Writing on the Fast Track

Fast Track - Lee GoldbergI've had so much commercial and critical success with my ebook McGRAVE, which was based on an unproduced pilot I wrote for Sony International Television, that I've decided to write novelizations of all of my pilot and TV movie scripts, produced and unproduced, on which I retained the publishing rights. 

So during a brief hiatus between books in 2012, I novelized my first draft screenplay for FAST TRACK, the action movie I wrote and produced for Action Concept and ProSeiben in Berlin a few years ago.

FAST TRACK was a two-hour pilot for an American-style action series that would have been shot in English and German with a cast of American, Canadian, British, French and German actors and followed the lives of four young people in the world of illegal street racing. ProSeiben commissioned the pilot movie and scripts for six episodes. Making the movie, which was directed by Axel Sand and starred Erin Cahill, Andrew Walker, Alexia Barlier and Joseph Beattie, was one of the highlights of my career and the friendships I made during the production continue to this day. It was a fantastic experience professionally, creatively and personally (if you watch the "Making of Fast Track" documentary, I think you'll see why). Unfortunately, the series didn't happen…but perhaps because I've remained close to many of the actors, the characters have stayed fresh in my mind. I haven't been able to let go of them, and have tried to resurrect the project several times over the years (we came close with Cartoon Network, but it fell through).

So I approached the opportunty to revisit the FAST TRACK world with enthusiasm. I used the first draft screenplay as the basis for the book because it had some action elements that we either had to omit or re-imagine due to budget/scheduling/location issues and a prologue that was shot, but that I ultimately cut, in the final edit (I've always regretted cutting the prologue).  

The film took place in Berlin, but I decided the novella would work better in the United States, so that required some rethinking of the characters' backstories and reworking some of the scenes. I also did a complete update on the cars, with the help of Sam Barer, the same technical consultant we used on the movie. 

I had so much fun writing the FAST TRACK novella that if it does well, I may revisit the characters in sequels based on the twelve episode ideas that I came up with during the development of the pilot (though the stories,which I haven't looked at in years, may have been so Berlin/Europe-centered that they may not work in the new, Los Angeles setting).

But this experience has definitely spurred me on to take a look at my other scripts. I don't know yet which one I will tackle during my next short hiatus.

If you'd like to know more about FAST TRACK, here are some links:

The Making of Fast Track documentary

The Fast Track Trailer

The Fast Track Movie

My Blogs About the Production, Post-Production and Promotion of Fast Track

The Mail I Get

I got this question today…

I found you on the net searching for publishing companies , checking out tate etc.. and your name came up on a Review kinda about them.. I was wondering in the blog you mentioned the Lulu and something else.. question I had was… I am looking for a better way to do the same work as this company , it seems my Book is only main stream online not really in alot of book stores at this time.. thus I could do the same myself? you had mentioned Amazon as well..I write about the conflict of life in question , anything from religious and questionable I love to question thinking and one self in question… life whatever can help anyone.. well I can imagine you get alot of mail.. any advice?

Yes. This is going to sound very cruel, but my advice is to go back and take a basic English course. Once you've learned how to construct coherent sentences, and then how to shape them into paragraphs that convey a story, then you can worry about how to publish a book. Judging by your email to me, the biggest problem you have now isn't finding an honest self-publishing company, it's mastering the craft of writing itself. 


The Mail I Get

Today it's not my mail, but some that my friend author Joel Goldman received from a self-published author of erotic novels. She offered to swap reviews with him. He decided to play dumb, though he had a pretty good idea where this was going. He asked her:

Are we talking about reading each other’s books before we review them or just posting reviews of them?

And she replied:

Whatever suits you.

I checked out your work and it looks fine and properly formatted. If you want me to read and review it i’ll do it with five stars.

Similarly if you want me to post or reword your review I’ll do that too. What I’m after is a five star review on Amazon with as little work and as quickly as possible. I’m not asking you to read [title of book], I guess you have better things to do.

My first chapter is up there (on line), so you can judge the writing, I can post you a review to submit or reword or a synopsis to save you time.

Joel politely declined. This exchange would be funny if this sort of "review swapping" wasn't so common, especially among newbie authors. Just check out forums like Kindleboards and you'll see for yourself. 

What's really sad isn't how they are devaluing reviews, or how low their literary standards are ("it looks fine and is properly formatted") but that they don't see what's wrong with what they are doing, or how badly leaving rave reviews for books they haven't read (and are probably shit) reflects on their reputations, both as authors and as reviewers.

