Playing Favorites II

There has been quite a lot reaction to the post, and "back blog" discussion, on Sarah Weinman’s blog regarding the MWA’s determination that Charles Ardai’s SONG OF INNOCENCE is ineligible for Edgar consideration because it is a self-published book.

The most unusual development in this discussion is that now Charles Ardai is going to great lengths  to portray himself as just a book packager — someone who brings manuscripts to a publishing house in exchange for a commission or fee — rather than as an editor and publisher. 

This turn-of-events is especially surprising given that he has never characterized himself as a packager before,  at least not in the dozens of articles and interviews I have browsed through today on the web, nor on the Hard Case Crime site, nor in the books that he publishes (where he actually states on the copyright page that "Hard Case Crime books are selected and edited by Charles Ardai," an unusual  statement for a simple  "book packager" to make). Nor have I found any instance of him correcting anyone else who has referred to him as a publisher, editor and founder of Hard Case Crime. In fact, he has done just the opposite, taking justifiable pride as editor and publisher of one of the best mystery imprints in existence today. As he says on Sarah’s blog:

It would be foolish, of course, for me to argue that I am not, in the
public’s eye, the "publisher" of Hard Case Crime (and the editor of the
line and the face and voice of the line — I’m proud to play these

The irony is that even if one were to accept his new characterization of himself as a book packager and not, as he has claimed before, a publisher and editor — and if you were to accept his arguments regarding his relationship with Dorchester — his book would still not be eligible for Edgar consideration under our rules that define "self publication." So why is he bothering to make the distinction?

Charles Ardai argues that even if his book is a self-published title, its exclusion from the Edgars shows the injustice of the MWA in not allowing self-published books for award consideration. I disagree, for many of the same reasons that author Jason Pinter expressed on his blog today:

Having been on the other side of the publishing desk, I equate MWA’s
banning of self-published books to the rule most larger houses have of
not accepting unagented submissins. The rule is not there, of course,
out of snobbery, but to act as quality control for editors and
publishers whose time is already taxed to begin with.

[…]Getting self-published today is easier than ever. It does not take any
editorial or authorial skill to be self-published, only a pile of paper
and enough money to cover the costs. And for many, the cost is worth
seeing your manuscript bound between two covers. I can be relatively
certain that if all self-published books were permitted, the time
consumed would go from "minor inconvenience" to "near insurmountable"
almost overnight. Not to mention, in my opinion, it would encourage
even more self-publishing,
as aspiring authors would soon realize that for $199 they could be
judged on the same field as Lawrence Block. And if this leads to
authors paying a few books to get their books bound for award
consideration instead of honing their craft, I think it’d be a real
shame and could actually do the opposite of what’s intended.

[…]Since anyone can self-publish a book with ease, what is the real
difference between a self-published book and a stack of loose
manuscript pages? Or somebody with a Word file saved on their hard
dive? There must be some sort of quality control.

I would never equate Ardai’s book with "a stack of loose manuscript pages." He is an accomplished, acclaimed and respected author. But the fact remains that he self-published his novel. He was simply in a position to do a better, and much more professional job of it, than someone like Jim Hansen or John Q. Public with a credit card who only has access to services like Lulu. Ardai, on the other hand, has the advantage of already heading his own publishing company…or, if you accept his new argument, to have an existing book packaging arrangement with Dorchester under which he could include his own book.

The solution to this "problem" (not that I agree there is one) is for Ardai to submit his next book to a publisher he neither owns nor has a business relationship with as a "book packager."

Noir Melanie

I watched the THE DROWNING POOL again last night, which starred Paul Newman in his second turn as "Lew Harper." I’ve seen the HARPER sequel a dozen time before, but somehow I never noticedMelanie_griffith
the striking similarities between the role that a young Melanie Griffith played in the movie and her role in Gene Hackman’s NIGHT MOVES, another classic private eye movie made around the same time. She was a good actress in her teens…long before she let the plastic surgeons at Walmart work on her face.

