The Mail I Get – Cringe-Inducing Edition

I got an email today from an author who wanted to convince me that her POD novel was terrific and that I should read it. She wrote:

My book XYZ won a Reviewers Choice in Affaire de
Coeur, five wonderful reviews on Amazon and I’ve
developed a smallish but loyal following who want my next books as soon
as it comes out.

I cringed when I read that. It’s bad enough when an aspiring writer makes the mistake of going to a POD vanity press or having their book published by an amateur POD pseudo-press run by a barely literate, self-published author. But when you promote your book by touting your “five wonderful reviews on Amazon” you only make yourself look like a fool. Those reviews are meaningless.

Don’t get me wrong, they are nice to have, flattering to you personally, and might sway a browsing customer to buy your book. I am grateful for every positive review that I get from readers on Amazon and other online bookselling sites.

But never, ever, EVER use those reader reviews as a selling point to an agent, editor, or reviewer or they will run screaming away from you and write you off forever as a wanna-be.
Nobody in the publishing business cares about five positive reviews on Amazon. Nobody. Getting a 150 positive reviews might attract some attention but even then what really counts are actual sales.

And what, exactly, is a “smallish but loyal following?” Ten people? Fifty? A hundred? Your Mom and her friends around the pool at the retirement home? Again, it’s sales that count, and moving a few dozen books still isn’t going to attract much attention. Nor will a couple of hundred. But a thousand sales will get you noticed. That’s something you can tout…if you can back up the claim.

UPDATE 7-29-08: The author of the email is published by Light Sword Publishing, which is co-owned by the advertising director of Affaire De Coeur. So if all this author has to tout her book is a review from the magazine and “five wonderful reviews” on Amazon (one of which was from *another* Light Sword author), she’d be better off letting her book speak for itself.

It Takes a Thief

CinemaRetro today features a wonderful appreciation of IT TAKES A THIEF, one of my all-time favorite shows, which is now available to watch for free on hulu:

Unlike the preening poseurs currently
afflicting Hollywood,
Robert Wagner’s cool was organic and understated. As Alexander Mundy, he projected a
breezy self-assurance untainted by arrogance or condescension, and maintained
his sangfroid in the face of the most dangerous assignments Noah Bain threw his
way, thanks to an unparalleled and seemingly inexhaustible skill set. Mundy
could neutralize any security system, crack any safe, outwit any adversary and,
not least, talk his way into the arms of just about any woman in sight. Little
wonder he was the envy of every kid who came of age during the show’s original

The only show even remotely like it today is BURN NOTICE, but as much as I like that show, it’s doesn’t have the same charm.

S & S E-Grab

The Authors Guild has sent out an important advisory to its members:

Simon & Schuster has recently sent a one-page letter to many,
perhaps thousands, of authors with unspecified e-book royalty rates in
an attempt to set those rates at 15% of the “catalog retail price” of
the e-book. (This is the typical e-book royalty rate for S&S.) As
with any amendment to a book contract, the Authors Guild advises

1. Discuss the amendment with your agent or attorney, if you have one.

2. Depending on your existing contract with Simon & Schuster, the
amendment may grant the publisher rights that you’ve otherwise

3. Be aware that the amendment may affect your ability to obtain a reversion of rights.

In any negotiation regarding e-book royalty rates, we suggest that you
keep your powder dry: try to retain the right to renegotiate e-book
royalty rates. The Authors Guild expects that 15% of the retail list
price will be the low-water mark for e-book royalties. As the e-book
market develops, authors with clout will doubtlessly insist on a more
reasonable share of e-book revenues, and the industry will have to
adapt. One glance at’s home page, which has for months been
ceaselessly promoting its Kindle e-book reader, indicates that day may
be near. For more on Amazon and e-books, see this July 4th article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Mr. Monk Gets a Nice Review

Bill Peschel gives MR. MONK GOES TO GERMANY a very nice review. He says, in part:

Those who follow Lee Goldberg’s life on his blog know that he spent
time in Germany filming a TV show, so it’s natural he’d set his next
Monk book there. And he uses his experiences well, weaving in the
details you’d pick up if you were a tourist. It’s those little touches
that give the story flavor, such as the description of an inn that was
built in the 1400s, or describing the free magazines, including
Playboy, that can be picked up at German airports.

