Stepping into a Dead Author’s Shoes

When an author of a beloved character passes away, often their estates will cast a new writer to take over the job of keeping the character in print. V.C. Andrews, Ralph Compton, Don Pendleton, and Robert Ludlum are almost more prolific now than they were when they were alive.

There’s a webcast interview with Raymond Benson, who wrote the James Bond books for many years, and Robert Goldsborough, who wrote the Nero Wolfe books after Rex Stout passed away, posted at Go to the middle of the page, find the section called "Writers Webcast with Chris Angelos" and download the link dated February 28, which is the interview.

I haven’t heard it yet, but knowing the two authors, I bet it’s an interesting peek into the world of posthumous writing.

CSI: DUBAI anyone?

Paul Levine keeps sending me good stuff. He clued me in to a Wall Street Journal article about the French version of LAW AND ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT.

"Paris Enquêtes Criminelles," as the French version will be called, highlights a major shake-up brewing in the TV industry’s $8 billion export business. Foreign broadcasters, once happy to buy dubbed versions of old U.S. comedies and dramas, are discovering that their viewers — particularly the younger ones advertisers pay a premium to reach — would rather watch original shows. As a result, demand is softening for dubbed shows in some markets and soaring for new scripts to film. That’s prompting U.S. studios to offer localized versions of their tried and true hits to foreign customers, touting them as an option that’s faster than starting entirely from scratch.

[…]translating it into French hasn’t been easy. [Dick Wolf] has insisted on elaborate control, right down to the sound of the signature "ca-ching" heard on each episode. Delays have caused the project to be nearly two years in the making, as producers on both sides of the Atlantic endured casting disputes, cultural tensions and the occasional debate over gun-toting techniques.

If you follow the link, you can even get a peek at the show’s main title sequence.

Where Books Sell

Paul Levine tipped me off to this interesting blog post by James Grippando, who was on a panel with James Patterson at a marketing seminar. Some interesting facts came out at the seminar about where the most books are sold…

Can you name the two main outlets for hardcover bestsellers? Are you guessing Barnes and Noble and Borders? Wrong. It’s Costco and Walmart. The key to my question is the word bestsellers. Costco and Walmart sell fewer titles, but they sell more bestsellers. Their share of the book market overall, says Deighton, is 12%, but their share of the “bestseller” market is 34%. Here’s something else I found interesting: In 2004 had only a 2% share of the bestseller market—a number that Deighton regards as “relatively insignificant.”

Just goes to show that authors and self-promotion gurus who fixate on Amazon stats are wasting their time.


The LA Times Book Review has been slightly more readable and a lot less snooty under editor David Ulin, but it’s still dull, uninspiring, and a bore to look at. And the advertisers are bored, too. Like most readers, the advertisers are ignoring the section entirely. Publishers Weekly notes that there were only two ads in the Feb 25 issues — one for a ghostwriting service, the other an announcement of a David Mamet signing at Borders.

Both LAT editor James O’Shea and book editor David Ulin said the paper is committed to providing extensive book coverage, including reviews. But while O’Shea said he had rejected a suggestion from his predecessor that he kill the Sunday book review, he hinted that it may not remain a stand-alone section.

Whenever I left town on business, I used to have my wife save the Book Review sections so I could read them when I got back. A few months ago I told her not to bother. I don’t even read the section when I’m in town anymore.

(Since Ulin took over, the blog critics of the Book Review have been notably silent. Perhaps because Ulin is, I am told, a more likable guy than his predecessor and shrewdly hired several of the bloggers as freelance reviewers, effectively silencing them. Another former critic of the Book Review just sold his first novel and, perhaps, doesn’t want to upset any reviewers. All I know is that they’ve shut up…and the Book Review isn’t much better than it was before)

I’m all for radical change at the Book Review, because as it stands now, the Fry’s ads are more fun to read and more interesting to look at. They need to make it livelier, more relevant, and a lot more visually appealing. If that means bundling the reviews with an existing section (like Calender), then so be it. I think the only thing that has kept the throwaway Book Review alive this long is that killing it would have reflected badly on hugely the successful (and wonderful!) Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the prestige of the Times book awards.