Playing Favorites

Today, Sarah Weinman wrote about the MWA’s decision that Charles Ardai’s book SONG OF INNOCENCE is ineligible for Edgar consideration because it’s a self-published title. Charles is the editor and publisher of Hard Case Crime, which also published his novel.  She asked me about it before she wrote her piece because I am the Edgar Chair this year and, therefore, the one who had to deliver the bad news to Charles. Here’s is how I explained the situation to her:

The decision on SONGS OF INNOCENCE was not a reflection of our "new
active membership status rules." The rule about self-published books
being ineligible for Edgar consideration has been in effect for several
years and is clearly stated on our website. (LITTLE GIRL LOST, for
example, was originally published by Five Star before the Hard Case
Crime paperback reprint or it would not have been eligible). Our
guidelines state:

"Among (but not all of) the situations defined as "self-published or
cooperatively published" are works by those who have paid all or part of the
cost of publication or distribution of the work; works printed and bound by
a company that does not place the work in physical (aka brick-and-mortar)
bookstores; those works for which the authors were required by the publisher
to pay any monies whatsoever before or during publication; those published
by "cooperative" publishing or others which require authors to pay for
marketing; those published by privately held publishing companies with whom
the writer has a familial or personal relationship beyond simply author and
publisher; those published by companies or imprints that do not publish
other authors; those published by publishing companies in which the writer
has a financial interest."

Charles Ardai obviously has a considerable financial interest in
Hard Case Crime. Not only is he the founder and te publisher, he is
also the primary editor. He has said so in countless published
interviews. In fact, he states it outright on the copyright page of SONGS OF INNOCENCE. The page states that the book
was published in collaboration with Winterfall, LLC, which is his
company. It also definitively states that "Hard Case Crime books are
selected and edited by Charles Ardai," who is also the author of the
book. On the Hard Case Crime webpage, it states:"Hard Case Crime was
created by Charles Ardai and Max Phillips; the line is published as a
collaboration between Winterfall LLC and Dorchester Publishing."

No one is saying or implying that Hard Case Crime is a vanity press.
It is a respected and legitimate publisher that I, and all the members
of Edgar Ad-Hoc Committee, admire. However, as unfair as it may seem to
Charles, his book unquestionably meets our definition of a
self-published title under the rules we adopted in 2006….which is why
the committee unanimously voted that it is ineligible for Edgar
consideration. If the book had been published by another publisher,
like St. Martins or Penguin for example, it would have been eligible.

This decision is no reflection whatsoever on the quality of the
book, which many of us on the committee have read and enjoyed. In fact,
the point of our guidelines is to assure that decisions about Edgar
eligibility are made regardless of a work’s perceived quality (or lack
thereof) or the popularity (or lack thereof) of the author.

If we allow Charles’ book to be considered for an Edgar, then we
would have to accept *all* self-published titles for consideration,
otherwise we would guilty of blatant favoritism. Charles has my respect
and my sympathy but the MWA is not prepared at this time to accept
self-published titles simply to allow SONGS OF INNOCENCE to be
considered for an Edgar.

Sarah basically argues that this is wrong because his book is well-reviewed, he’s an award-winning author, and Hard Case Crime is a highly respected publisher. She believes, and so does Charles, that we should either make exceptions for critically-acclaimed works, and those written by highly respected authors, or simply allow all self-published titles to be eligible.

I disagree. Speaking only for myself, and not the MWA, I think those suggestions would turn the Edgars into a popularity contest. In their view, and one folks like Jim Hansen share, is that whoever gets the best reviews, or is the genre darling of the moment, deserves special attention…others don’t.

The only reason Sarah is peeved about this situation is because Charles is a remarkably talented, award-winning writer and a highly respected publisher. If we were talking about someone else — a writer with a book from PublishAmerica or even Jim Hansen — this wouldn’t be an issue for her.

Personally, I think the MWA rule is a good one. I don’t think we should allow self-published books to be eligible for Edgar consideration. The fact that the self-published rule applies equally to Charles Ardai as it does to someone less well-known and well-reviewed speaks to the inherent fairness and objectivity of the rule. We have created a level playing field.  All self-published authors are treated the same, whether they are poorly reviewed or former Edgar-winners, complete unknowns or highly respected.

If his book was published by St. Martin’s or Random House, instead of under his own imprint, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But he chose not to do that. For whatever reason, he chose to publish it through his own company. My guess — and it’s purely that — would be so he could exercise more control over how his novel was packaged and marketed. And, I assume, out of pride in his work and in his imprint. To say that his book is not self-published because he didn’t go to iUniverse or lulu, or doesn’t own Dorchester, is disingenuous.

