Remaindered Remainders

Top Suspense Remaindered The release of my short story REMAINDERED as a 99-cent Kindle standalone, released through Top Suspense and including a link to the short film based on the book, has garnered some gratifying reaction. Here's a sampling:

Ed Gorman wrote: "REMAINDERED is one of the wiliest short stories I've read in many years. Really laughed my ass off when I read it. The short film based on it is equally excellent. Lee Goldberg at his very best."

Lawrence Block tweeted: "Thanks so much for Remaindered. I'm not surprised the film festivals are eating it up. You can be proud of this one."

Randy Johnson wrote: "You not only get the excellent short story, but a link to the short film based on it written and directed by Lee. I thought the film was an excellent twenty minutes."

Paul Brazill wrote: "Remaindered by Lee Goldberg is the clever and very funny story of a former writing golden boy reduced to pimping his books in supermarkets…"

I hope you'll check it out. The story is also available in a Nook version.

Quiet on the Set

I haven't talked much lately about screenwriting on this blog, not because I'm not doing any, but because I'm not allowed to say much about the projects I'm working on (in one case, because I signed a very rigid non-disclosure agreement).

But I can say that good things are happening with GUN MONKEYS, my long-in-the-works feature adaptation of Victor Gischler's terrific novel…and we're both hoping that we're going to be free to share some exciting news with y'all in the very near future. But I can tell you that director Ryuhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train, Versus, Azumi) is still attached, as is a world famous movie star with whom I've worked closely on several drafts of the script.

And I've been working on low-budget feature adaptations of four western novels, two each by Bill Crider and Ed Gorman, and financing talks on those  have been ongoing with many entities…including a national retailer. That project, in particular, has been a big learning experience for me. It's the first time I have had to get involved in the nitty-gritty of equity financing, distribution and co-production and it's been a real education (which is to say, slow going and extremely frustrating).

I've also had a few disappointments…TV staff gigs that came close, but fell through, and some freelance scripts that were promised to me but didn't happen, all for a number of reasons beyond my control (positions eliminated to cut costs, a showrunner I was working with getting fired, etc). But that's how the business works and I'm used to it.

I wrote a spec pilot recently that has been working well for me as a fresh sample, getting me several "get-to-know-you" meetings at studios and networks around town, but it hasn't led to a TV or movie gig yet.  It was based on an unfinished novel which I am now finishing…before I have to start work on my next Monk in just a few weeks.

But all of that is on hold for the next couple of days…I am off to Las Vegas with the family, so behave yourselves here while I am gone.


Literary Agents Reinventing Themselves

Victoriaphoto With the publishing industry undergoing cataclysmic changes, and with self-publishing now a viable option for authors, it's only natural that literary agents are scrambling to position themselves.

How are they going to make money in this new publishing business? How are they going to be relevant?

One way is to reinvent themselves. Instead of just finding clients publishers and negotiating the deals,  they are now branching out into publishing books themselves… or helping their clients self-publish by taking on the management and business side of the business (finding cover artists, copyeditors, tracking royalties, etc) …in exchange for a 15% commission on books sold. Here's how the Dystel & Goderich Literary Agency is doing it:

 We have a project manager whose job it is to coordinate, advise, and make sure that the process goes smoothly with minimal work on the part of the author.  This, because we want our authors to write, not have to engage in a 47-e-mail exchange with someone about font size.   Everything is subject to the author’s approval.

Which brings up the question posed by several of you, both here and on Joe Konrath’s blog: what are you people doing to earn that 15% commission?  Pretty much what we do now to earn that 15% commission.  Our commitment to this is more than just uploading and watching the dollars trickle in.  In addition to all we do as agents, managing self-published properties will be part of our job: updating metadata, copy, next-book excerpts, etc.  It’s not just vague managerial duties, but concrete tasks that we will be adding to our other duties.

