My Brothers Are Selling TV Shows

Carl Beverly and Sarah Timberman, the producers of JUSTIFIED, have sold a TV series pilot to FX based on my brother Tod Goldberg's short story Mitzvah. Crime writer Joel Goldman is often mistaken for my brother, so I suppose it's only fitting that those same producers just sold CBS a TV series pilot based on Joel's short story Knife Fight. Now if either pilot goes to series, I am expecting my brothers to play the nepotism card and insist that I be brought on staff.


The Mail I Get: Suspenseful Ethics Edition

I got an email this morning from Suspense Magazine. It read:

Suspense Magazine has sent you a book recommendation!

Blood on His Hands by Mark P. Sadler

Suspense Magazine says, "Great book! Now available on Amazon Kindle."

Check it out!"

So I did.  The link sent me to Goodreads, and a four star, rave review for BLOOD ON HIS HANDS from Shannon Raab at Suspense Magazine. It read, in part:

A hunt for payback—predator vs. prey—is the underlying electrical current coursing through this colorful debut thriller by Mark Sadler. […]Not for the faint of heart, “Blood on his Hands” can make your stomach roll as well as a roller coaster while Sadler zigzags you on a frenzied chase across the country.

SM_December_Cover_FINAL_copy-426x555 That may be the strangest, most non-sensical blurb I've ever read, but that aside, what's really interesting about the review is that it's from the co-publisher of Suspense magazine, which also counts Sadler among their reviewers.

In other words, Suspense Magazine is praising and recommending a book by one of their own reviewers. So I asked Sadler about it:

Suspense Magazine is reviewing and recommending (via emails to its Goodreads followers) a book written by one of its own reviewers. Isn't that a huge conflict-of-interest? 

Sadler took offense, firing back:

They reviewed my book and then asked me to be a reviewer as they liked my style – you should check out the dates before you start throwing around accusations. Mark

So I replied that I wasn't making an accusation, but rather asking a question, one that I thought was valid. I went on to say:

Given that you are now reviewing for Suspense, it probably wasn't a wise idea for Suspense to send out an email recommending your book, regardless of whether it was reviewed prior to you becoming a reviewer for them.

I got an astonishing reply from Sadler that raised the ethical discussion to a whole new level. He wrote:

Again check your facts.. they liked the book so much they published it as an e-book and generally recommend all the books their reviewers write..we would not be great reviewers if our publication didn't like us.. and we are all doing it for free so I dont get your point..

I had to do a double-take when I saw that. Suspense Magazine is reviewing (and recommending) a book that they published that was written by one of their reviewers? And Sadler objected to my question about a possible conflict-of-interest? 

So I checked out Suspense's website and discovered that they are offering a new twist on self-publishing.

Suspense Magazine is excited to announce the opening of Suspense Publishing, a place where authors can get their book published for far less than traditional self-publishing houses. Suspense Publishing will bring the power of Suspense Magazine to its authors. We will help them market their book successfully, not by just giving you—the author—the tools to market your book, but we actually work for you to market your book.

[…]It is true that we will not publish your book in paper format, we are an EBook publisher. We are also a major magazine with a huge marketing presence.[…]Our publishing company takes the power of Suspense Magazine, an internationally read magazine, and puts your book in front of hundreds of thousands of people that read the genre that you are writing!

In other words, Suspense Magazine will use their publication to promote the work of their authors…including having their reviewers, who are apparently Suspense authors themselves, review Suspense books without acknowledging that they are also Suspense publications. Not surprisingly, the two most recent titles published by Suspense Publishing — Terri Armstrong's MORNING MENACE and Starr Reina's IN THE NAME OF REVENGE  – won praise from Suspense Magazine.  For MORNING MENACE, Suspense raved:

The intensity and inclusion of a character tangled in her own neurosis keeps the pages turning and the unexpected ending will surprise even the most adept amateur crime- solvers.

And for IN THE NAME OF REVENGE, Suspense proclaimed:

A new star has arrived in the writing world bringing readers a gripping tale peppered with unexpected bits of humor as the cast of characters and twisted turns unfold.

They claim aspiring authors who engage their services can "use the power and strength of Suspense Magazine to reach millions of readers." Really? Do they honestly believe Suspense reaches millions of readers? That would mean they are reaching more than Forbes (921,000 readers),  Newsweek's (1.6 million) or Vanity Fair (1.7 million).  I'd never heard of the magazine until I went to Bouchercon and met the publishers, John and Shannon Raab.

The Raabs seemed like nice, well-intentioned folks, who genuinely love the mystery, horror and suspense genres. But their magazine won't have much credibility in the marketplace, or in the publishing industry, if they don't follow the most basic ethical standards…and if they use their magazine as a promotional tool for the authors who pay them to package their ebooks.  

