The Game Has Changed

P3090025 My friend, the huggable spy, Barry Eisler has announced that he's walking away from a $500,000 advance from St. Martin's Press  to self-publish his books.  Eisler explains his thinking in a long and fascinating interview with — who else? — his buddy Joe Konrath:  

I know it’ll seem crazy to a lot of people, but based on what’s happening in the industry, and based on the kind of experience writers like you are having in self-publishing, I think I can do better in the long term on my own.[…]I’m not the first example, though I might be a noteworthy one because of the numbers I’m walking away from. But there will be others, more and more of them.

He's right. Just a few weeks ago, Terrill Lee Lankford made headlines by rejecting a high, five-figure deal. By now, the publishers must be doing so much head-scratching that they have no scalps left.  

But the reason established authors are doing the previously unthinkable — saying no to big-money advances —  is simple. In exchange for that advance, the publisher is, essentially, buying the book out-right and forever (since it's unlikely to ever go "out of print"  with the advent of ebooks) and yet are only offering a 25% royalty on ebooks. 

But ebooks cost almost nothing to produce. There's no printing, no warehousing, no distribution. The only costs are editing, formatting, and cover art. So why give authors so little? The truth is, what the author will get is even less than 25%, as Barry and Joe explain:

Barry: […] a 25% royalty on the net revenue produced by an ebook equals 17.5% of the retail price after Amazon takes its 30% cut, and 14.9% after the agent takes 15% of the 17.5%. 

Joe: Yeah, that 25% figure you see in contracts is really misleading. Amazing, when you consider that there’s virtually no cost to creating ebooks–no cost for paper, no shipping charges, no warehousing. No cut for Ingram or Baker & Taylor. Yet they're keeping 52.5% of the list price and offering only 17.5% to the author. It’s not fair and it’s not sustainable.

Which is why we are going to see more and more A, B and certainly C-list writers opting to forgo publishing contracts in favor of self-publishing.

Where does this leave print publishers? Domestic print publication will become for an authors a nice ancillary market, much the way audio and foreign editions are now, where limited rights are sold for a negotiated fee. The benefits would be distribution to brick-and-mortar stores (those that are still left). Or perhaps, as one blogger predicted, a retailer like WalMart or B&N might make exclusive deals with authors to sell the print editions in their stores.Berry_Eisler_Lee_Goldberg_jeffsherratt_MofM_112109

But even in that negotiation, authors will have strong, self-publishing alternatives to help them leverage the best possible deal.

I found that out for myself this weekend. I was astonished to find the CreateSpace print editions of my self-published ebooks available for sale at the Virginia Festival of the Book alongside my Penguin-published MONK books…and being gobbled up by readers.

The readers saw no difference between my self-published novels and my published ones (granted, I hired a professional cover artist and formatters, so they looked very slick). But I am seeing a difference: much higher royalties and more money in my pocket. And if I, a mere mid-list author, is seeing that, imagine how much better a guy like Barry could do.

But you won't have to imagine it. Soon you will be able to see it for yourself.  Barry's new John Rain novel, The Detachment, will be self-published by Father’s Day. My prediction — it will be a huge Kindle bestseller.


Home from Virginia

Photo (2) I just got back from the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville and had a wonderful time, both as a panelist and a book lover. I was in town less than an hour before I bought my first book, a signed copy of John Casey's COMPASS ROSE, the sequel to the SPARTINA, which won the National Book Award. I was thrilled…and took that as a good omen.

One of the great things about Charlottesville is that they really, really love books. They have lots of great, independant bookstores, including four used bookstores in their historic downtown pedestrian mall. I bought so many books over the first two days (including a signed first edition copy of SPARTINA, courtesy of the wonderful folks at Read It Again, Sam) that I had to send them home in a box. So even without the festival, I would have had a great time. 

The festival is first class all the way…not just in terms of the headlines (three National Book Award winners, Scott Simon, Kathy Reichs, Jim Lehrer, Mark Childress,  Alan Cheuse, Myla Goldberg, etc) but how it's run. It's classly, slick, and exceptionally well-organized. It takes place all over the charming, colonial town, which I suppose can make it seem too sprawling, but it allowed me to get a real feel for the place and it's people. There were panels & events at bookstores, libraries, big hotel, a grade school, the University of Virginia, government offices, wine bars, and local theaters.

My first event was mixer at Read It Again, Sam, were I had the opportunity to chat with author Diane Fanning, Jenny White, Meredith Cole, Brad Parks, Andy Straka, and Louis Bayard, to name a few, before heading over to the Albemarle County Office building the Friday Night Frights panel with Kathy Reichs, John Connolly, Louis, Jenny and Andy.  I was astonished to see every single book I have in print, including my CreateSpace reprints, on sale in the lobby. I could have hugged the bookseller. Photo (1)

The panel was great, even though Kathy was felled by the tail-end of a bad cold. It's not easy keeping up with authors as smart and witty as John, Louis, Kathy and Jenny (who told a particularly hilarious story about the time her friends came close to accidentally killing her with belladonna). I hope I managed to hold my own. Afterwards, I hung out at a local bar with John, his publicist (and my old friend) Ellen Clair Lamb, and his friend Jeff, who works for the CIA. I had a blast, even if the crowd of college students made me feel like a grandfather who snuck into at a frat party.

The next morning I was up bright-and-early for a screenwriting panel with WKRP creator Hugh Wilson and  Oscar-winning documentarian Paul Wagner that drew a standing-room only crowd. Hugh's colorful and hilarious stories won everybody over, especially me. At the booksigning afterwards, a woman asked me what it was like to be married to Myla Goldberg and if we were competitive with one another.   