Over on the Writer Beware blog, there's an informative, thoughtful, and remarkably civil discussion going on about this new development, one that Victoria Strauss sees as a troubling conflict of interest. Here's just one of her many concerns:

 If an agency can publish a client's book itself, will it try as hard to market the book to traditional publishers? Will it give up sooner on a book that doesn't sell right away? Where and how will the line be drawn between "this book still has potential markets" and "this book is tapped out?" How much–unconsciously or otherwise–will the agency influence clients' decisions on which publishing route to take? According to Dystel & Goderich's announcement, "what we are going to do is to facilitate e-publishing for those of our clients who decide that they want to go this route, after consultation and strategizing about whether they should try traditional publishing first or perhaps simply set aside the current book and move on to the next." (My bolding.) Does this mean that the agency may take on clients whose manuscripts are never marketed to other publishers at all?

 But in the comments section, author Barry Eisler, who is married to an agent, and Joe Konrath, whose agents just announced their new self-publishing intiative, have  jumpd in to explain in detail why they see this as a natural evolution for agents as advocates for their authors. Barry says, in part: 5085106102_6ebeaff14f

I think you're defining the author/agent relationship premise too narrowly. Most fundamentally, the purpose — the end — of the agent is to help authors get their books to the greatest number of readers and achieve the greatest possible commercial and literary success. The means by which this end has traditionally been achieved is a sale to a legacy publisher. Because the "sale to a publisher" route has until quite recently been the only means to the "getting the book to the greatest number of readers and achieve the greatest possible commercial and literary success" end, it's easy to conflate the two. But just as railroads were not in the railroad business, but rather were in the transportation business, agents are not in the "selling to publishers" business, but rather are in the "helping their authors reach the greatest number of readers and achieve the greatest possible commercial and literary success" business. Agents who miss this fundamental distinction are making the same mistake the railroad companies made, and will achieve similar results.

It's discussion well worth reading.  

I'm sure you're wondering where I weigh in on this.

I agree with both Victoria… and with Barry & Joe.

I think it's a big conflict-of-interest when an agency becomes a publisher…creating a situation that's rife with ethical problems and plenty of opportunities for the authors to be exploited and screwed.

However, I think that's very different from what agencies like Dystel & Goderich appear to be offering.  

If I am reading it right, they're offering to take all the headaches out of your self-publishing venture by dealing with the cover artists, copyeditors, formatters, and sales platforms for you.

In other words, you write, we'll handle as much of the business side of it as you'd like us to. You'll still be making all the decisions and writing all the checks…we'll just shoulder all the time-consuming, day-to-day managerial work. 

I don't see a conflict-of-interest in that scenario. It's your self-publishing venture, they're just managing it for you in exchange for a commission (I think 15% for that service is way too high, but that's another discussion).

 (Pictured: Victoria Strauss and Barry Eisler, who photo was taken at Bouchercon 2010 by Mark Coggins)

Me on Me Again

The Writer Underground interviewed me this week about, well, writing…here's an excerpt.

Q: You came to writing early; you wrote and sold your first novel while still in college. How many novels have you written over the course of your career?

Eight Diagnosis Murder novels, 13 Monk novels, four Jury novels, My Gun Has Bullets, Dead Space, Watch Me Die, and The Walk.

Q: In an era where a lot of “experts” suggest you have to specialize to succeed, you write in several different formats (novels, online, TV, etc); how has that versatility paid off during your career?

It’s kept me alive. I have never put all of my eggs in one basket. So when TV lets me down, the books pick up the slack, and vice-versa. I also work as a TV consultant to studios and networks around the world.

Q: How do you approach new projects when you have little or no experience with that kind of writing (e.g. — your first script, your first novel, first tie-in novel, etc)?

With terror… and excitement. I like challenging myself. It keeps me sharp. I usually begin by researching the subject and talking to experts in it… before tackling it myself.

Q: Any quirky writing habits that would immediately endear you to my readers?

