The Mail I Get

I received this email today from a complete stranger. It’s a good example of how NOT to sell a book. 

Please order my book XYZ at
and tell all your friends about it to. I have attached a release letter for you
so you can read what it is about. Please order it and then tell all your reader
friends so they can order it too. Maybe then I can become on my way to wealth.
Thank you for your time.

By "release letter," she means a press release from PublishAmerica that  contains an incoherent, one-paragraph summary of the book’s plot and some lies about the company being a "traditional publisher." I’m trying to imagine how anyone could think that this pitch would sell any books.

Another Get-Rich-Quick Scammer

You  know how much I love Lori Prokop and her laughable array of get-rich-quick schemes. Well, my brother Tod has found Lori’s dastardly male counterpart in Nick Daws, another self-proclaimed
"bestselling author"  of books you never heard of and can’t find in any bookstore. Daws’ "Quick Cash Writing Course" is the funniest author scam since Lori’s "Book Millionaire" debacle. But, as Tod writes:

There’s nothing funny about the desperation writers feel — spend even
a few hours in a workshop and you’ll see it in Technicolor — and as a
professor part of what I preach is that this isn’t easy. There’s no
back door. The only way to succeed is by doing, by handling rejection,
by improving. If you’re looking for Quick Cash, maybe make up a course
like the "bestselling" Nick Daws has, because desperate, foolish
writers will pay you for your precious secrets.

The Mail I Get

I received a lengthy email today from a woman in her 50s. It read, in part:

Who are the publishers that PAY “unknowns”
for their work?  How do I contact them? I’m an unknown author, writing a book about tragedy, near death experiences, and years of living with pain and how I learned to cope with
it all; and how God miraculously healed me of a debilitating, incurable disease.
My book is ready to be published. I worked with a literary agent (author coach)
for about three years. He got me a contract with Axiom Press, a subsidiary of
Evergreen Press.  But their cost to publish and market my book was between
$3,800 & $6,500 (depending on what services I chose).  I’m not
rich, do not have a big savings account and can not afford this!

[…]isn’t the biggest part of the money paid to the
publisher for marketing purposes?   That’s the way it seems to
me.[…]if I use a
POD and have to pay for all the marketing, etc.  Isn’t that going to
cost me in the long run, much more time and money that going through someone
like Tate? And who will set up my book signings?

Here’s what I told her: Every publisher buys books from unknown authors every day. You contact them through an agent. If they like your book, they offer you an advance against royalties. Your agent gets 10-15% of that advance, you get the rest. And if you earn your advance back in sales, you will get a royalty from every book that’s sold. You don’t advance the agent, or the publisher, a dime. That’s how publishing works.

An agent, or "author coach," who sets you up with someone who wants to charge you to publish your book is either a fool or a fraud. Either way, it’s a mistake to be in business with him, he doesn’t know what he is doing. 

The money you pay a vanity press isn’t going into marketing. It’s going into their car lease, their house payment, and their kid’s braces. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Tate or Jones Harvest or anybody else. They are all taking advantage of your desperation, gullibility and ignorance. 

But if you are hell-bent on paying to be published, save your money and go with iUniverse or Lulu. You’ll get the same "services" for a lot less.

The fact is that no vanity press is going to do any useful marketing for you — they will just empty your savings account (and that includes iUniverse). No newspapers or magazines are interested in reviewing any books from vanity press publishers. Nobody at a vanity press is going to set up any meaningful booksignings for you, either, because bookstores don’t want to host events for vanity press authors. Why? Because the vast majority of vanity press books are ugly, horrendous crap.

It’s cheaper, and more productive, to approach the bookstores on your own…something even professional authors do (and no one does it better than my friend author Joe Konrath).  Most of the successful authors I know have worked hard to establish strong, PERSONAL relationships with booksellers.

So, fire your useless fraud of an agent/coach and if you are going to self-publish,  go with iUniverse or Lulu and avoid any of their marketing packages.

UPDATE 12/29/07:  I heard back from the woman.

No, I do not want to PAY for publishing my
book.  I’ve always been under the impression that a reputable place
pays YOU for your work…but I was given a bunch of mis-information that
they don’t do that these days.  (That’s just the way it is,
and if you get it published you’ll have to pay a publisher because you
are an “unknown”. ) I’m so glad I came upon your web
site before I sent it to someone like Tate! Thanks again – for saving me from a
horrible mistake!