They simply don't care.

All that matters to them is garnering praise, even if its entirely fake and undeserved. They are so desperate for acclaim, success and respect that they have forgotten all those things have to be earned…and how good it feels when it is. 

And that's a feeling you'll never get from reviews by people who've never actually read your book…or, in the case of John Locke, from people you pay to buy your book and rave about it.

You're not just fooling customers, you're fooling yourself, and that might be the most hurtful swindle of all.


It’s the Story, Stupid

TOP SUSPENSE BLOG HEADER 3Seems to me that authors are losing track of what really matters… not the formatting, covers, tweeting, pinning and promotion…it's the story, stupid. I blog about it today at Top Suspense. Here's an excerpt:

I’ve listened to new writers at conferences or while lurking on writers’ boards and the newbie writers seem obsessed with everything except what matters most: the writing.

I believe it’s that misguided obsession that s leading to the ethical scandals we’ve been seeing lately… like John Locke who hired people to buy his books and write fake reviews (to artificially boost his rankings and acclaim) to establish himself… and Stephen Leather and RJ Ellory who both used “sock-puppets” on Amazon and social media to generate false buzz and fake reviews to boost their popularity and attack their "rivals."

What authors need to remind themselves is that all of that formatting, pricing, tweeting, social networking, etc. is meaningless if you don’t know how to tell a good story, create compelling characters, develop a strong voice, set a scene, establish a sense of place, or manage point-of-view.

I rarely hear writers anymore talking about the pluses and minuses of out-lining, the importance of an active protagonist, the different kinds of conflict, or the elements of structure. The craft of writing has taken a backseat to the business of publishing.

Unethical Scumbags

Remember the good old days when ethical behavior mattered? Now we have guys like Todd Rutherford, who take pride in unethical and dishonest conduct…in his case, being paid thousands of dollars to write fake, positive Amazon reviews for authors… and scores of talentless authors so desperate for acclaim they will pay to delude themselves and swindle readers. The New York Times wrote about Rutherford’s lucrative scam today. Here’s an excerpt:

Suddenly it hit him. Instead of trying to cajole others to review a client’s work, why not cut out the middleman and write the review himself? Then it would say exactly what the client wanted — that it was a terrific book. A shattering novel. A classic memoir. Will change your life. Lyrical and gripping, Stunning and compelling. Or words to that effect.

In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site,GettingBookReviews.com. At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.

There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.

A polite fellow with a rakish goatee and an entrepreneurial bent, Mr. Rutherford has been on the edges of publishing for most of his career. Before working for the self-publishing house, he owned a distributor of inspirational books. Before that, he was sales manager for a religious publishing house. Nothing ever quite worked out as well as he hoped. With the reviews business, though, “it was like I hit the mother lode.”

I think Amazon and Barnes & Noble should remove all the reader reviews for any author who has paid Rutherford, or any scumbags like him, for purchased praise.

In the article, author Roland Hughes, who is eager to become a “recognized author,” admits to paying for the positive reviews of his novel INFINITE EXPOSURE. So I left him this review on Amazon and Barnes & Noble for free:

I have not read this book which, according to an interview with Hughes in today’s New York Times, means I have a lot in common with the reviewers here… at least the ones who’ve praised the book. Hughes admits to buying positive reviews in his quest to become “a recognized author.” Here’s some advice. Actually write a good book. You do not gain readers, or recognition, by swindling readers into buying your books with fake praise. It’s unethical and shows a startling lack of respect for your reader…not to mention yourself. You can have this review for free.

But the big shocker is that “bestselling” author John Locke admits to buying as many as 300 fake reviews to bolster the popularity of his 99 cent detective novels.

Mr. Locke is unwilling to say that paying for reviews made a big difference. “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.”

Apparently, it worked for him. He’s sold a million books on Amazon and scored a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster. It should be interesting to see if he suffers any blowback for his highly unethical conduct. At the minimum, Amazon should delete all of his favorable reviews, since so many of them are now suspect.

Outing Outskirts Press

The “Hollywood” package marketed by the vanity press Outskirts Press to naive, aspiring writers is such a blatantly outrageous and predatory rip-off that I am posting Victoria Strauss’ excellent Writer Beware blog post about the shameful scheme in full to make sure the word gets out to anyone foolish enough to be considering it (or the equally worthless one offered by Author Solutions) . 

