I’ve Sold 150 Million Copies of My Books

Saharabk Okay, maybe I haven’t. But according to Clive Cussler, the number doesn’t matter anyway.

Cussler is on the witness stand here in L.A. in a clash of lawsuits over the failure of the movie SAHARA, based on one of his Dirk Pitt novels. He claims the movie-makers breached a contract that gave him total control over the script.  Based on accounts I’ve read of the producer’s testimony, it seems to me that he’s right.

The producers claim he fraudulently inflated the number of books he sold to get more money out of them for the movie rights. Based on Cussler’s testimony, reported today in the L.A. Times, it seems to me that they are probably right, too.

On Friday, Cussler offered myriad explanations for his accounting of the "Sahara" numbers. Asked if he pulled the numbers out of thin air, Cussler said, "Pretty much." He added: "I honestly thought I probably did sell 100 million books. That doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to me."

[…]Cussler previously testified in a deposition that his agent admonished him in the late 1990s never to say how many books he sold because the amount was not known. Instead, Cussler said, he was advised to use the phrase "books in print."

Asked why he continued to use the 100 million estimate anyway, Cussler testified on Friday, "I slipped up…. I forgot."

[…]In June 1999, Cussler described his frustration with the entertainment industry in a handwritten letter. "Over a hundred million books sold worldwide now, and still Hollywood doesn’t get it," he wrote.

In August 2000, Cussler’s website stated that he had sold more than 100 million books. The number was updated to 125 million in April 2003. That same month, Cussler said on a "Sahara" promotional video, "They tell me now they’ve sold over 130 million."

The remark "meant nothing," Cussler testified Friday.

The actual sales of his books from 1973-2000, according to an audit by a forensic accountant, is about 42 million copes. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty impressive number of books. You’d think Cussler would have been happy trumping that figure…without having to inflate it to 130 million. Then again, according to Cussler, it means nothing. If that’s so, why does he keep jacking up the number?

The reporting on the trial over the last few weeks has been fascinating and informative reading. We’re learning just how much people unapologetically and blatantly lie to each other in the movie business (as if we didn’t know already). We were also treated to a line-by-line dissection of the movie’s budget, right down to how much was spent on bribes.

As far as I’m concerned, both parties are at fault here. The only winners are the public, who are being treated to a trial that’s a lot more entertaining than SAHARA was.

I Say What Happens

I got this comment from Christie yesterday on a three-year-old post about someone I met at a mystery convention who wanted me to produce her great TV series idea.

For the sake of argument- assume you do have an excellent idea/script/series planned out. How would you, going from nothing, get to the point of having that on the air? Is it possible for a person to just hand it over to a producer and let them take the lead? Or is it completely necessary to do everything you did? Would it be possible to pass up the producing/directing/writing part, and just become the voice behind the show. The show-runner, as one may call it. As in "I say what happens" and "You make it happen".

I love these people who want a short-cut to becoming a showrunner that doesn’t involve any actual talent or experience. Clearly, Christie didn’t read my post very closely. I wrote, in part:

[…]television is a writers’ medium. The majority of TV producers are writers first and producers second. Every one of us wants to sell a TV series of our own. It’s the dream. It’s the chance to articulate your own creative vision instead of someone else’s. It’s the chance to not only write scripts and produce episodes, but also have a piece of the syndication, merchandizing, and all the other revenue streams that come from being an owner and not an employee.

[…]Getting to the point in your career that networks are interested in being in the series business with you isn’t easy. You have to write hundreds of scripts, work on dozens of series, and build a reputation as an experienced and responsible producer (Or you have to write and produce a huge hit movie, which often leads to an invitation to work your same magic in television). The point is, you don’t work that hard just to share the success with someone else who didn’t have to work for it.

What is the incentive to do all the hard work but give someone else all the money and control? There is none.

But don’t despair, Christie, it’s still possible to be someone who has never written, produced or directed a TV show and yet can still come up with an idea, hands it off to someone else to produce, and still gets to call all the shots and collect the money. All you have to do to is to earn the respect and power elsewhere …perhaps as a former network or studio president, or as a movie star, or as a bestselling novelist or successful screenwriter. 