Should the MWA consider every mystery or crime novel that’s published in the U.S., regardless of how it was published?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t allow every single movie released in the U.S. to be eligible and considered for Oscars…nor should they. The MWA doesn’t consider every single mystery novel published for Edgars, either. Nor do I believe they should.

I’m sure there are lots of Oscar-quality movies that are being over-looked because they don’t meet the Academy’s criteria, which I’m sure some people think are draconian and unfair. Like the Academy, the MWA has criteria. Not including self-published work is one of them. It’s inevitable that some good books, like Charles Ardai’s, will not be considered. I don’t blame him for  being hurt and angry, but that said, I don’t think this indicates any a flaw in our rules.

When All Is Said and Done

When the Mystery Writers of America announced their revised criteria for active membership and publisher-approval, there were some people stomping their feet and declaring that the organization would see a huge drop in membership.

Well, I am pleased and not at all surprised to say that the exact OPPOSITE has occurred. We have seen a huge DECREASE in non-renewals…from 300 this time last year to 200 this year. We also have INCREASED our membership by nearly 100 members.

These numbers show our organization has actually been strengthened by the new rules. New members have joined and more existing members have renewed. This should tell you a lot about exactly who was decrying our tighter regulations and what their agendas were….

Fanfic Survivor

Novelist Lorraine Bartlett writes on her blog about her early experiences in fanfic.

I’ve never been ashamed of my writing roots.  I started out writing
classic Star Trek stories when I was a teenager.  These days fanfic has
a seedy reputation and, sad to say, rightly so. […] Back in my day, distribution of these stories was small.  A big
print run was 200 copies.  Now millions of people worldwide can peek at
badly written fan stories from franchises that are still hot.  I can’t
say I blame the writers/producers for objecting. 

It was while she was a fanficcer that she discovered what it feels like to have your work stolen though, ironically, her work was also copyright infringement.

A "fannish" person removed the names of the authors
from the stories in one of my zines (and my story as well) and sold
hundreds, possibly a thousand copies of that fanzine at professionally
run SF/Fantasy conferences.

That was my first taste of what copyright infringement feels like.
I complained to the conference organizers, but since our stories were
quite blatantly copyright infringement themselves, we didn’t have a leg
to stand on.  Still, I hated the fact my work was stolen.

Mannix is the Man

The Los Angeles Times published a lengthy appreciation of MANNIX today:

Somewhere out there, in the weird, quivering underbelly of the American dream, "Mannix" still lives.

Somewhere, there’s a place where a sportcoat-clad private eye can whip
around L.A. in a convertible, get beaten down by goons, shake it off
with a scotch on the rocks, then solve the case of the week with an
assist from his leggy secretary.

Somewhere out there, but not on DVD.

"Mannix," one of the longest-running, most violent (for its time), most
popular television detective shows in the medium’s history, has been
left out of the DVD trade. It’s fading into the forgotten realm of old
television shows nobody remembers.

I do. What the reporter didn’t mention was that two decades after the show was canceled, Bill Rabkin and I brought MANNIX back in highest rated DIAGNOSIS MURDER episode ever. The LA Times was one of the many newspapers and magazines that wrote about it back in 1997:

Mike Connors acknowledges that it’s been "kind of strange" to step back into
private investigator Joe Mannix’s well-worn shoes after 22 years for Thursday’s
episode of CBS’ "Diagnosis Murder."

"I’m really enjoying it," says the very fit 71-year-old actor. "Once they
start calling you Mannix and Joe, of course, it becomes a little easier."

Connors played the strong and suave shamus on the CBS action series "Mannix"
from 1967 to 1975, receiving four Emmy nominations.

This unique episode of "Diagnosis Murder" cleverly teams Mannix with his old
friend Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke) to solve a murder case that the detective
was unable to crack on his own series 24 years ago.

Scenes from the 1973 "Mannix" episode "Little Girl Lost" are used in
flashback sequences. Pernell Roberts, Beverly Garland and Julie Adams, who were
guest stars on the original episode, also appear.

"It’s such a good idea," the jovial Van Dyke says between takes on the
"Diagnosis Murder" hospital set in Van Nuys. "We weave the old show in so well
with the flashbacks."

The program marks the first time these two TV icons have worked together. "I
have known Mike for a long time," Van Dyke says. "We are really having a good

Watching the filming with great delight are supervising producers Lee
Goldberg and William Rabkin, who came up with the idea of weaving the two series
together over lunch one day.