Self-publishing service Outskirts Press–home of some of the sillier “book marketing” services–is taking advantage of one of writers’ most fevered pipe dreams with its new Book Your Trip to Hollywood service. Of course, the press release doesn’t put it that way: 

These services solve a real problem for many authors who dream of making it big in Hollywood. In fact, just getting Hollywood’s attention is nearly impossible, but with the Book Your Trip to Hollywood suite of services from Outskirts Press, authors receive turn-key, full-service assistance with the push of a button. And with each option, authors receive the feedback and/or participation of a real Hollywood producer and production company; the final results are added to a Hollywood database that is perused by industry professionals for new projects; and exclusive efforts to option the author’s book are immediately set into motion. The author doesn’t have to lift a finger.

Except to pull out his or her credit card.

The first of the “suite of services,” the Hollywood Book-to-Movie Treatment, costs a cool $3,299. For that, you get a 7-10 page “creative adaptation” of your book written by a screenwriter. Which screenwriter? What are his/her credits? Sorry, that info is not available.

You also get an evaluation and a 3-year optioning effort from a Hollywood production company. Which company? What films has it produced? What further compensation might be due if it does manage to get someone to option your treatment? Oh dear–Outskirts isn’t telling you that, either. (The disclaimer that authors have to sign in order to buy the service mentions a “partner production company” with the initials “VM”; that’s too little information even for Writer Beware’s sleuthing superpowers.) 

The second service, the Complete Hollywood Screenplay, has a sticker price of $1,999. Hmmm, you might be thinking; why does an entire screenplay cost less than a 7-10 page treatment? Because the $1,999 is only a downpayment, you big silly! It puts you in touch with a screenwriter (once again, no info on identities or credits) to “discuss additional details”; if you want to proceed, you’ll owe an extra $9,940. (What happens if you don’t want to proceed? Can you get your downpayment back? No word on that from Outskirts.)

Since buying the treatment service is a pre-requisite to buying the screenplay service, the total bill for your Hollywood pipe dream comes to $15,239. Outskirts can even claim that this is a bargain: the very similar services offered by Author Solutions will set you back over $18,000. 

It hurts my heart, and my brain, to think that authors might actually shell out this kind of money for services that would likely net them zero results even if performed by skilled professionals at reasonable prices. Selling a book to Hollywood is one of the most fervent writerly ambitions; it’s also one of the most unattainable. And as much as you may roll your eyes and think, “Surely no one would fall for a scheme like this,” the fact is that people do–or the schemes wouldn’t exist.


Lee here again…
Remember, Outskirts Press is not a publisher. They are a printer. They aren’t making dreams come true…they are taking advantage of the gullibility and desperation of aspiring writers. And they have ZERO credibility and influence with the studios and networks in Hollywood. Give your $15,000 to the first homeless person you see instead… not only would it be a better use of your money, you would also have exactly the same chance of making a movie sale as you would giving it to Outskirts.

The Mail I Get

I received this from an aspiring writer:

Sorry, but I just got taken at PublishAmerica because I was stupid and then I read your blog or whatever they call it. Would you please advise me how you got into publishing your books if not indie? Your publisher is Penguin and that's a high profile publisher but what about us little guys/girls who can't get their foot in the door. I wish you would mentor people because I have almost given up on being published, well I did have something in Playgirl about twelve years ago but that doesn't count because it was on a dare from a friend. My favorite Mr. Monk book is Mr. Monk in Outer Space if that helps grease the palm. Thank and have a great day. Carolyn

It's insanely easy now…so easy, that I have no sympathy for anyone who gets taken by obvious scams like PublishAmerica. 

You can get your book onto Amazon and the Kindle — worldwide! —and onto Barnes & Noble and the Nook for free. Yes, for free.  So besides your professionally copyedited manuscript, here is what you need:

1. A cover for your book. You can design one yourself, have a friend do it, or go to any number of talented cover designers out there.

2. Your book, in Word format, formatted into .prc and .epub formats (those are the files used by the Kindle and the Nook) and PDF (the file used for the trade paperbacks published for FREE by CreateSpace and Lulu). You should leave the formatting of your books to the experts or you'll regret it later.