Oh, wait, that would take some talent, hard work, and experience….and you don’t want to bother with any of that silly, unnecessary stuff. So I guess the answer is no, there isn’t a way you can be the person "who says what happens."

More Flops?

I got this email from Antonio Lopez today:

I am a huge fan of your books on Unsold TV Pilots. I have found it so fascinating that when I finished Vol. 2, I was left wanting more. When do you plan on releasing another volume that brings us up to date to today’s unaired pilots. This seems like a project that could be updated every five years. Please let me know if you plan on bringing us future volumes.

People ask me this a lot. I started writing the original UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS book when I was nine years old and finished it in 1989, when I was in my 20s. I sold it to McFarland & Co, a small publisher in North Carolina, which brought the book out as an expensive, library-edition hard-cover. The book got lots of publicity and stayed in print for over a decade. When it finally fell out of print, I brought it out again (at no cost to myself) as a two-volume paperback  edition through the Authors Guild’s Back-in-Print program with iUniverse. I also produced two hour-long, primetime specials based on the book — one for ABC and one for CBS.

Over the years I’ve continued to casually gather data on unsold pilots for a future volume or TV special, but I doubt either will happen. I don’t have the time to write another book and there isn’t enough money in it for me to make it worthwhile. Besides, the world has changed since 1989 and the data on unsold pilots is now readily available to TV professionals through paid, on-line databases, which renders the need for my book obsolete. The "clip show" special has become extinct on primetime for the time being due to the success of reality shows and the skyrocketing costs of licensing TV and movie clips.

So that’s a long-winded way of saying no, Antonio, I don’t think I’ll be writing another volume of UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS any time soon…but I hope that someday I’ll have a chance to do another TV special. Thanks for your interest, though.

Journal Revolution

1581809956_01__sclzzzzzzz_v22503957 JOURNAL REVOLUTION, the new book by my sisters Linda Woods and Karen Dinino, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. It’s the follow-up to their best-selling debut VISUAL CHRONICLES, which landed them a six minute segment on THE VIEW:

Journal enthusiasts of all levels will learn how to cut through the daily clutter in their minds to access deeper emotions, creatively express a wide range of moods and boldly record their deepest secrets. The authors’ honest humor and extreme affirmation will entertain and reassure the reader as they participate in fun, easy projects such as: · Me: UNdecorated: Revel in your uncensored thoughts by using paint, ink, papers and more to convey your edgiest feelings–the `you’ your parents may not know! · Save the Date: Use a calendar to create a vibrant visual journal that embraces even your seemingly mundane days. · Fauxlaroids: Journaling on Polaroids and other photos. · The Writing’s on the Wall: Decorating with journaled ephemera, and creative ways to frame it.

Another Word on THE LAST WORD

Moi_2Longtime DIAGNOSIS MURDER fan Chadwick Saxelid has read THE LAST WORD, the 8th and final book in the series, and didn’t find it a very pleasant experience. He says, in part:

With Diagnosis Murder #8: The Last Word author Lee Goldberg takes to the status quo of the series the way Godzilla takes to Tokyo.  He leaves no recognizable landmark standing, completely obliterating the status quo. […] This is dark stuff indeed and a major change of pace for the series.  […] This time around [he] takes the gloves off and does more than put Mark Sloan in a coma, he beats him bloody and senseless.  Watching Sloan rebound and regroup in an atypical manner completes the deconstruction of both the character and the series.  The Last Word truly is.

