Inside the Mind of a Literary Thief

Everybody knows by now that the spy thriller Assassin of Secrets was stitched together by "author" Quentin Rowan from passages stolen, word for word, from other espionage novels. But he went even further than that… he also stole from other authors for the essays, blog posts, and the Q&A interviews that he did to promote his book.

Novelist Jeremy Duns, who blurbed the original novel, has been extraordinarily aggressive now in exposing the ruse and, in the comments section of his excellent blog post dissecting the Assassin of Secrets, Rowan shows up to explain himself, leading to a revealing, back-and-forth interview. It's fascinating stuff. Here's an excerpt of Rowan's mea culpa…

"[…] the minute I got an agent and started showing it to people who suggested changes, I began to distrust the quality of whatever real work I'd done on it. So I started ripping off passages from spy novels in my collection that fit. Somehow public scrutiny has always been the pressure point for me. Once I feel I'm doing the work for someone else's eyes, I begin stealing, because I want to impress.

Once the book was bought, I had to make major changes in quite a hurry, basically re-write the whole thing from scratch, and that's when things really got out of hand for me. I just didn't feel capable of writing the kinds of scenes and situations that were asked of me in the time allotted and rather than saying I couldn't do it, or wasn't capable, I started stealing again. I didn't want to be seen as anything other than a writing machine, I guess. Some call it "people pleasing." Anyway, the more I did it, the deeper into denial I went, until it felt as if I had two brains at war with each other. Half of my time this past year was spent in a strange internal argument: Yes I can, no I can't. They'll figure it out! No they won't! It became like a strange schizophrenic form of gambling, and for some reason – viewing myself as a failed 'literary' writer – I saw this book as my "last shot." So even though what was left of my rational mind understood I would probably be found out, I still thought I had to bet it all on this one horse."

The Mail I Get

The clueless desperation of some aspiring writers is absolutely cringe-inducing. Here's a recent example from my emailbox:

Hi…I know you are busy…but…would you at least read my bio with a very short paragraph from my novel and give me some suggestion on how to have an agent read something? Please…I am not asking you a lot…I've attached my bio, and if you are interested…please…would you give it to your agent for me? Thank you for taking the time to read.

I politely declined to read her bio or the sample from her book. She didn't take the hint. A short time later she wrote back to me:

Hi Lee, I apologize for bothering you again.. I remember you told me that you didn't want to read my book…but I was wondering if you could give it to your agent to read… It's really important, my true story and I really believe it's a very good one…have a look at my blog at least to be sure I'm good…would you do that?

No, I told her, I would not.

What makes people think that I routinely forward work by strangers to my agent? I don't want my agent spending his time reading work by strangers. I want him out there finding work for me!  

That's not to say I haven't referred writers to my agent. I have. But they have always been good friends or students of mine that I know well and who I can vouch for as writers and as great human beings.  I have never referred strangers to my agent and never will. So don't ask.

Get on The Fight Card

FF1Bill Rabkin and I aren't the only ones who had the idea of reviving the "men's action adventure series" on the Kindle. The incredibly versatile Mel Odom has teamed up with several of my good friends to launch not one, but two original ebook series… the western Rancho Diablo (with James Reasoner and Bill Crider, all writing under the pseudonym Colby Jackson) and now  Fight Card (with Paul Bishop, both writing under the pseudonym Jack Tunney).  

The series is inspired by the "fight pulps" of the 30s and 40s, which are totally unknown to me and, I am guessing, most readers out there. And that's a good thing, because Fight Card doesn't handily fit into any particular existing genre, with the possible exception of "damn good fun," which makes it unlike anything else out there for $2.99

Here's how Paul Bishop describes Felony Fists, the first book in the series:

Los Angeles 1954

Patrick “Felony” Flynn has been fighting all his life. Learning the “sweet science” from Father Tim the fighting priest at St. Vincent’s, the Chicago orphanage where Pat and his older brother Mickey were raised, Pat has battled his way around the world – first with the Navy and now with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Legendary LAPD chief William Parker is on a rampage to clean up both the department and the city. His elite crew of detectives known as The Hat Squad is his blunt instrument – dedicated, honest, and fearless. Promotion from patrol to detective is Pat’s goal, but he also yearns to be one of the elite.

And his fists are going to give him the chance.

Gangster Mickey Cohen runs LA’s rackets, and murderous heavyweight Solomon King is Cohen’s key to taking over the fight game. Chief Parker wants wants Patrick “Felony” Flynn to stop him – a tall order for middleweight ship’s champion with no professional record.

Leading with his chin, and with his partner, LA’s first black detective Tombstone Jones, covering his back, Patrick Flynn and his Felony Fists are about to fight for his future, the future of the department, and the future of Los Angeles. 

How can you possibly resist that? I know I can't. The second book in the series, The Cutman, is also available.  

(My one piece of unsolicited advice for Mel and Paul is to rethink the covers…the series title is buried in tiny type under an armpit and is totally unreadable in thumbnail, which is how most ebook buyers are going to encounter it.)