3. Everything you need to know about uploading your books to Amazon you can find here. Everything you need to know about uploading your books to B&N you can find here 

4. Or you can skip steps 2&3 and go to www.Smashwords.com, which will do all of that for you in exchange for a percentage of your sales. I don't recommend that, however, since their automated formatting often makes your book look funky and ultimately that costs you sales. You will, however, need to use Smashwords to get onto the Kobo, Sony, and iPad ebook platforms…and for that, you will need a specially formatted Word file, from a professional formatter, that will cut down on the number of formatting errors Smashwords would otherwise create.

5. To create a trade paperback edition of your book, I would use CreateSpace,a print-on-demand service owned by Amazon. It will cost you nothing…CreateSpace takes their cut from each sale you make. If you let your cover artist and your formatter know that you also want to do a paperback edition, they can give you the special PDF files of the cover and the interior that you will need to upload to CreateSpace to do that.

“Rejection by publishers no longer has the same power”

….that's what author Boyd Morrison says and his recent experience certainly proves it.

Back when the Kindle was in its early days, Boyd's  The Ark was the first, big, self-pubbed bestseller…and was immediately snapped up in by Simon & Schuster in a major, multi-book deal.

At the time, there were many bitter writers in the so called "indie" community who lambasted him for selling out. The anger was stupid, of course, based more on jealousy than anything else. I argued at the time that Boyd was in a win-win situation…in the best of all possible worlds, he'd become a bestselling author worldwide with big publishers behind him, reaching scores of readers he could never have reached on his own. In the worst case scenario, he'd bomb, but would still benefit from the exposure and reach readers he hadn't before. And he could go back to self-publishing…but a deal like this might never come again.

Well, as it turns out, Boyd split the difference. He writes that he was just dropped by Simon and Schuster, who rejected his new book The Roswell Conspiracy, so he's self-publishing it…but that his publishers overseas loved the book and are bringing it out in print.  The upshot is…win-win:

It might seem like I would become a rabid self-publishing advocate because of my situation, but that's hardly the case. My ultimate goal is to get my books to readers in the best possible way. If that's through a traditional publisher, great. I'm thrilled to be with Little, Brown UK because they do a fantastic job publishing my books, from the editing to the book packaging to the marketing and promotion. I have hardworking publishers around the world, with books being released in the next few months in Israel, Germany, Italy, and Thailand. And I'm even still published traditionally in the U.S.: Simon and Schuster will continue to be the publisher of my first four books for the foreseeable future.

But sometimes, as with The Roswell Conspiracy in the U.S., self-publishing is the best (and in this case, only) option. I'll take on all the risk, but I'll also reap the rewards if it goes well. That's the amazing thing about what's happened for authors in the last five years. Rejection by publishers no longer has the same power. What could have been a crushing blow in January was actually just a detour sign, and maybe that new path will turn out to be even better than the route I was planning to take. 

This story just proves that this is an exciting  time to be an author, that we have options we never had before. and that rejection by every publisher in NY can actually be a money-making opportunity. 

Meanwhile,author Mark Terry's experience proves that nowadays a book contract isn't always such a good deal after all.  He writes that  his agent just sent him his latest, quarterly royalty check on two hardcover novels…

the check she received was in the amount of $249.99. She'll take her 15% of this magnificent sum of money and send me the remaining $212.49, give or take. Then I'll automatically take 24% out for the federal government and 4% out for the state government. That'll give me about $153 give or take, to play around with, pay bills, or sob over.

 In comparison, in March I received a royalty check (direct deposit, actually) from Amazon (alone) for $1013. That reflects, I believe, either the month of January's ebook sales or December's. 

In other words, he probably lost money by being published instead of self-publishing.  Until now, I don't think there's ever been a time when accepting a publishing contract rather than self-publishing could be, for some authors, a very costly mistake. 

The way I see it, the ebook, self-publishing revolution sparked by Amazon and the Kindle has been hugely beneficial for authors. Of course there are dark sides,  but so far, the pluses far outweight the negatives.

Talking Shop

IMG_1121[1]For me, Left Coast Crime in Sacramento this past weekend was more of a craft and business conference, very friendly, low-key, and collegial (but very well attended, btw. It was packed). I only went to one panel besides the three that I was on — I spent most of my time in the lobby, bar, and area restaurants talking shop with other authors. 

We talked about craft — how we do what we do — and I was surprised by how many of my colleagues aren't outlining any more (but not surprised by how often they end up having to abandon books mid-way through or do page-one rewrites once they are done with their first drafts).  It was also interesting learning the different ways they approach story, character, and revealing clues.

