My Doctor Is In

There's a new interview with me up at Dr. Doug Lyle's Writer's Forensics Blog. But I should disclose that it's a biased interview…he's an old friend, he's given me medical advice on all of my books and many of my TV scripts, and he's also my doctor. Here's a brief excerpt:

DPL: What’s the hardest part of writing [tie-in novels]?

LG: Capturing the feel of the show, and the voices of the characters, while also kicking things up a notch. You have to offer the reader something more than they are getting from simply watching the show (or the reruns). It’s also difficult, particularly with a long-running series, to come up with stuff that the writers haven’t already tackled.

DPL: You have a new Monk book coming out July 3rd. What can you tell us about it?

LG: The book is MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT and it’s the last book set before the finale of the TV series. This one is set in the midst of the current national economic crisis. The SFPD has to make draconian cutbacks to save money… so they fire Monk as a consultant. Monk figures he can live off his savings for a while. Then Natalie learns that Monk invested his money some time ago with Bob Sebes, the charismatic leader of Reinier Investments, who’s just been arrested on charges of orchestrating a massive $100 million fraud. All of Sebes’ clients, including Monk-are completely wiped out. Monk is broke…he can’t even afford to pay Natalie. So they end up taking all kinds of odd jobs. Meanwhile, when the key witness in the government’s case against Sebes is killed, Monk becomes convinced that Sebes did it, even though the man has been under house arrest with a horde of paparazzi in front of his building 24/7. I hope people have as much fun reading it as I had writing it!

Here Comes the Slush

With so many ways for aspiring writers to self-publish their books, Laura Miller at Salon says the slush pile of millions of rejected manuscripts is about to go public…but will readers have the stomach for it?

People who have never had the job of reading through the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts sent to anyone even remotely connected with publishing typically have no inkling of two awful facts: 1) just how much slush is out there, and 2) how really, really, really, really terrible the vast majority of it is. Civilians who kvetch about the bad writing of Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer or any other hugely popular but critically disdained novelist can talk as much trash as they want about the supposedly low standards of traditional publishing. They haven't seen the vast majority of what didn't get published — and believe me, if you have, it's enough to make your blood run cold, thinking about that stuff being introduced into the general population.

[…]It seriously messes with your head to read slush. Being bombarded with inept prose, shoddy ideas, incoherent grammar, boring plots and insubstantial characters — not to mention ton after metric ton of clichés — for hours on end induces a state of existential despair that's almost impossible to communicate to anyone who hasn't been there themselves: Call it slush fatigue

So what happens to the book business when readers, who've filled their Kindles with $1.99 slush, discover that most of it is unreadable drivel? What will the backlash be?

A few days of reading bad manuscript after bad manuscript has a tendency to make you never want to pick up another manuscript again, but when finding new talent is your job and your vocation, you keep at it until you're successful enough to hire someone else to do it for you. If, on the other hand, you're a civilian, and reading is something you turn to, seeking fun or transcendence, during your precious hours of free time, how long will you persist when book after book has exactly the opposite effect, crushing your spirit instead of refreshing it? How long before you decide to just give up?

Some argue that readers and bloggers will spread the word about what is good or bad, and the market will become self-correcting. The sludge will quickly be identified, as well as the few genuinely terrific books buried amidst it all. But Miller argues we are just trading one set of gatekeepers (publishers, editors, "elite" literary critics) for a new set (bloggers, pundits, self-annointed experts).

Perhaps this system will work better, but I'm not so sure. Contrary to the way they're often depicted by frustrated authors, the agents and editors I've met are in fact committed to finding and nurturing books and authors they believe in as well as books that will sell. Also, bloggers or self-appointed experts on particular genres and types of writing are, in my experience, just as clubby and as likely to plug or promote their friends and associates as anybody else. Above all, this possible future doesn't eliminate gatekeepers: It just sets up new ones, equally human and no doubt equally flawed. How long before the authors neglected by the new breed of tastemaker begin to accuse them of being out-of-touch, biased dinosaurs?

The Other Side of the Coin

Dancing-dark-175  A few days ago, I talked about how successful Joe Konrath has been on the Kindle and I argued that he's an exceptional case. Well, now author Mark Terry shows us the flipside. He's put five books on the Kindle, a mix of out-of-print and unpublished stuff. So farthis month he has sold 30 books and earned $29. And that's an uptick on his previous month's sales. He writes, in part:

Honestly, I don't know what to make of Joe's success. Joe says he doesn't know why some of his e-books sell great and others don't. I don't know why DANCING IN THE DARK sales seem so sluggish even though it's been out for months.

[…]I'm pretty unsold on the idea of people who can't get traditionally published just e-publishing, but a number of people have done it successfully. Maybe it all depends on what you want out of it.

Let's put it this way. On the basis of what I've seen so far, I'm still leaning strongly toward traditional publishing venues.

People who look at Joe's success or, to a far lesser degree, mine publishing books on the Kindle and think that our sales are the norm are in for a rude surprise…particularly if they don't already have an established following or strong name recognition. Sure, there might be a handful of exceptions out there, but that's what they are, the exceptions. Sadly, I believe Mark's experience is closer to the norm for the majority of authors self-publishing their work for the Kindle.


