula crawling by Gregg’s feet. I don’t know who yelped louder or jumped higher out of his seat — me or Gregg.

We’ve seen rabbits, scorpions, mice, squirrels, rattlesnakes, bobcats, deer, lizards, coyotes, and swarms of bees in our yard but never, ever, EVER a tarantula. The spider was huge and black and terrifying. And moved very fast.

Gregg and I, squeeling and whining like little girls, finally managed to trap the spider in a jar and dump him out on the hillside behind our house. But I found the whole thing very funny. Here are these two men — guys who’ve written all kinds of books and TV shows about tough-guy action heroes —  who turned into complete blithering sissies at the sight of a gigantic, but harmless, spider.

Just goes to prove that those who can’t do don’t teach…they write about it.

Cliche City

On my flight to Seattle, I read a book by a bestselling author. The plotting was good but the dialogue was so unbearably cliche-ridden that I left the book behind on the plane. I couldn’t bear to continue reading it.  Here’s an example (the character names have been removed to protect the guilty):

"Your deal will be history if you don’t make sure this goes off without a hitch. Blow this and you’ll wish you were in a cell with XYZ and a blowtorch. When we get to DC, we are going to have a come-to-Jesus meeting. The next time you make the slightest wave you are going to find yourself up shit creek. Is that clear?"

I count, conservatively, four cliches in that paragragh alone (not counting the character himself was a cliche).  There were pages and pages like that. The book did make me wonder about one thing — what’s the magic sales figure you’ve got to hit before editors stop bothering to edit your work?

PublishAmerica Sued

PublishAmerica is in more trouble. This time, they are being sued for trademark infringement by Encyclopedia Britannica. Sarah Weinman, subbing over at Galleycat, reports that the lawsuit filing includes lots of references to articles about PA’s questionable business practices.

Seems that PA has an imprint that they originally called PublishBritannica,
which is supposed to be the UK arm of their Vast Empire. But alas, PA didn’t
seem to understand the whole concept of trademark infringement…

There are LOTS of things the dimwits at PA don’t understand…

Quintin Jardine Thanks a Novelization…sort of

Scottish crime novelist Quintin Jardine says he owes his career to a bad
TV novelization that he read…

I didn’t like anything about the book: the characters didn’t work on the page
as they had on screen; the plot seemed ropey; and the ending, when I got there,
struck me as contrived.

When I was done, I chucked it across the terrace, remarking aloud, "I could
do better myself." To this my wife replied, "Time you did, then." Coming from
her, that was an instruction.

WGA Election Packet

The fat WGA election packet arrived in the mail yesterday. I haven’t opened it yet. I’m dreading going through all the election material and reading all the statements. I haven’t made up my mind yet how to vote. This one isn’t easy. My friend Mark Evanier does a great job summing up the election over on his terrific blog.

If you’re not a WGA member, you’re missing out on the fun of seeing a
batch of articulate, dedicated people who essentially agree on almost
all the key issues waging a bloody battle against one another. Every
one of them is in favor of strengthening the guild, increasing
minimums, protecting and rebuilding the health insurance and pension
funds, extending WGA jurisdiction to non-covered areas like animation
and reality programming, etc. Still, in the guild, we never like to let
the fact that we’re all on the same side keep us from having a nice,
divisive fight…

…To the extent there is a difference of issues between the teams, it’s
that the "New WGA" crew wants to drastically increase the amount of
money the WGA spends on organizing efforts, getting non-guild TV shows
and movies under the guild umbrella, along with new technologies. The
"Common Sense" candidates endorse the goal but not the strategy,
arguing that the "New WGA" guys are looking at a very expensive
organizing model that might work for non-creative unions but won’t work
for writers.

Like Mark, I’m unlikely to vote for one of the slates but will pick individual candidates I agree with (he calls it the "Chinese Food" approach).

Scam of the Month

Here’s a scam that only the most gullible aspiring author would fall for…

The print-on-demand vanity press Author House has launched a program with bookselling group Joseph-Beth Booksellers on  "publishing packages"
that include "guaranteed bookshelf placement" of five copies in a single
Josepth-Beth store
and an in-store book signing event (which is rather inconvenient if you live on the West Coast, since the Joseph-Beth stores are in the East).

For the priviledge of having a mere five books in just one store, and providing/buying the copies that will be sold at the booksigning,  suckers have to spend an additional $200 on top of the $699 Author House usually charges to publish a book.

Wow. What a great opportunity… to throw away your money.

Whoever signs up for this  "publishing package" is a dim-wit who deserves to be taken for every last penny he has.

Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii

I just this minute finished the first draft of MR. MONK GOES TO HAWAII. It’s about 70,000 words. I’m printing out the manuscript now so that tomorrow I can begin my pencil-edit and rewriting.  Coincidentally, today the galley proofs of MR. MONK GOES TO THE FIREHOUSE arrived on my doorstep for me to review. It seems fitting, somehow, that the timing worked out that way.