The Mail I Get

I received this email from an agentless, aspiring screenwriter:

I just moved to LA about a year ago.[…]I've hooked up with a producer who is a former exec at a major studio. We talked about an idea he has for a sitcom. I like his idea a lot and I agreed to collaborate with him. The thing is, I've been helping him for a while now and even wrote a pilot, all with nothing but a verbal commitment from him to "do right" by me. I do trust him and we've become friends outside of "work."

Now, I've decided it's time to get more than just a verbal commitment from him. But I am at a loss as to what to ask for.[…] So far I've written a pilot and have helped out with character descriptions and episode outlines. Now he wants me to write another episode. Do you have any advice for someone like me?

Yes, I do. You are being screwed. The producer is taking advantage of your enthusiasm, inexperience and desperation. He should know better…and, if he is truly your friend (and the seasoned exec you say he is), and if he genuinely wanted to "do right" for you, he would have put a deal in writing before you started writing a word…for his protection and yours.

Don't do ANY more work for him or let him send out the script to anyone unless a deal is in place between the two of you.

Since you don't have an agent, you should consult with a lawyer. You should also visit the WGA website and get a copy of the applicable minimums and/or go to the Samuel French Bookstore and get a book on Entertainment industry contracts.

I'm not a lawyer or an agent, but some of the things you should seek are compensation (at least WGA minimums) for the scripts you have written immediately upon sale of the project, a minimum royalty per episode produced (you need to negotiate an amount), a shared created by credit with the producer (though that will be arbitrated by the Guild), a producer credit & salary on the show (whether you provide services or not) and an equal share of any and all monies that the producer is getting for ancillary rights, backend, etc. That's just for starters.

Hillary, I Feel Your Pain

6a00d8341c669c53ef00e54f31b7048833-640wiSecretary of State Hillary Clinton tripped and broke her elbow earlier this week. Today she had surgery and is facing weeks of physical therapy. Fox News reports:

“The most common fracture you get from a standing-height fall will either be an olecranon fracture or a radial head fracture,” Alberta, who specializes in shoulder and elbow surgery, told “If she landed on her elbow and fell back on the point of her elbow, she most likely fractured her olecrenon, which is the bony point of your elbow. If she fell with her hand stretched out to catch the fall, then it may be a radial head fracture. […]"

In general, elbow surgery can last anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple of hours.

“There’ll be an incision depending on where the fracture is, and we’ll use anything from a plate and screws, all the way up to replacement of the joint to repair the injury,” Alberta said.

As far as recovery, Clinton is facing anywhere from six weeks to three months of physical therapy.

God, does that bring back some bad memories. Five years ago I broke both of my elbows, my right one so severely that I was in surgery for six hours while they put it back together with three plates, a dozen screws and a titanium radial head (that's my x-ray in the picture. You can click on it for a larger image). I wasn't Secretary of State, running all over the globe, but I was writing & producing a weekly TV series and a few weeks away from the deadline on a novel when the accident happened.  

I was told that implants would remain in my arm for the rest of my life. But after six months of physical therapy, my arm was still locked at a 90 degree angle… so they took all of the implants out again…and I had another six months of therapy. The surgery was a success, but I was left with only about 40% mobility in the arm, and some pain and numbness where my elbow used to be (not to mention a big scar), so not a day goes by when I am not reminded of the accident.

Hillary, I feel your pain.

Uncle Burl Barers All

Carl Brookins recently interviewed my Uncle Burl Barer, the Edgar Award-winning author of such true crime bestsellers as MOM SAID KILL and MURDER IN THE FAMILY. It's a fun interview. Here are some excerpts: 

What’s the hardest thing about being an author? Making money.

What surprised you the most when you became a published author?

I was surprised that authors don't have groupies such as the ones who pursue rock stars and famous actors, or even disc jockeys. Never be an author to pick up chicks.

Have you ever collaborated on a novel? Would you consider it?