One of my favorite soundtracks, and guilty pleasures, is Elmer Bernstein’s score for GOLD, a terrible thriller starring Roger Moore about a flood in a South African gold mine. But the big, bold, brassy and extremely cheesy theme song and score are absolutely wonderful…and it’s on sale this week for just $14.95 from Screen Archives Entertainment. Here’s the main title sequence from the film…

Writing is Rewriting

JP-UPDIKE-1-thumbWide  The New York Times takes a peek at the John Updike archive at Harvard University and examines the various drafts he did of the first few paragraphs of RABBIT AT REST:

Though he was known and envied for writing rapidly and easily and revising very little — a reputation he encouraged — the archive demonstrates the painstaking care he took to establish the tone and atmosphere of his novels.

Cartons deposited in the early 1990s offer a synoptic map of “Rabbit at Rest,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that concludes the earthly transit of Harry Rabbit Angstrom, the former Pennsylvania high school basketball king who remains Updike’s most famous creation.

An Eagle Typing box contains a handwritten draft, completed in January 1989. Hurried on to the page (in pencil on the back of the typescript of a previous book), the flowing sentences are constellated with crossings out, insertions and circled text as Updike honed, phrase by phrase, the middle-American idiom and the hurtling present-tense that are signatures of the Rabbit cycle.

So numerous were the emendations to the opening scene, set in a Florida airport, that Updike stapled a typed page to the handwritten draft, in which the initial paragraphs are thoroughly resequenced to create an effect less linear and more interior. Further reworking the opening paragraph, to draw out its theme of impending death, Updike made subtly significant improvements.

“The sensation chills and oppresses him, above and beyond the air-conditioning,” he had first typed. Retouching by pen, he tightened the phrasing and also inserted an inspired pun: “The sensation chills him, above and beyond the terminal air-conditioning.”

But the best part of the Times piece is this link that shows the actual drafts, from his handwritten scribbles to the typed manuscript. It’s fascinating stuff. And that’s not all. There’s also a link to a video interview with Updike filmed shortly before his death.

Kindle King Konrath

Endurance_cover_Kilborn2b  My friend Joe Konrath can't stop making Kindle news. A month ago, he announced that Amazon Encore will be publishing his next Jack Daniels novel, first as an ebook exclusive and then as a trade paperback. Yesterday, he upped the ante and announced that he's giving up on print altogether and putting all his chips on the e-format, primarily the Kindle. And he's kicking it off with the Kindle publication of ENDURANCE and TRAPPED, two horror novels originally commissioned by a print publisher… but that he pulled from them rather than accepting the editorial changes they wanted him to make. Joe writes, in part:

Last year, some fans asked me to put my early, rejected books on Kindle so they could read them on their cool new device. I figured it couldn't hurt to try.

Fourteen months later, I've sold over 52,000 ebooks, and will earn over $100,000 this year on Kindle sales alone. On books that NY Publishing rejected.

So now I've taken the next, logical step. ENDURANCE (now available on Kindle for $2.99) is being released exclusively as a self-published ebook.

I've gone from desperately wanting to be accepted by NY Publishing, to completely ignoring NY Publishing.

And for him, I predict it will pay off handsomely. As of 10 pm tonight, ENDURANCE is ranked #42 out of all the books available in the Kindle store… and #1 in horror. I think his book is going stay at the top of the Kindle lists for some time to come. And if this book does a fraction of the business that AFRAID, his first Jack Kilborn horror novel, did as an ebook, then Joe is going to make a hell of a lot of money out of this…certainly more than he could would have made sticking with his publisher.

But I want to stress that I believe that Joe's success is the exception, not the rule. Mid-list or newbie authors who yank their books from publishers over editorial notes and go the Kindle route shouldn't expect to do nearly as well as he has. He is a very special case. 

Prior to his ebook success, Joe was doing well in print… and heavily promoted his books by attending dozens of conferences annually, sending out thousands of newsletters, and visiting hundreds of bookstores across the country (if I am not mistaken, I believe he landed in the Guiness Book of World Records for most bookstore signings in one year). He had a considerable blog presence and significant name recognition before embarking on this Kindle course. 

There's no question that Joe is blazing a trail in ebooks… and doing incredibly well at it. I am one of many authors who have benefitted from both his example and his great advice…but I fear that aspiring writers will read about his success and believe it's a short cut that will lead them to a pot of gold. And it's not. 

He paid a lot of dues, suffered a lot of rejection, honed his skills, and established a strong, professional reputation before he got where he is. That's very important to remember before you decide to follow his path…which, contrary to what you might think, isn't necessarily paved with gold. 

Speaking for the Dead Again

51zjxs9bGtL._SS500_ My buddy Paul Levine has brought To Speak For the Dead and Night Vision, the first two books in his acclaimed and beloved Jake Lassiter series, back in print in new Kindle editions. The rest of the books in the series will soon follow. These books are a steal at $2.99… and all the proceeds from the sale of To Speak For the Dead will go to the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports cancer treatment for kids at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. So what are you waiting for?

Cover Story

Here are the new covers for MY GUN  HAS BULLETS, DEAD SPACE, and THE MAN WITH THE IRON ON BADGE, all designed by Carl Graves.  



GUN and SPACE share the gun/bullet hole motif because they feature the same hero and the same comedic tone. This is the most professional, and the best, MAN WITH THE IRON ON BADGE cover yet. I think I've finally got that one right.

I am confident, based on past experience, that I will see my sales go up as a result of the cleaner, simpler, more professional covers and the "branded" look that's consistent with the previous covers that Carl designed for me.