"We talked about one of our favorite shows, which was ‘Mannix,’ and we
couldn’t believe no one had brought back the show," says Goldberg. "When we were
kids we used to pretend we were Mannix. He drove the coolest car. He never got
his hair mussed. I wanted to be as self-assured and as confident as he was."

After coming up with the idea of combining an old "Mannix" show with
"Diagnosis Murder," Goldberg and Rabkin, who describe themselves as "TV geeks,"
began their search for the perfect "Mannix" episode.

"I had a book called ‘Television Detective Shows of the 1970s,’ which lists
every episode of every single detective show of the 1970s," Goldberg says. "So
we started looking through eight seasons of ‘Mannix’ and making a list of
episodes where the guest stars were alive, affordable and the story sounded
interesting. We must have pulled 30 of them and watched them."

"Little Girl Lost," Goldberg says, "had enough emotional resonance that it
would carry over 20 years. What is great about this episode is that Mannix
promised this little girl he would find her father’s killer. In the episode, he
actually discovers this whole mob plot, but he never actually nails the killer."

Goldberg then had to get up enough nerve to call his idol. "We couldn’t write
the episode until we got him on board. So essentially I spent an hour on the
phone assuring him this wouldn’t be a ‘Naked Gun’ spoof. We wouldn’t be making
fun of him and this would be a genuine continuation and it would be a real meaty

Though his hair is still perfect, time has caught up with Mannix after too
many years of hard living. While in the emergency room, Dr. Sloan discovers
Mannix has a potentially deadly heart condition. Being the ultimate tough guy,
the private eye refuses to listen to his old friend’s warnings.

"We knew we couldn’t have him be the man he was 20 years ago," Goldberg says.
"But we also had to be true to that man and we got a kick pairing him up with
Dr. Sloan, who is soft-spoken and tries to get answers out of people being
roundabout and clever, and Mannix is in your face."

Beverly Garland, who is reprising her role as a tough cookie named Stella,
quips that doing this show was like "coming back from the grave!"

"It was the best," says Garland, who first worked with Connors in the
low-budget 1955 Roger Corman flick "Swamp Women." "It’s going to be fun to see
all of us the way we were. It’s going to be an interesting show. It works."


Run Away Screaming from Hilliard & Harris

I got this email today:

I am thinking about submitting my mystery/romance/thriller to Hilliard & Harris. What can you tell me about them?

In my opinion, Hilliard & Harris are essentially a Print-On-Demand vanity press that gets you to pay on the backend rather than upfront (if you don’t include what you pay to buy copies of your own books). Here’s how they do it:  they load their contract with an enormous number of egregious charges against royalties so that in the highly unlikely event that your book does make money, you won’t see much of it.

For example, they deduct from your sales the cost of returns, cost of printing, cost of shipping, sales transaction costs, cost of insurance, commissions, discounts, cost of promotion, collection costs, taxes, as well as "other reasonable costs,"  just in case they left anything out, like maybe their electric bill and the pizzas they had for lunch.

None of their listed costs, with the exception of returns, are "reasonable" charges against royalties. But since they are primarily a POD publisher, the cost of returns is a moot point anyway. No reputable, legitimate publisher charges authors for printing, shipping, insurance, collections, promotion, commissions, taxes and "sales transaction costs" (whatever the hell those are)…but vanity presses do.

That’s only one example of the many objectionable terms in their loathsome contract, which an author would have to be insane to sign. Run away screaming.

My Brother Gets BURNED

Today, my brother Tod talks about his new, three-book deal to write original novels based on the USA Network series BURN NOTICE:

How this came about is how many things come about when you’re not
expecting them — your brother calls you from a scratchy phone in
Germany and says, "Hey, do you like the show Burn Notice?" You reply,
"Yeah, I love it. It’s like an Elmore Leonard novel crossed with Steven
Soderbergh’s direction and a dash of Albert Brooks’ mother issues for
good measure. Why?" And then twenty minutes later you’re on the phone
with your agent, 36 hours later you’re making demands of the publisher,
72 hours later you’re sitting down with Matt Nix […]and you’re discussing the show he created, Burn Notice, and then, about
100 hours later, you’re figuring out just how on Earth you’re going to
meet your first deadline — February — without getting hooked on crank