As for the mystery, it is competently set up and sprung, but, really,
the fun lies more in watching Monk at work, baffling his police
partners and reacting to the chaos around him, whether its attempting
to navigate the trails in the German forest or visiting an unusual
resort for outcasts.

Thanks, Bill!

Mr. Monk and the 100th Episode

Cast cake
My daughter Maddie and I went down to the MONK set at Paramount Studios to have lunch with my friend David Breckman, one of the writer/producers on the show (and the brother of series creator Andy Breckman). While we were there, they cut the 100th episode cake and had a little press conference for the entertainment media. I ran into Jeff Wachtel, the president of the USA Network, and congratulated him on the great ratings for the second season premiere of BURN NOTICE. He smiled and said “Thank you, we see it as a two-hour commercial for your brother’s book.” I’m sure Tod will be glad to know that.

I took a picture of Maddie at Stottlemeyer’s desk, gave her a tour of the back-lot, and I headed home to get back to work on the 8th MONK book…Maddie stottlemeyer1

When a Wanna-Be Publisher Becomes a Scammer

Scam-busting author Victoria Strauss’ post on Writer Beware about the fraud judgments levied against Linda Daly’s Light Sword Publishing has provoked an interesting debate on her blog. Along the way, Strauss has made some important distinctions between a genuine “small press” and a pseudo-publisher:

There are many
excellent small presses, which function entirely professionally and are
taken seriously by readers, writers, and publishing professionals.
Reputable small presses have always been an honorable alternative to
large commercial houses, and there are more of them now than ever.
These professional small presses, however, are NOT equivalent to the
Light Swords of the world, which are run like pocket dictatorships by
people who know absolutely nothing about editing, publishing, or book marketing–never mind running a business–and aren’t interested in learning.

I want to take that a step further (as I did on her blog). I’m on the Mystery Writers of America’s membership committee, which reviews applications from publishers
who want to be on our Approved Publishers list. In that capacity, I’ve encountered an astonishing number of
so-called “small publishers” who turned out to be nothing more than aspiring writers who bought some ISBN numbers and opened an account with a
POD company.

These pseudo-publisher are a mix of true scammers (like PublishAmerica, Airleaf, etc.) and people who
set out to do no harm but simply have no clue what being an “editor”
and a “publisher” really involves.

To me, an inexperienced
“publisher” becomes a scammer when they start touting marketing,
editorial and publishing experience they don’t actually have, when they
make promises they know they can’t keep, and when they begin charging
authors to get into print (another sign is when a court declares them
guilty of defrauding authors, as is the case with Light Sword).

The authors are inevitably tainted by their association with a scammer or an inept wanna-be publisher. As Victoria says:

This is not to say that good books can’t be published by amateur
micropresses. […] The enormous number of unpublishable books
with which society has been lumbered as a result of the proliferation
of micropresses–not to mention the POD self-publishing services–is an
annoyance and a nuisance, but the real tragedy of all these faux
publishing options, in my opinion, is that they can entrap writers
whose books deserved better.

said, the aspiring writers entrap themselves with their desperation, impatience, gullibility, and their

The majority of writers who have been scammed by PublishAmerica,
Authorhouse, Airleaf, Tate, Quiet Storm, Light Sword and countless other vanity
presses and pseudo-publishers could have easily avoided their fate by
using common sense, doing a tiny bit of research, and asking some basic
questions about the professional qualifications and experience of the
people they were getting into business with BEFORE signing a contract. Others were simply looking for a short cut and discovered the hard way that there aren’t any. But I think Victoria said it best:

There are any number of reasons why writers ignore clear warning
signals, including the frustration of a long and unfruitful publication
search. Other writers, of course, don’t take the time to learn about
the field they’re trying to break into, and don’t know what the warning
signs are. But whatever the reasons writers fall victim to schemes and
scams and amateurs–and with every effort to maintain respect and
compassion for those victims–writers need to understand that THEY
ARE RESPONSIBLE for educating themselves, for researching their
options, and for making informed (as opposed to wishful or ego-driven)
decisions.We don’t help them by pretending that this isn’t so.