Photo (3) I signed a bunch of books, attended the Kathy Reichs luncheon and then scooted off to a panel with fellow Jewish authors Micah Nathan, Phoebe Potts, and Ariel Sabar, all of whom were enormously entertaining. 

That left me me with an hour or so to myself, so I did some quick sight-seeing at the University, which is beautiful, before heading to an authors reception and, finally, capping the Festival with a long and wonderful dinner at a steakhouse with Kathy Reichs and her daughter Kerry, Jenny White, John Connolly, Ellen Clair Lamb, Brad Parks, and Meredith Cole. We talked and ate and drank well past the restaurant's closing time…but the patient proprietors were kind enough not call the cops and have us forcibly removed.  

All in all, it was a terrific festival and a welcome getaway for me. With luck, the Virginia Film Festival with select REMAINDERED and I'll have an excuse to go back.

(Pictured 1. a corner of the Daedalus bookshop, 2. my books for sale, 3. Kathy Reichs, Andy Straka and Louis Bayard).

Floored and Flattered

Bruce Grossman at Bookgasm praised THE DEAD MAN today, saying, in part:

THE DEAD MAN: FACE OF EVIL, a short novella from the very prolific authors Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, is the first step in an intriguing series, for which this lays the groundwork. […] I've not seen a writing tandem like this since the glory days of Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy. 

We are extremely flattered by the review. The comparison to Sapir & Murphy means a lot to us. We were not only big fans of the "Destroyer" novels, but we had the good fortune of working with Warren Murphy many years ago on the TV series "Murphy's Law," which was loosely based on his "Trace" and "Digger" novels. We have remained friends, and admirers, of Warren's ever since.


More Suspenseful Authors

Naomi Hirahara, Libby Fischer Hellmann and Stephen Gallagher have joined Top Suspense, and you can read some amusing &  informative interviews with them on the Top Suspense blog. Here's an excerpt from the interview with Stephen:

TSG: What are your influences?

A mixed bunch of American pulpsters and British postwar thriller writers; I'm particularly drawn to novelists who demolish all barriers between low and high art for the sake of a thrilling tale. I like good contemporary suspense and I also like a great historical, as long as there's a streak of darkness in it.

TSG: Your muses?

The ghosts of Arthur Conan Doyle, James M Cain, Gavin Lyall, and all the dogs I've ever owned, and the woods we've roamed in while I worked out my stories.

TSG: Your first sale?

An adaptation of my first radio serial. Radio drama was the first and most valuable step in my education. Unlimited landscapes with a tight focus on plot and character.

TSG: Your biggest, most memorable thrill as a writer?

Driving down to Santa Monica in October 2008, seeing a giant billboard advertising one of my TV shows while the trail for another played on the car's radio. In a convertible it would have been a perfect moment; in a rented Hyundai it was still pretty good.

TOP SUSPENSE Free Advance Reading Copies

0300 Top Suspense_'13'_10 Hold on tight for a literary thrill-ride into the wickedly clever, frightening, and exhilarating world of  Top Suspense, a sizzling collaboration of twelve master storytellers at the peak of their
powers in thirteen unforgettable tales…Max Allan Collins, Bill Crider, Stephen Gallagher, Joel Goldman, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Naomi Hirahara, Vicki Hendricks, Paul Levine, Harry Shannon, Dave Zeltserman, and yours truly.

This unforgettable anthology – packed full of cold-blooded killers, erotic tension, shady private eyes, craven drug dealers, vicious betrayals, crafty thieves, and shocking twists – is coming out on APRIL 1 and is only a taste of the thrills you will find in the breathtakingly original ebooks by these authors at

But you can get a FREE ADVANCE READING your e-format of choice.

Here’s all you have to do:

1. Send me an email at with the subject FREE TOP SUSPENSE BOOK and give me your name and the address of your website or blog (don’t have one? That’s okay. Read on).

2. Agree to post a review, positive or negative (but with no spoilers!) on your blog, website, Goodreads page, Facebook page, or the Amazon listing for TOP SUSPENSE in the next 60 days. (You don't have to buy the book on Amazon to review it there, you only need to have an account). 

3. Email me a copy of the review or a link to the post.

Each Top Suspense author has been alotted just 25 copies to giveaway, so if you're interested, you'd better hurry. And once you get your book,  sit back, bite down on a piece of strong leather, and prepare to get hit by some gale-force suspense and writing so sharp it will draw blood.

The Man with the Lousy Title

GOLDBERG_Iron_On_Badge_FINAL THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE  is by far my most critically-acclaimed book, but the ebook sales aren't as good as I think they could be. My theory is that the clunky title is to blame. So I'm seriously considering retitling the book and coming up with a new cover. The stage play version of the book was called MAPES FOR HIRE, but I'm not wild about that title, either. 

If you've read the book, and have some ideas for a new title, please let me know!



Looking Forward to Charlottesville

I'm doing some panels March 16-20 as a guest of the 17th Annual Viriginia Festival of the Book…but that's not why I can't wait to get there. I'm excited as a reader. The line-up they've got is incredible. Here are some highlights, including: 

And here's what's sold out at press time:The Help author Kathryn Stockett in an event sponsored by John and Renee Grisham; the traditionally sold-out festival luncheon, this year with the Newshour's Jim Lehrer, and the Crime Wave luncheon with author and TV series Bones producer Kathy Reichs. The good news: that still leaves 127 other events. For the 17th Virginia Festival of the Book, here are 17 events that caught our eye.

14. Screenwriting large and small. Doesn't everyone have a screenplay lurking, or is that just in L.A.? This panels covers all the screenwriting basics. Lee Goldberg (Diagnosis Murder) takes small-screen writing. Locals Hugh Wilson (First Wives ClubPolice Academy) and Paul Wagner (Out of Ireland) handle feature films and documentary writing respectively.