Yes, I collaborated on a novel (unpublished) with someone who wasn't a writer. I would love to collaborate with someone who is a writer. I did contribute to one of Lee Goldberg's pulp fiction novels that he wrote under an assumed name. I helped him with one of the sex scenes. He was, at that time, not as experienced with that topic as he has since, no doubt, become. When his Nana complained that the book was nothing but sex and violence, Lee wisely shifted the blame to my brother and me. My brother deflected criticism by insisting that he only helped Lee with the legal/courtroom scenes. When Mom called me, she asked How could you pervert your little nephew that way? I told her Mom, I only helped him write one sex scene, honest! She replied, It was the one with the ice-cream wasn't it? She was right. It was.

The Mail I Get

I got this email yesterday: 

I recently finished three courses in screenwriting
at UCLA. For my "writing the one-hour drama" classes, I wrote
a spec for "Monk". […] Earlier today I thought, "Hmmm… this could make a decent
novel." Imagine my surprise when, less than a day later, I
found that there ARE such things!! Since you are obviously
"in the know", to whom might I pitch my "Monk" spec as a
novel? Although I don't have a TV agent, I do have a literary
agent, and am doing the final edits of a book I've co-authored,
coming out in December.

I must get one or two emails a week like this. I wonder what makes them think it's a good idea to ask the guy who writes all of the MONK novels for his advice on how they can take his job away from him. I also wonder why they think that if someone is already writing the books that they might have a shot at it, too. Perhaps it's because the STAR TREK books are written by multiple writers…and these people haven't noticed that the MONK books are only written by one guy…me. Or maybe they are just dumb.

You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire, Part 3

I am once again following in the footsteps of Joe Konrath and John August  and experimenting with republishing some of my out-of-print and previously-published work. 

THREE WAYS TO DIE, my collection of previously published short stories that I released earlier this month on the Kindle for $.99, is now available as a downloadable PDF (as requested by many of you Kindleless folks) on Scribd for $1.00 (which is the lowest price they will let you charge). 

I've also uploaded a PDF version of THE WALK on Scribd for $1.99, a few cents higher than the Kindle edition (Amazon discounted it from $1.75 to $1.40). Why did I raise the price? Just for the heck of it to see what happens.

Joe Konrath, who has done very well with Kindle editions of his unpublished books, has tried Scribd, but with no success.

Because I'm a cutting edge early adopter who can predict trends (ask Barry Eisler), I offered my ebooks on Scribd 15 days ago, at the same price they are available for on Kindle, less than $2 each.
In 15 days, I've sold zero books. Compare this to over a hundred books a day I sell on Amazon.
Scribd is not the future of epublishing.

John August's short story THE VARIANT sold 2554 Kindle editions through Amazon and 619 PDF downloads through e-junkie from May 1-June 15.

I'll let you know how my PDF downloads perform sales-wise and royalty-wise compared to the Kindle editions.

You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire, Part 2

I am 15 days into my Kindle experiment and here are the results so far…

Today, THE WALK is ranked #901 in the Kindle Store and:

#18 in  Kindle Store > Kindle Books > Fiction > Action & Adventure
#21 in  Kindle Store > Kindle Books > Fiction > Horror
#28 in  Kindle Store > Kindle Books > Humor

THREE WAYS TO DIE – 38 copies sold @ $.99. My royalties: $13.30.

Today, THREE WAYS TO DIE is ranked #15,365 in the Kindle Store and:

#74 in Kindle Store > Kindle Books > Mystery & Thrillers > Mystery > Hard-Boiled

I've promoted the books here on my blog, my Facebook page, to my Facebook Monk Fans, on Twitter, and on the Amazon Kindle forums (as well as several other Kindle forums, like this one). 

Those sales are nothing to get excited about. I haven't come close to reaching the astonishing and impressive Kindle sales that folks like Joe Konrath and John August have achieved. 