UPDATE: Blogger Michele Lee makes a strong case (with great links) that it’s time that authors took more responsibility for their poor choices:

The blame lies with both parties of course. Much of the behavior of
scammers and crappy publishers is reprehensible and inexcusable. But
there is so much information available to writers these days. We don’t
live in the world of ten years ago. There are so many places to research agencies and publishers these days (and for free!). I simply do not understand. There’s no excuse anymore, other than sheer newness, not to be a well researched. I suspect the professional publishing world is starting to view
things this way as well and the tolerance for lazy writers is severely

Mr. Monk Gets His Chops

Blogger Winthrop J. Quiggy thinks MR. MONK GOES TO GERMANY demonstrates that I’m finally getting the hang of this writing thing. He writes, in part:

I do believe our boy, Lee Goldberg, is finally getting his chops at writing novels, at least the ones based on the MONK TV series. […] Not only is Mr. Goldberg getting better at writing, he has picked a real winner here for a story. […]I’m giving this particular novel 9 stars.

Thanks, Winthrop! I’ve decided not to go into the furniture business after all.

Mr. Monk and the Ride of a Lifetime

 Tracy Farnsworth at Roundtable Review gave MR. MONK GOES TO GERMANY a rave review. She writes, in part:

Quite simply, the best praise I can give a book is by saying that my teen son picked it up, read it in one sitting and then announced it was just as good, perhaps better, than an actual television episode. As the television season for Tony Shalhoub’s fascinating character Monk tends to be sporadic, it is thrilling to be able to fill the gaps with Monk novels.
[…] MR.MONK GOES TO GERMANY is one of the best Monk novels to go to print. I laughed hysterically at times and felt truly sorry for all Monk went through at others. The novel gets hold of your emotions and takes you on the ride of a lifetime.
Once again, Lee Goldberg does such an incredible job with everyone from the show and creates a novel that makes you feel as though you’re watching it on television. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Monk in the next novel.

Thank you, Tracy!

Fanfiction Friction

The July/August issue of the Literary Review of Canada features an extensive overview  of the controversies  — legal and artistic — surrounding fanfiction in the U.S. and Canada. The article is written by copyright lawyer Grace Westcott, who is Vice Chair of the Canadian Copyright Institute, and she does a very good job of presenting the arguments on both sides of the issue.  But there is one unique, Canadian wrinkle to the debate:

it’s hard to see a case for fan fiction as fair dealing under Canadian
law. Besides, there are the author’s moral rights to consider. The US analysis
of fan fiction makes barely a passing nod to moral rights. No wonder: in the US
the notion of moral rights is fairly slight. (And a media corporation cannot
have moral rights; it’s strictly a personal right.) But in Canada, and much of
the rest of the world, an individual author has the moral right both to be
credited as the author (or to remain anonymous, if he or she chooses) and to
have the integrity of the work protected. That integrity is infringed if the
work is, to the prejudice of the honour or reputation of the author, distorted,
mutilated or otherwise modified, or associated with any product, service, cause
or institution.

Obviously, a moral right that a work not be “distorted, mutilated or
otherwise modified” poses a serious legal impediment to the fan fiction writer.
It is a significant fetter on the fan’s freedom to rework the canon without this
act being viewed as an attack on the artistic integrity of the source work and
ultimately on its author’s reputation. After all, an author may well feel that
something he or she has spent years researching and writing is a finished work,
not a literary buffet or a cultural spare parts counter for others to rummage
in. An author may object to distortions of his characters when they are
appropriated to the divergent narrative sensibilities of fan imaginations.

She concludes:

So where does all this leave fan fiction? It may be that its shadowy
status – largely tolerated, but legally vulnerable – leaves it just
where it ought to be, in a healthy state of tension between fans and
authors. Because the fact is that fan fiction has so far been able to
operate as a tolerated use, if not a fair use. Both parties have good
reasons to accommodate the concerns of the other. No one wants to crush
a fan; and fans don’t want to damage their favorite author’s livelihood
or reputation. Fan fiction, particularly under Canadian law, and in
view of authors’ moral rights, requires the author’s forbearance, and
probably deserves a degree of that. There is a danger, in this balancing game, in taking a militant stance.
What is needed is a kind of digital civility, an online code of respect
in engaging with cultural works that recognizes and addresses authors’
rights and legitimate concerns. This, together with the recognition
that fan fiction comes from basically ‘a good place’, should encourage
authors, media owners and fans to develop a code of fair practices to
define what’s fair in fandom, to allow fans to engage creatively with
the works they so sincerely admire.