I write in the nude while listening to TV themes. I’m joking, of course. I at least wear underwear.

Q: You’ve got a pretty active online presence; how much time are you investing in your blog, interviews, social media, etc?

Way too much. In fact, I shouldn’t even be answering these questions.

Q: Writing professionally means dealing with tight deadlines, yet “writer’s block” is still a hot topic among writers. How do you make yourself “creative” on a deadline?

It’s the deadline that makes me creative. I do much better when I have a drop-dead date. I have never missed a deadline, even when I had an accident and broke both of my arms.

Q: Any advice for novice writers, or observations about the mistakes they make over and over and over and over…?

Avoid clichés.


Mid-list Riches

There's an interesting article at Publishing Perspectives on what a goldmine self-publishing ebooks has become for midlist authors. But that's not news to anybody who has been reading this blog, is it? The article concludes:

There was a time when self-publishing produced little to no revenue, and doing so was often the last resort for a project that had been rejected by everyone it had been put in front of. Now, in the post digital revolution, the model has been turned upside down. Authors are going to e-books first based on earning potential and a quick time to market. If they do well, then they leverage their sales for larger advances and favorable contract terms. Of course self publishing is not for everyone, but at least for those that decide to go this route, they won’t have to be that one in a million outlier—if they can achieve the e-book midlist status, they stand a good chance of telling their boss, “I quit, I’m going to stay home and write for a living.”

The Latest News…from 1861

Imagine Rachel Maddow covering the Civil War and you have THE MASON DIXON REPORT, William Rabkin’s smart and funny new web series, starring Dan Gilvezan.

Bill writes today on the History News Network site about how the series came about.

…one reason why so many Americans have such little interest in history [is that] they can’t make a connection with the people who the books tell them lived lives so completely different from their own.

That disconnect is what led the brilliant producer Steve Ecclesine and me to create our original web series, The Mason Dixon Report.  We’d been watching the parade of Civil War programming, and while the shows ranged from superb to, um, less so, they had one alienating element in common:  

They all insisted that the war was History.

In fact, the best of them, Ken Burns’ massive documentary series, was the most guilty of this, full of slow pans across battered photographs and self-consciously old-timey music in the background screaming out in every frame that this was an event that could only have happened to those other people who weren’t anything like we are today.

We wanted to strip the History out of the Civil War and drop our audience into the middle of it.  To give people the sense of what it’s like to live in a time when you don’t know whether or not your country will survive another day.

The conceit of our web series is simple:  Cable news existed in 1861, and this was the flagship series.  And it turns out that nineteenth century cable news looks a lot like today’s.  We’ve got a host who gets the news of the day from our regular reporter, and then turns to a rotating panel of pundits, politicians, and consultants to explore the meaning of what just happened.

It’s a lot of fun and think you’ll enjoy it. I certainly am!

Mason Dixon Report Coming Attractions from ron schneider on Vimeo.

Bish is Back

51WJM8QQsQL._SS500_ Paul Bishop's terrific crime novels, inexplicably out-of-print for the last few years, are back in new ebook editions, including CITADEL RUN (retitled HOT PURSUIT). Now is a good time to find out for yourself why the Los Angeles Times calls him "“The closest equivalent to Joe Wambaugh yet" and the New York Times calls him "a first-class writer" who delivers "a lively, bloody adventure."

Show Me the Money

The Guardian reports in a lengthy piece today that more established authors are thinking about self-publishing their work in the wake of such high-profile deserters of traditional publishing as JK Rowling, Barry Eisler, and John Edgar Wideman.  it all comes down to dollars and sense, as my friend Barry told them:

Thriller novelist Barry Eisler turned down a reported $500,000 from St Martin's Press to go his own way. "The key dynamic at work in self-publishing is legacy publishers' loss of their lock on distribution," he says. "It used to be that if you wanted to distribute your book in meaningful numbers, you needed a partner with a sales force, and relationships with wholesalers, retailers, and printing presses. Digital has changed that. Before, the question that had to be asked by a would-be self-published author was, 'How will I distribute?' It used to be that there was no good answer. Today, digital has definitively answered it. The question for a would-be self-published author now is just, 'How will I market?' And that question has a lot of available answers." 