We talked about how publishing contracts are changing, how difficult publishers are making it now for authors to get their "out of print" books back, and how the book tour, even on a small scale, is becoming a thing of the past.

And, of course, there were lots of discussions long into the night about the massive changes in the publishing industry,the rise of ebooks, and the influence of Amazon & the Kindle on every aspect of the business. Many authors were very curious about my self-pubishing experience (in light of this USA Today article), how the monthly DEAD MAN series on Amazon works, and what it was being published by Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint with KING CITY. There was lots of discussion about the pros and cons of self-publishing, about the merits and drawbacks of exclusivity with KDP Select (Amazon), and the potential and pitfalls of a new exclusivity deal quietly being pitched to some authors by Barnes & Noble.  Some of the folks I chatted with included Denise Hamilton, Thomas Perry, Boyd Morrison, John Rector, Cara Black, Robert Ward, Gar Anthony Haywood, Parnell Hall, D.P. Lyle, Craig Faustus Buck, Jan Burke, William Kent Krueger, Christine Goff, Dick Lochte, Robin Burcell, Janet Dawson, Twist Phelan, Johnny Shaw, Andrew Petersen, Naomi Hirahara,  Bill Fitzhugh, and Bruce De Silva, to name just a few.

The upshot of it all, at least from where I was sitting, is that authors see the ebook revolution as scary, exciting, and confusing…but ultimately empowering them in a way they have never been before. The authors I talked to, new and established alike, are radically rethinking many of their long-held beliefs about publishing, what it means to be published, and how they are measuring their own success. It's no longer a foregone conclusion that landing a book contract, even with a big 6 publisher, is necessarily the best move for many authors, particularly those in the mid-list, even if they are still enjoying success in print. Authors who never gave much thought before to the business side of publishing are now thinking about it a lot…and taking a longer view of rights, opportunities they may be signing away for an advance.  IMG_1130[1]

It was surprising to me to hear some of the disinformation that publishers are spreading. One author told me that she'd heard from her editor that Barry Eisler's Amazon experience turned out out be a huge disaster, that he regretted not taking St. Martin's $500,000 two-book deal, and that authors who'd once "sipped the Amazon Kool-Aid" were rushing back to legacy publishers in droves. That,  of course, couldn't be further from the truth but does illustrate just how terrified and desperate some editors in New York are now that they're realizing that they aren't the only game in town anymore…and that authors are becoming far more business savvy and many are flourishing without them. Publishers don't like seeing books that they rejected, or authors they dropped, or books they once published but fell out of print, now charging up the ebook bestseller lists.  

I also met many newly published authors and it was fascinating to hear their take on the business. And, of course, and I chatted with many readers, and I enjoyed getting to know them.

The most surprising thingof all is that I only bought six books… all vintage Harry Whittington paperbacks, snagged at $3-apiece.

All in all, it was a terrific conference.  

(pictured Craig Faustus Buck, Thomas Perry, DP Lyle)

Three To Get Deadly

0567 Lee Goldberg ecover THREE TO GET DEADLY_5

You gotta grab THREE TO GET DEADLY…a trio of stunning bestselling novels of action and suspense from three masters of the craft…in a single, thrill-packed volume!


Linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter suspects his client, a surgeon in a malpractice case, is innocent of negligence…but guilty of murder. Add a sexy widow, a deadly drug, and a grave robbery to the stew, and you have the recipe for Miami's trial of the century. 

“Move over Scott Turow. ‘To Speak for the Dead’ is courtroom drama at its very best.” – Larry King, USA Today

MOTION TO KILL by Joel Goldman

When two of his partners are killed, corruption, sex and murder fill trial lawyer Lou Mason’s docket as he tracks the killer. Will Lou be the next victim? 

"Joel Goldman is the real deal!" John Lescroart, NY Times Bestselling author

THE WALK by Lee Goldberg

A massive earthquake devastates L.A. One ordinary man sets across the landscape of destruction to his home in the San Fernando Valley. It's a journey that will test the limits of his endurance and his humanity, a trek from the man he was to the man he can be… if he can survive The Walk.

"THE WALK is a magnificent novel — by turns hilarious, scary, sad, witty and one hell of a page-turner, too," Mystery Scene Magazine

Don’t miss THREE TO GET DEADLY! Find out for yourself why these books have rocked Amazon's bestseller lists!