Movies A-Go-Go

I’m on strike…and on Christmas break…and I’m a lazy ass, so I have been catching up on my DVD awards screeners (one of the perks of being in the WGA, but I’m sure the AMPTP will roll that back on us, too).

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL – Cute and enjoyable, though the central conceit wears thin after awhile.
I’m looking forward to the USA Network series in which Lars and the Real Girl become a private eyes.

MARGO AT THE WEDDING – What a mess…but just when you are about to give up on it and watch BOSTON LEGAL on the Tivo instead, there will be a great line or a good performance. Jack Black is always fun, but he seems to be performing in an entirely different, and much better, movie.

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR – It’s one of the better first season episodes of THE WEST WING.

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY – Even better the fifth time. I loved it.  And I admire the creative choices. It takes really guts to have the third movie take place, chronologically, in the final act of the second film….and real skill to actually pull it off. 

A Footnote to the Ardai Issue

Lately, Hard Case Crime editor and publisher Charles Ardai has gone to great pains to claim he’s not really an editor and publisher…and that his book SONGS OF INNOCENCE, which was published under his imprint, isn’t self-published and therefore should be eligible for Edgar consideration.
I guess he forgot about the interview he gave for this month’s issue of Mystery News about the evolution  of Hard Case Crime:

…and [Max Phillips] went off and mocked up some dummy covers to show me what it might look like if we did publish our own books in the old style. I’d worked as an editor of mystery anthologies for years, so it was simple for me to go to my bookshelves and compile a list of some great and undeservedly forgotten novels it would be fun for us to reprint. And Max and I are both writers ourselves, so we agreed we’d each write a book of our own for the line, guaranteeing that we’d have at least two original novels along with all the reprints.

Going Too Far

TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello reports that VERONICA MARS creator Rob Thomas has considered continuing the cancelled series a comic book…but has been warned off the project by the WGA. Thomas says:

"I had a second meeting with DC comics. I heard that the [WGA] didn’t
want [TV writers penning TV-based] comic books during the strike as it
would promote a network property. We’re investigating whether there are
similar hurdles for a defunct TV series like Veronica Mars. Naturally, I won’t be writing it if the Guild doesn’t want me to, but we’re hoping that’s not the case."

I am a strong supporter of the WGA and of the strike, but if what Thomas says is true, the Guild is going way, way too far. The Guild has absolutely no jurisdiction over any writing that their members do in the publishing industry. It would be a big stretch, legally and ethically, for the WGA to call writing a VERONICA MARS comic book, or a MONK tie-in novel for that matter, an activity that undermines the strike effort in any way. 

In my case, if I used the WGA strike as an excuse not to honor my publishing contract to deliver my next MONK novel, then Penguin/Putnam, which has no ties whatsoever to the AMPTP, would sue me… and win.

(Thanks to TVSeriesFinales for the heads-up and to Aintitcool for the graphic).

A Breakfast Surprise

I got a nice surprise with my breakfast bagel this morning. Paula Woods reviewed the anthology HOLLYWOOD & CRIME in today’s Los Angeles Times and gave my story a rave:

Lee Goldberg’s "Jack Webb’s Star," is a riotous caper crime with a
nasty twist that starts in a traffic school class in the Taft building,
where among the offenders is a hapless man ticketed for drunk driving
in his wheelchair.

She also singled out stories by my friends Dick Lochte, Gar Haywood, and Michael Connelly for praise.

You can order the book here.

A Victory Against Vanity Press Scammers

Writers Beware reports the very good news that vanity press scammer Airleaf Publishing, aka Bookman Marketing, was shut down on Dec. 19th, thanks to the aggressive efforts of a group of 275 defrauded authors. Their fight isn’t over — the authors are seeking criminal prosecution against Airleaf founder Carl Lau. 

But what about Airleaf execs/defenders Brien Jones and Krystal Hatfield? How culpable were they in the alleged fraud?

I don’t know what happened to Hatfield but Jones, who worked at Bookman for four years,  is still out there, only now he’s operating as Jones Harvest Publishing.

For the outrageous sum of $1750, he will produce your book in POD format…and maybe even feature you among his "Author Celebrity Associates." The first thing you’ll notice about the those Author Celebrity Associates is that 99% of them are elderly, which makes me wonder if Jones is trolling old folks homes for suckers these days instead of the iUniverse book catalog.