On the plus side, I have been getting some very nice, enthusiastic reviews (publicly on Amazon and privately in emails) for THE WALK and I think that's led to some good word-of-mouth. I have seen the daily sales steadily increasing from one or two copies-a-day to 10-15 copies-a-day.

On the down side, Sales of THREE WAYS TO DIE are flat. I haven't sold a copy in two days.

And several readers have reported some irritating formatting problems with THE WALK. Some paragraphs seem to switch to italics at random. I have looked at the manscript, as both a Word document and in html, and I can't figure out why those paragraphs are changing format…so I have no clue how to fix it. But I will keep trying to figure it out.

I'll give you another update at the end of the month.

UPDATE 6-18-2009:  Sales are definitely trending up for THE WALK, though it's still nothing stellar. As of tonight, THE WALK has sold 219 copies @$1.40. My royalties: $136.49. The book is now #410 in the Kindle Store and:

#9 in  Kindle Store > Kindle Books > Fiction > Horror
#9 in  Kindle Store > Kindle Books > Fiction > Action & Adventure
#14 in  Kindle Store > Kindle Books > Humor

It doesn't seem to take many sales to become a top-ten "bestseller" in genre categories on Amazon, does it? Oh, and I have sold two copies of the PDF version of THE WALK at Scribd, bringing me $1.50 in royalties. 

THREE WAYS TO DIE has sold ten more copies, 47 copies to date, @.99 each, earning me $16.45 in royalties.

Financially speaking, I don't see this as the future of self-publishing, at least not yet. It would take a lot of promotion to reach a wide enough audience to create enough sales to make this financially lucrative (unless you're already an established author … like Joe Konrath…or well-known in other circles…like screenwriter John August). There's a reason Stephen King, John Grisham and Michael Connelly haven't forsaken big New York publisher and "the printed page" for the e-publishing world just yet (or for print-on-demand paperbacks either). 

But one clear benefit of self-publishing/epublishing with the Kindle is that you don't have to shell out any money upfront to do it…nor do you have to go through some vanity press scammer. You don't even pay an unfront listing fee (the way you would with, say, auctions on ebay). You pay at the register…or, rather, your reader does. Amazon and Scribd take a cut from the sales. 

Tied In

Today at the California Crime Writer’s Conference several writers sheepishly asked me “so, how do you get into this tie-in business?” as if they were asking me how to get into writing porn movies. Now that the book biz is tightening up, and mid-list writers are being dropped all over the place, tie-ins are beginning to look good to some authors who never would have considered them before.

The same thing happened to me during the WGA writer’s strike…writer who once gave me a hard time about doing the MONK & DIAGNOSIS MURDER books while I was also writing & producing TV shows would say to me that they were “interested maybe trying that tie-in thing, you know, just for fun.” Not because they needed a job, of course, but “just for fun.” Uh-huh.

For some reason, when times are hard for writers, tie-ins get a lot more respect. I don’t know why…for that matter, I don’t understand why writers regard them with disdain when times are good. But that’s one of the reasons Max Allan Collins and I formed the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers a few years ago…to educated people about tie-ins and to gain more respect for the genre. Slowly but surely, the organization is making a difference.

Speaking of which, there’s an Q&A interview with me over at Talking With Tim about the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers and tie-in writing. Here’s a taste:

the reason more creators don’t try to keep their TV series alive in print after cancellation is because publishers simply aren’t interested, which is no surprise if you think about it. The incentive for publishers to do tie-ins is to capitalize on the huge audience that a hit show draws and the enormous publicity that surrounds it. It also offers a level of confidence in what ordinarily would be a gamble. The book is, in essence, a pre-sold concept with a built-in audience and supported by millions of dollars worth of FREE promotion. The TV show itself, as well as the advertising and promotion that the network does, becomes free publicity for the books. Success, wide recognition, a strong concept and major promotion are what makes a publisher interested in tie-ins.
But once a show is cancelled, the incentive to do tie-in books instantly evaporates