Giddy Up.. or Giddy Down?

I received this email from Chuck:

I read on your blog some comments about Westerns going the
way of the buffalo. However, I’ve come across some data that
indicate otherwise. Nielsen BookScan, which covers about 70% of U.S.
book sales, says Western sales have increased by 9% in 2005 and 10% thus far in
2006. Books in Print says the number of Western titles produced
has increased from 543 in 1995 to 901 in 2005. Would you or your knowledgeable readers have any idea
why these numbers contradict the prevailing opinion that the market for Western
literature is dying?

Good question. So I asked three western writers I know. Here are their responses:

"My understanding is that all but two or three publishers have folded
their western lines. I assume this is because that westerns don’t sell
well enough to make them worth the trouble.

"This contradicts all I’ve heard. Does Books in
Print include vanity-press titles? I believe it does. I do know that a flood of
self-published and vanity westerns have been pouring out of XLibris, iUniverse,
etc. (Spur Award judges are telling me that they’re getting mostly vanity press
westerns now.) This also says nothing about sales per title. Are
more books slicing a thinner market? I do know that most western lines have died
off, or have radically cut back. Even Forge is cutting its western line to the
bone. I would need a lot more data than raw numbers of
titles before coming to any conclusions."

"This is interesting, but I think those numbers are
deceptive.  Kensington has been pumping out the William W. Johnstone
reprints by the truckload, and they’ve been selling very well. Throw in
the continued popularity of L’Amour, the Ralph Compton books actually written by
other authors, Leisure’s reprints of Brand, Flynn, Horton, and other pulp
authors, and I still think the market is pretty bad for living Western authors
who want to publish under their own names.  I know two or three guys who
were publishing regularly under their names a few years ago who are now just
doing house-name books because those are the only contracts they can get. 
And with only four house-name series left and sales on those dwindling,
prospects don’t look good for any of us."

To Be Or Not To Be A Writer’s Assistant

I got this email the other day:

I realize that I don’t have the
experience or knowledge to land a job in the industry.  Therefore, it seems
reasonable to me that I should try to break in as a writer’s assistant. I  know it is an unglamorous job, but I also know it will expose me to the production process by allowing me to observe the daily workings of whatever show I’m working on.   So the question is, obviously, how do I do it? How do I break in, and whom do I contact?

Here’s what I told him. The best advice I can offer you isn’t that revolutionary….you need
to send your resume to the personnel offices at the various studios and
production companies, big and small. You can start by getting getting
copies of VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, the weekly issues with
the TV and Movie Production reports,  jot down the names of every production company you see
and send them your resume.  Familiarity
with Microsoft Word, Excel, and the various screenwriting programs
(Movie Magic and Final Draft) will be essential.  You might also try Variety Careers and searching for openings for writer’s assistants.

He wrote back to me right away:

If my long-term goal is
to direct, is writer’s assistant the best path, in your opinion?  Or should
I be focusing on a Production Assistant position?  I ask because I want to
take the best approach, before I go around papering the town with my resume as a
Writer’s Assistant.  Someone made an interesting point in a book that I
read, that it’s very easy to become pigeonholed as a "PA" or as an "Assistant"
if you don’t map out your plan for your long-term career ahead of

I don’t know much about becoming a director, but being a PA would give you more "on the set" experience, even if you are just fetching bottled water for people. That said, I’d recommend taking some directing classes and learning the essentials of the craft.

Where I Can Go?

I got this comment here today:

hi i have sent in my manuscript to tate. i also got a contract. Im only
15 and at first before the price it looked like a good place to get a
book published. But now that i’ve seen the 4000 investment pay it
doesnt seem to good. I took a look at iuniverse but it dosent publish
childrens books. Do you have any sugestions on were i can go? Thanks

The important thing now is to keep writing. Never, I repeat NEVER, pay to have your book published. If someone offers to publish your book in return for money, that should be a big warning sign to you that they are not a real publisher but rather a "vanity press" or worse, an out-right scam.

If you really feel you’re ready to submit your book for publication, only approach reputable publishers. You can start by looking at who published the books that you enjoy reading, then look them up in the Writers Market and see if they are accepting  unsolicited submissions (meaning not from agent).

But I would say that, at this point, you are better off concentrating more on refining your skills than getting published.  Take some writing courses and read as much as you can. But the most important thing of all is to just keep writing!