[…]The thriller author is an interesting case. After turning down the St Martin's deal to self-publish, he subsequently signed up to a one-book deal with Amazon for a six-figure sum, but will continue to self-publish other titles. The way he explains it, the numbers make sense. 

"To understand what the traditional advance really represents, you have to break it down. Start by taking out your agent's commission: your $500,000 is now $425,000. Then divide that $425,000 over the anticipated life of the contract, which is three years (execution, first hardback publication, second hardback publication, second paperback publication). That's about $142,000 a year. This is a more realistic way of looking at that $500,000," he says. 

"But there's more. Some people have mistakenly argued that, for my move to make financial sense, I'll have to earn $142,000 a year for three years. But this is one time when you don't want to be comparing apples to apples. Because the question isn't whether I can make $425,000 in three years in self-publishing; the question is what happens regardless of when I hit that number. What happens whenever I hit that point is that I'll have 'beaten' the contract, and then I'll go on beating it for the rest of my life. If I don't earn out the legacy contract, the only money I'll ever see from it is $142,000 per year for three years. Even if I do earn out, I'll only see 14.9% of each digital sale thereafter. But once I beat the contract in digital, even if it takes longer than three years, I go on earning 70% of each digital sale forever thereafter." 

Barry just took a deal to publish his book THE DETACHMENT through Amazon's new imprint, Thomas & Mercer, but that's because they offered him a total rethink of the typical author contract. He says:

[…]"Amazon offered me the best of both worlds, legacy and indie. The advance and marketing muscle you (might) get in a legacy contract; the kind of digital royalties, creative control, and time-to-market you get with indie". So he's giving up "something like 20% or 30%" of his digital retail channels, but he's gaining Amazon's "marketing muscle" – "and if Amazon blows out the marketing for The Detachment, [his current and future self-published books] will benefit enormously".

JK Rowling, meanwhile, is self-publishing the ebook versions of her HARRY POTTER novels, but is going one bold step further… she's cutting out booksellers… brick-and-mortar and e-retailers…entirely.

She's going to sell the books through her own storefront. She stands to make millions more than she would have if she'd let a publisher or e-retailer release her ebooks. Instead of splitting the royalties with anyone…she's taking them ALL for herself.

This is a very compelling model…one I wouldn't be surprised to see other "franchise" authors like James Patterson, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, or Michael Connelly try in the very near future.

The changes in the publishing world are happening with astonishing speed…and, for once, they are favoring authors more than corporations…at least for now.

Just One More Thing…

OB-OL738_pf14_E_20110624145933 I wrote about Peter Falk, and his portrayal of Lt. Columbo, for the Wall Street Journal today. I said, in part:

Before Peter Falk came along with his iconic portrayal of Lt. Columbo, TV detectives were never people like us. For the most part, they were a smug and self-assured bunch, comfortable in their mental, moral, and physical attributes and their obvious superiority over not only the bad guys, but everybody else, too.

They were smooth and elegant, like Gene Barry’s millionaire homicide cop Amos Burke, or stalwart do-gooders like Jack Webb’s by-the-book Joe Friday, or handsome tough guys like Burt Reynolds’s Dan August. We watched them because they were better versions of ourselves, wish-fulfillment caricatures who didn’t have our imperfections, our doubts, our anxieties. They weren’t so much characters as they were a means of escape from our dreary lives.

But we watched…no, we adored…Peter Falk’s Columbo because he was us:  an everyman, working class, messy, and imperfect, dealing with the physical and domestic woes we know so well, and constantly underestimated by wealthier, better-educated people as a result.