Breaking In

I’ve been looking at my stats and I’ve noticed that there are some posts that people are repeatedly searching out. I’ll start reposting some of them for those of you who only started following this blog in the last year or so. This one is from November 2005 and is also available as an article on the Writers University website…

How do I become a television writer if I don’t have any contacts?

I get asked this question a lot…but it’s disingenuous, since I’m a TV writer/producer and whoever is asking me that is really asking me to either read their script or to invite them in to pitch. So, theoretically, they already know somebody in the business.

They’re luckier than I was when I got started. I didn’t know anybody in the TV industry. But I got in. How did I do it? Everybody’s story is unique. Most of those stories, however, share one common element. You have to put yourself in the right place to get your lucky break. And it’s easier than you think.

The first thing you have to do is learn your craft. Take classes, preferably taught by people who have had some success as TV writers. There’s no point taking a class from someone who isn’t an experienced TV writer themselves.

You’d think that would be common sense, but you’d be astonished how many TV courses are taught by people who don’t know the first thing about writing for television or who, through a fluke, sold a story to Manimal twenty years ago and think that qualifies them to take your hundred bucks. Even more surprising is how many desperate people shell out money to take courses from instructors who should be taking TV writing courses themselves.

There’s another reason to take a TV writing course besides learning the basics of the craft. If you’re the least bit likeable, you’ll make a few friends among the other classmates. This is good, because you’ll have other people you can show your work to. This is also good because somebody in the class may sell his or her first script before you do… and suddenly you’ll have a friend in the business.

Many of my writer/producer friends today are writers I knew back when I was in college, when we were all dreaming of breaking into TV some day.

A writer we hired on staff on the first season of Missing was in a Santa Monica screenwriters group… and was the first member of her class to get a paying writing gig. Now her friends in the class suddenly had a friend on a network TV show who could share her knowledge, give them practical advice and even recommend them to her new agent and the writer/producers she was working with.

Another route is to try and get a job as a writer/producer’s assistant on an hour-long drama. Now only will you get a meager salary, but you will see how a show works from the inside. You’ll read lots of scripts and revisions and, simply by observation, get a graduate course in TV writing. More important, you’ll establish relationships with the writers on the show and the freelancers who come through the door. Many of today’s top TV producers were writer/producer assistants once. All of the assistants I’ve had have gone on to become working TV writers themselves… and not because I gave them a script assignment or recommended them for one. I didn’t do either.

The first step towards getting into pitch a TV producer for an episodic writing assignment is to write an episodic teleplay on spec.

By that I mean, a pick a show and write an episode for it.

Although there are some producers who prefer to read screenplays, most showrunners, agents, and network executives want to read an episodic teleplay. Even if your spec feature script has acceptable levels of dialogue, characterization, and structure, people thinking of hiring you will still wonder “yes, but can he handle my characters? Does he understand the four act structure?” An original piece can demonstrate that you have a strong voice, but it doesn’t show whether or not you blend that voice with ours. Can you write what we need without losing whatever it is that makes you unique? That’s why we need to see your talents applied to a TV episode. To someone else’s characters. To someone else’s voice.

How do you pick a show to spec? Easy. Pick a show you like. Odds are, if you’re thinking about trying to become a TV writer, you already know what show you want to spec — you just don’t know you know. It’s the one you watch every week, and when it’s over, you find yourself thinking: That was pretty good, but wouldn’t it be cool if —"
Don’t worry about what’s hot and what’s not – choose a show you feel a connection to, one that you “get.” With some exceptions:

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Fast Track

One of the reasons I have been jetting back-and-forth to Europe a lot lately is because I’m writing and producing a two-hour movie/pilot for Action Concept that will be shot in Berlin in May for  broadcast on ProSieben (a big German network) and worldwide in international syndication. I’ve waited until we got the firm greenlight before sharing the news with you (I’m superstitious that way).

The project is called FAST TRACK and is about urban street racing (yes, I’m being intentionally vague). The movie will be packed with amazing, street-racing action (check out the Action Concept website to see what these guys can do!) and shot entirely in English. The leading roles are being cast in Los Angeles by Burrows/Boland,  who did LORD OF THE RINGS, KING KONG, CAST AWAY, 21 JUMP STREET, CONTACT, A-TEAM, DIAGNOSIS MURDER and MARTIAL LAW, to name a few.

I’ll bring you reports from the set as production moves along.