Tico Changes Course

Tico Publishing  is no longer pitching themselves as both "a publisher and literary agent,"  limiting manuscript submissions  to "non-agented" writers, or selling reviews and editorial services. The publisher, Arnold Tijerino, took this action today in response to criticisms leveled against his company here  and on other forums. In his comments to me, he wrote, in part:

I appreciate the positions and assumptions that are being made about TICO Publishing, based on the "services" we offer, both here and the aforementioned thread on another website. I assure you, had we been aware that by offering such services, we would be lumped in with "scammers" and "vanity presses", we would never have offered them in the first place. TICO has never accepted, nor will it accept, any money to publish a book we’ve contracted. […]I also understand that perception is reality. While we don’t agree that offering those services was wrong, we do now see how it could lead people to the wrong impression about our organization.

Some of the other services we offered have led to misperceptions about Tico’s philosophy, and thrown our reputation into question.  As a result, we’ve cancelled those other services. Our exclusive focus will be on receiving submissions from aspiring authors and finding the best new voices to put into print.

All publishing companies were small at some point in time. We’re just the new guy on the block.

He also concedes that he has no previous experience whatsoever as either a publisher or literary agent. His background is in sales and marketing. Even so, I would think that experience would have taught Mr. Tijerino that it’s necessary to learn about the ethical standards and accepted business practices in your field before starting to do business.  That said, I applaud his efforts to make things right at Tico and to repair the negative image of the company that presently exists. It’s honorable and encouraging.

Score one for Lew

My friend Lewis Perdue, who lost a lawsuit against Dan Brown for allegedly lifting  significant portions of THE DAVINCI CODE from his work,  reports that he’s off-the-hook for Brown’s $310,000 in legal fees:

Judge Daniels ruled that, "…Perdue’s claim was not objectively
unreasonable, and there was no evidence that Perdue pursued his
claims with an improper motive and/or in bad faith. " — page 2, line
8 of

The magistrate’s report on which Daniels based his decision is far
more detailed and spends a fair amount of time to support his opinion
that I was not the money-grubbing, gold-digging opportunist that
Random House claimed in its legal papers and which Dan Brown alleged
on the Today Show.

The magistrate’s report is at:

These two documents also do a very thorough job of describing the
circumstances of the litigation that Random House started.

My petition for a writ of certiorari still remains for consideration
before the Supreme Court.

Am I a Fanficcer?

I received this comment from "GMW:"

If we take the published author view then I hate to say it but Mr. Lee
Goldberg, according to this you have no talent for writing because you
are using a preset universe and characters. You do write fanficiton
with legal ability to get it published for money. In my mind that is
the only thing separating you from a fanficiton writer. Has writing the
‘DM’ and ‘Monk’ novels helped you in writing your other novels? If yes
then why can’t it help others? If no, then why do you write them?

1) I didn’t just wake up one morning, burning with the need to write DIAGNOSIS MURDER fanfic and then sent it out a
publisher, hoping to sell it. They came to me. I would never consider writing a book about characters I didn’t
create unless the creator/rights holder asked me to. Why? Because the
characters aren’t mine

2) I was an executive producer and principal writer of the DIAGNOSIS
MURDER TV series for many years and was approached by the studio and
publisher to write the books. In many ways, I shaped, guided, and
"controlled" the characters long before I started writing books about
them.  This makes me a rarity among tie-in writers. As far as I know, there isn’t anyone out there writing fanfic about the shows they wrote and produced.

3) I was writing for the TV series MONK for several seasons when the
creator/executive producer of the show approached me to write the
books.  I not only continue to write episodes of the show, but I write
the books with the executive producer’s full consent and creative input. How many fanficcers are also writing for the TV shows they are ripping off?

4) To date, I have only written tie-ins based on TV shows that I also wrote and/or produced. Again, that makes me a rarity among tie-in writers.

5) These are licensed tie-in novels, written under the contract with
the rights holders, who have full control over how their characters and
"worlds" are used. This is true of all tie-in writers…and no fanficcers.

6) I wrote my own, published novels long before I was approached to
write any tie-ins (in fact, they got me the tie-ins) and continue to do
so. My recent book THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, which got a starred
review from Kirkus and was favorably compared to Hammett and Chandler,
is currently nominated for a Shamus Award for Best Novel.

What I do isn’t comparable to fanfiction — which is using someone
else’s work without their consent or involvement and distributing on
the Internet. I don’t do it as my personal artistic expression — it’s
a job, one that I do to the best of my ability.

Like a fanficcer,  I am writing about characters I didn’t create and that are not my own. But, as I said before, unless approached to do so, I would have absolutely no interest or desire to write about someone else’s characters. Why? Because…and let me repeat this…
the characters aren’t mine. I didn’t create them. They don’t belong to me. I much prefer to write totally original work and if I could make my living only doing that, I would.