I certainly can’t argue with his overall take on the book, though I don’t think it’s any darker than THE PAST TENSE (#5) or THE DOUBLE LIFE (#7)…the other books in this "unofficial" trilogy. It was certainly my intent with THE LAST WORD — as well as PAST TENSE and DOUBLE LIFE — to explore, as deeply as I could, Dr. Mark Sloan and to make him more than just a one-dimensional TV character, a "doctor who solves crimes." Over those three books, and to a lesser degree in THE SHOOTING SCRIPT (#3), I was intentionally confronting/deconstructing the ridiculous conceits of the series in a backwards attempt to make the implausible, underlying concept more believable and, by extension, the characters more real. I know that sounds pretentious, but I like to think that’s what made these books read more like novels than simply knock-offs of a TV show…and why I was lucky enough to enjoy so much critical praise for them (even from Chadwick!).

If I ever decide to do more DM books, the resolution of THE LAST WORD opens the door to go in a new direction which…after being involved in four seasons of DM as a writer/producer and as the author of  eight books…I am ready to do. I think I have taken this particular format and these relationships about as far as they can go.

I’m curious to know what you think. Is THE LAST WORD a fitting end for the series? Or did I go too far?

Soho Noir

Smalllogo Someone just sent me this link to a Q&A interview I did some time ago with Soho Noir. I missed it when it originally went online. Here’s an excerpt:

What inspires your writing, where do your ideas come from?

When I was a kid, what inspired me was the sheer pleasure of writing and living in my dreams. Now my inspiration is equally driven by fear…the terror of not being able to pay my bills. My ideas can come from anywhere…an article in the newspaper, an overheard conversation, a "what-if" thought while driving in my car, a life experience. I never seem to be at a loss for ideas…it’s the details that kill me.

Novelist, scriptwriter, producer, you have been very successful at all three, and we are interested to know if you have a preference. If you had to choose between the three which one would it be?

If I could make the same amount of money writing books as I do from writing/producing TV shows, I could see walking away from screenwriting. I love TV, but the politics you have to deal with and the games you have to play can be exhausting and infuriating. On the other hand, being a novelist is a solitary pursuit and in television, you’re surrounded by enormously creative people and it’s inspiring.

There is a lot of fun in your work, is it difficult mixing crime with humour and why put the two together?

I can’t imagine writing anything without humor. There’s always something funny in every situation, it’s the balance that’s hard. But I find that humor is often what humanizes a character and makes the unbelievable believable.

The Executioners

Sb114 I just discovered the Mack Bolan/Executioner site (thanks to Ben Boulden). The best thing about it is the complete list of the 343 MACK BOLAN titles (not counting the 114 SuperBolans and 89 Stony Man titles) and the names of the ghostwriters who actually wrote the books.  Twenty-some years ago, when I was writing the .357 VIGILANTE books, I was approached to write an EXECUTIONER. They sent me a huge packet of material and I spoke to several authors about their experiences writing the books (I think I spoke to Raymond Obstfeld and Mike Newton), but after giving it some thought, I declined the offer. I ran into Mike last year at Boucheron (or was it Thrillerfest?) and it was great to catch up with him again. I wonder what ever happened to Raymond Obstfeld who, as I recall, was an English professor at some Southern California college (he also wrote the DIAMONDBACK westerns for Pinnacle, along with my buddy Paul Bishop).

Looking at this list of Bolan writers makes me appreciate even more how prolific Robert Randisi is …as "J.R. Roberts," he’s written the 312 GUNSMITH titles all by himself. And that’s not counting his many, many other books.

National Treasure

National Mark Evanier reports that the Mann National in Westwood is closing. I remember how wowed I was by that theater when I first came to Los Angeles in 1980 to go to school at UCLA. To me, the Mann National epitomized everything that was Hollywood. It was huge (this was the era before stadium seating), it was plush, it was gaudy, and it was glitzy. Every time a big movie opened at the theater, they’d paint a three-story reproduction of the one-sheet on the side of the building. And it wasn’t uncommon to bump into stars like Neil Simon, Dustin Hoffman, and Sean Connery at the popcorn counter. I once nearly collided with Woody Allen on my way out of theater…because I was busy staring up at one of those  big movie poster paintings. I saw hundreds of movies at that theater while I was in college…and every time I’ve driven past the building since, I’ve thought about those movie poster reproductions. I’m sorry to see the theater go…but given the value of real estate these days, I’m not surprised.