It's basic ethical conduct in journalism to try to avoid conflicts-of-interest and to disclose them when they are unavoidable. In this case, the conflicts are totally avoidable. Suspense Magazine needs to disclose when the books that they are reviewing are published by them and/or written by one of their reviewers. The magazine's readers need to know when the critics who are reviewing Suspense's books are also other Suspense authors. It means they have a bias. It's journalism 101, folks. Doing otherwise undermines the validity and objectivity, and certainly the professionalism, of the entire magazine.

My sense was that the Raabs want their magazine to be taken seriously in the field…and it won't be with such loose ethical standards. 

Top Suspense

Authors Bill Crider, Ed Gorman, Max Allan Collins, Harry Shannon,  Dave Zeltserman and Vicki Hendricks have teamed up to create Top Suspense, a site showcasing their terrific books in e-format. 

Electronic books are soon to be a billion dollar business, yet it's more difficult than ever to find a good read, especially via digital download. With more than 700,000 ebooks already on line, with a good number of them self-published, ebook stores are becoming the equivalent of publisher's past 'slush piles'. […]The Top Suspense Group plans to slash through all the clutter.

[…]"Readers can count on us," creator and acclaimed author Dave Zeltserman explains, “Every member of our group has already made his or her mark on genre fiction, whether it's noir, crime, mystery, thriller, horror or Westerns, and in some cases, several of these genres."

[…]Zeltserman has spoken before about the difficulty readers have in searching for sites that offer seasoned professionals. Top Suspense Group members make some of their finest material available at affordable prices. Many of the ebooks will contain bonus material, such as the writer’s commentary on the book that has been purchased, or the addition of a free short story.

“We believe readers will appreciate a reliable inexpensive site that continuously delivers some of the best in contemporary genre fiction,” said Top Suspense Group member and multi-award winning author, Max Allan Collins.

It's a shrewd marketing move and they are a very impressive group of established authors with a strong line-up of books. Collectively, they've got all the genres covered, from mysteries to westerns, and have made major literary contributions in all of them. It will be interesting to see how their experiment works out.

UPDATE 11/25/2010 : Full disclosure. Since publishing this post, I have accepted an invitation to become one of the authors at Top Suspense.

The Mail I Get

I got an unsolicited email today from a newbie author asking me to read his book and review it. The solicitation itself was polite enough, but where the author stumbled was in his pitch:

The book is aimed at the adult male market; the book provides a means for males to escape to some harmless, male orientated entertainment without being made to feel guilty about doing so. At the risk of sounding corny, I would describe the book as a ‘rattling good read for real men.’

This male doesn't need a means to escape to some male-orientated entertainment that will make him rattle. 

Bookpros is Booksleazy

Now that it's possible to get your book published for free, you'd think the vanity presses would just fold their tents. But there are still some out there, hoping to snag the few remaining suckers. One such company is Bookpros, also known as Turnkey Press, Ovation Books, Synergy Books, Bridgeway Books, and Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists…and probably some names I don't even know about. They've billed themselves in the past as  "an author-funded traditional publisher," meaning they are a vanity press that wants to confuse newbies into thinking they're something else. Their crack publicists recently sent me a press release that read, in part:

I noticed you cover self-publishing topics from time to time, and I thought you might be interested in a trend piece on the evolution of self-publishing. […] With the promise of in-store distribution and full-service publicity campaigns, BookPros’ authors have easily competed at a national level. In the seven years since their founding, they have had eight bestsellers and have received more than 50 prestigious industry awards for editing and design. Many of their titles have been picked up by major commercial publishers, while others have attracted the interest of movie producers. BookPros offers a unique author-funded approach to publishing, giving authors access to quality editing and design, real in-store distribution and award-winning publicity.

Of course, they don't mention any of their "bestsellers' by name nor any of the "prestigious industry awards" that they've won because you wouldn't recognize any of the books nor any of the awards. Saying that their books have "attracted the interest of movie producers" is so vague that it's utterly meaningless. But empty boasts like that are typical in the vanity press biz.

What's truly special about this come-on is that they are touting their "unique author-funded approach" — as if they are the first people to come up with the idea of charging writers outrageous sums of money to print their books. That's chutzpah (and almost as ridiculous as vanity press huckster Brien Jones' claim in his bio at Jones Harvest Publishing that he "pioneered the concept of selling self-published books to bookstores." Yeah, right, Brien, nobody ever thought of that before).  

At this point, anyone foolish enough to go with a vanity press as blatantly sleazy as this one deserves no sympathy.

Hollywood on a Book Binge

The Wrap reports that studios are buying lots of books these days by first-time authors, though not all of them are necessarily newbies when it comes to writing. For instance, Paramount snapped up Hank Steinberg's yet-to-be-published novel OUT OF RANGE, the first in a tw0-book series. While Steinberg may be new to publishing, he's hardly new to Hollywood — he was the creator of the long-running CBS series WITHOUT A TRACE. Even so, it's interesting to see Hollywood chasing books at a time when everyone seems to be wondering what the future of publishing is going to look like.