The Bookwhirl Morons Never Learn

Those imbeciles at Bookwhirl, who offer inept publicity services, sent me… a guy who has been trashing them for years….a promo for their Thanksgiving sale just to prove that they still can't promote themselves effectively,  much less an author. The best proof of their staggering ineptitude as publicists is that they even have me on their mailing list.

One of the hallmarks of Bookwhirl's publicity efforts has always been their stunning inability to write. That hasn't changed. I loved this paragraph from their promo:

Early Bird Catches the Early Worm Promo is a race on catching the finest prices on the earliest dates. encourages you to harvest the fattest perks of being early. Here's a run down of how being an early bird can get your money's worth fly at an extra-extra mile. 

Nobody crafts a sentence quite like the wonderful wordsmiths at Bookwhirl. I wonder whether anyone at Bookwhirl ever went beyond the sixth grade or if they only hire non-English speakers. You can find amazing examples of their inability to craft a sentence all over their site. Here's one of my favorites, especially given the context….

Apparently, someone has been sending out emails to authors warning them not to use Bookwhirl's over-priced, worthless services. Bookwhirl has a notice on their site urging potential customers not to heed the warning:

The scammer operates by sending warning messages to authors that contains false allegations and bad publicities about that has never been proven accurate.

I'd say Bookwhirl just proved the "scammer" right. That said, I think the warnings being sent out by the "scammer" are pointless. Anyone who hires Bookwhirl after reading anything they've written deserves to be screwed over by them.

Doing the Unthinkable

0383 Lee Goldberg ecover King City_14There was a turning point when I realized that I’d completely shaken free of all of my previous, deeply held perceptions and beliefs about publishing….and fully embraced an entirely new publishing model.

It wasn’t when my out-of-print backlist, which the publishing industry deemed played out and worthless, started pulling in $70,000 a year for me in ebook royalties.

It wasn’t when I signed a 12-book digital, print and audio deal with Amazon’s 47North imprint for The Dead Man, a monthly series of original books that Bill Rabkin & I created, and that we are writing with a dozen incredibly talent authors, and that we began in February as a self-publishing venture.

And it wasn’t last week, when I agreed to a two-book digital-print-audio deal with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint for my new novel King City and a sequel.

It was Tuesday, when I delivered Mr. Monk is a Mess, my 14th Monk tie-in novel to Penguin/Putnam and informed them that my 15th book, the last in my current contract and due this coming May, would also be my last book in the series.

In other words,  I quit.

They were surprised, of course.

I am walking away from a hugely successful book series, one published in multiple languages around the world, and from the certainty of another three-book contract and an increase in my advance.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the idea of ending a hit book series, in hardcover, with a major publisher would have been inconceivable to me and just about every author I know.

But the publishing world has completely changed.

The Monk books, like the Diagnosis Murder novels that I wrote before, were licensed tie-ins. That means I was hired for an advance, and given a tiny royalty, to write books based on characters that belong to someone else. I was a hired hand…albeit one paid very well by tie-in standards.

I had a great fun writing those books, took enormous pride in them and, until recently, considered myself very fortunate to have the gig.

And in that old world, I was.

But now, in this new world, my attitude has completely changed.  0460 Lee Goldberg Dead Man Series_V2_3

I am still very proud of the books…which is why I find it incredibly frustrating that I have written 22 novels that I dearly love but that don’t belong to me.

They belong to studios.

It’s frustrating because if they belonged to me, I could be earning so much more money from them now…and, more importantly for my family, in the future.

I won’t make that mistake again.

Instead of writing two books a year for Penguin/Putman, I will be writing that many books… or more…for myself that I own.

Some I will self-publish, others I will write for Amazon’s imprints.

But they will be mine.

I know what you’re thinking. What about those books for Amazon? Haven’t you just traded one master for another?

Every aspect of  the deals that I have with Amazon’s imprints on The Dead Man series and the King City books are far, far, FAR more author-friendly and potentially lucrative than anything I ever had before…as are my chances at success with such a savvy partner, one who, incidentally, operates the biggest and most successful bookstore on the planet.

And I own King City. If I end up writing 15 books in that series, all of those books, now and in the future, will be mine.

Ah, but what about all those writers who are doing The Dead Man books for us? Aren’t we exploiting them? Aren’t they making the same mistake I’d have made if I’d signed to do more Monk books?


That’s because unlike the old school publishers (and, let’s face it, publishers are what Bill and I have become with The Dead Man), we have thrown away the old rules of doing business with writers on licensed properties.

In fact, what we are doing is revolutionary in the tie-in world.

We are splitting all of the publishing royalties from digital, print, audio, and foreign translations on The Dead Man books 50/50 with the writers.

Our success is their success…and vice-versa.

We’ve made them our partners.

(And publishers of tie-ins should follow our lead…or there won’t be any tie-ins anymore, because it won’t make any financial sense for writers to write them).

The Dead Man series relaunched on Oct. 24th and is already doing amazing business. Our next book comes out later this month.

And King City is coming in May.

It’s a bold, exciting new world for authors and I haven’t been this excited about writing since I was a teenager.