He’s also making the same pitch that  he did at Airleaf:

Not only do we publish every kind of book, more
importantly we sell those new books to bookstores. In addition, we
promote our authors books by contacting newspapers, radio and
television stations.
Most exciting of all, we pitch our client’s books in Hollywood, CA to
producers and directors.

At Airleaf, those claims turned out to be false. The closest Airleaf got to Hollywood was reportedly a trip to the Universal Studios Tour. 

Jones’ idea of "pitching" his clients to Hollywood is to attend The Great American Pitchfest with some of his suckers.  It’s not like Jones is opening any doors with his stellar Bookman reputation… Pitchfest is open to the public. Anyone can attend and pitch their ideas without having to pay Jones a penny.

If Jones keeps following the Airleaf/Bookman playbook, I”m sure we will be hearing more about him very soon.

(FYI: Jones is also doing business as  ,,,      and

UPDATE:  Poor, misunderstood Airleaf scammer Carl Lau blames his woes on Bonnie Kaye, who is the founder of, and his former exec Brien Jones in a newspaper article published earlier this month.

Enjoying the Sunday Paper

There’s a lot to enjoy in today’s LA Times Book Review. For one thing, there’s Seth Greenland’s amusing essay on why everybody in Starbucks is writing novels instead of scripts these days (and it’s not because of the strike).

Remember when your real estate agent was working on a screenplay? Or
that one your cousin the accountant was writing? Or the script your
dental hygienist was laboring on, which she pitched to you in its
entirety while your mouth was wrapped in a dental dam so you couldn’t
politely beg her to shut up?

That’s so true. I was immediately reminded of my partner Bill Rabkin’s wedding. Just before the ceremony, his Rabbi pitched us a detective show about three private eyes — one blind, one deaf and one who couldn’t speak. I once got a pitch while getting a flexible sigmoidoscopy (don’t ask).  Seth goes on to say:

Those days have mercifully ended. Now, aspiring writers in
Southern California are abandoning their Final Draft software and
thronging to the novel writing classes at UCLA Extension. What’s going
on here? Are there larger cultural doings afoot?

I know that’s true, too. My brother Tod has had more than a few screenwriters and showrunners in his novel-writing class lately. Seth attributes the change to Hollywood’s growing reliable on blockbuster, high-concept films .

Dialogue and character? Forget it! What people really wanted was
spectacle. The thinking writer’s Hollywood was disappearing. The
aesthetic shift ushered in by Spielberg’s mechanical shark was
completed two years later with the release of "Star Wars." This,
essentially, is the movie business today. And yet, this is also why a new generation of novelists is being born

I also enjoyed reading Mark Lamster’s wickedly critical review of John Silber’s "Architecture of the Absurd," a book I bought two weeks ago in the museum shop at the Pompidou Center in Paris and read on the plane home.  I’m not plugged into the architecture scene, but reading the book, I got a sense there was more to Silber’s critique than met the eye. Turns out I was right:

That Silber sees the architect as inordinately powerful is not
surprising. His father, the book’s dedicatee, had an architectural
practice in Texas, for which Silber fils
occasionally worked. Ever since, it seems, he has engaged in a kind of
Oedipal drama, brazenly attacking the profession’s authority figures.
He recalls an incident at a dinner in 1952 when, "much to the
consternation" of his father, he attempted a battle of wits with Frank
Lloyd Wright: "Wright was not impressed and quickly dismissed my
impertinence." Years later, we find Silber, now a professor at Yale,
pestering Louis I. Kahn for not putting Plexiglas switch plates in the
university’s art gallery. "There was no response." Go figure.

Predictably, Silber is the hero of his story, a one-man bulwark against
architectural folly. At Boston University, he claims to have overseen
more than 13 million square feet of construction. Nearly all of it
lacks intellectual ambition, and no wonder. Under his regime,
architects were kept in line: "I dismissed their elaborate, high-flown
aesthetic justifications of design features as gratuitous bloviation."
He would know about bloviation. In a book devoted to architectural
indulgence, Silber sets a standard for arrogance far exceeding that of
his subjects.

The pictures in the book are still worth the cover price.  All in all, the book review section today was surprisingly enjoyable and accessible…something you could never say about the LATBR under Steve Wasserman’s watch. That said, I’d still like to see more mysteries and thrillers reviewed…and judging by the LA Times Bestseller list, in which six of the ten books are mysteries or thrillers, it’s what Southern Californians are reading.