Write all the fanfiction you want to for practice — just don’t post
it on the Internet or publish it. Or if you do want to post it, ask the
creator/right’s holder for permission to do so first. How hard is that?

What I have yet to see any fanficcer explain why they
won’t to ask the creator or rights holder for permission before posting
and distributing their work. Or why fanficcers adamantly refuse to
follow the expressed wishes of creator/rights holders (for example,
Rowling has approved fanfiction based on Harry Potter as long as it’s
not sexually explicit…but that hasn’t stopped thousands of people from writing and posting Potter slash, disrespecting her and her wishes ).

I know the answer, of course. Fanficcers are terrified of officially being told NO… and identifying themselves in case they decide to blithely violate the author’s wishes anyway.

We Ho

"We Ho" is probably an apt way to describe what we Goldberg siblings do to sell our books but, in this case, Weho refers to the West Hollywood Book Fair, which we attended last Sunday. Mark Sarvas over at the Elegant Variation took the photo on the left and writes about his favorite panels of the day. That’s me, Karen, Stacy Bierlein (moderator), Tod, and Linda. You can click on the image to get a large image and see all of my chins.

The Sobol Award

Victoria Strauss, a crusader against publishing scams, is warning aspiring writers  to be wary of The Sobol Award contest. She writes, in part:

[…]the contest is being run by an
organization that apparently will eventually transform itself into a
literary agency, it is, in effect, a reading fee (according to the
contest rules, literary representation isn’t limited to the 10
winners–offers can be extended to semi-finalists).

[…]This is tantamount to signing with a literary agent whose background
you haven’t checked or aren’t able to research, and, in my view, is the
main argument for avoiding the contest.

Also, I’d never
advise a writer to pay $85 even for a contest of proven, unimpeachable

Good advice. If you were to ask me, I’d say save your money and submit your manuscript instead to an established literary agency or reputable publisher that doesn’t charge you anything to read your work.

(Thanks to Tari Akpodiete for the heads up)

Small Press vs Vanity Operation

In a previous post, I implied that getting a book published by New Babel Books wasn’t that big of a deal, provoking one reader to comment:

…I do find you a bit arrogant on other issues, such
as small presses. Frankly, I think you didn’t need to be snide about
New Babel Books. And no, I’m not associated with them in any way, shape
or form.

I have nothing against small
presses. I’ve been published by small presses (McFarland, Five Star,
etc.) and so have my friends and members of my family. 

I do have a something against vanity presses that pretend to be
something they aren’t to hoodwink aspiring writers out of their cash.

I also am very leery of so-called "small presses" created by an
author to publish his own work…at least until his work is far
outnumbered on the company’s list by books written by other authors.
Until then, it’s not a small press but a vanity operation…though
not in the sense that they are charging other authors to get into
print. It’s a vanity press in that it primarily exists to self-publish
one author.

For instance, Jim Michael Hansen self-publishes his LAWS mysteries
under the moniker Dark Sky Publishing. Those are the only books Dark Sky publishes. If tomorrow he publishes a book
by Jane Doe, I don’t think that makes Dark Sky a small press. In my
mind, he becomes a small press when the business clearly shifts from
being primarily geared towards selling his own work to editing, publishing, and distributing the work
of other writers (and paying them royalties).

On the other hand, Uglytown is an example of a local, small press that was started to serve the needs of
its author/founders and grew to become a legitimate and respected imprint
(which, sadly, is no longer in business).

Hard Case Crime began by publishing the work of its author/founders Charles Ardai and Max Phillips and
has grown to become a highly-acclaimed, respected, and exciting small press with
authors like Lawrence Block, Stephen King, and Ed McBain among their large list of titles.

New Babel Books was apparently established by author Frank Fradella to
publish his own books. Four of the six titles listed on the site
are his own.  The company’s FAQ reads:


New Babel Books exists because there are authors out there who have
extraordinary projects that don’t fit easily into the pigeonholes of
today’s industry. That makes it harder for them to find publisher.
Consequently, it makes it harder for you, the reader, to find truly
ground-breaking work. New Babel Books serves to bring the two of you

Meaning, it seems, that Frank couldn’t sell his  projects to any traditional publishers so he published them himself. Now he’s publishing books by two others (what’s not clear to me from the site is whether his books are P.O.D or not… I suspect that they are). The company’s mission statement reads, in part:

We shall deliver only those offerings which have endured the rigors of
our editorial process and promise to deliver an entertaining,
arresting, and unforgettable reading experience.

Not surprisingly, his four books, which make up the bulk of his "list," managed to make it through his own rigorous process…and will probably continue to do so. 

None of that means that New Babel Books won’t become a legitimate small press, but I wouldn’t call them one now.