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Holy Bestsellers, Batman. This Is Hard Work!

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I felt like you can write forever but you have a short time to raise a family. And I think a family is a lot more important than writing.    Ken Kesey

In my previous post, I began to recount the efforts of author Peter Lance to self-promote his first novel even though he had a publisher, a major publisher, in Berkley Publishing Group. The personal time, effort and money put into the promotional efforts by Mr. Lance are monumental. He was determined that, “First Degree Burn” not get lost in the mass of 52,000 books published each year.

“My publicist hasn’t called me back in five weeks,” he says.

The question at hand is whether it is enough to just have a publisher. Or, in a literary world where only bestsellers are heavily promoted, is it necessary to pitch in and do what you can to improve the odds of your book getting the recognition you think it deserves.

Thus far Mr. Lance has spent $1,000 to print and bind 50 copies of the galleys to send to friends and colleagues; he mailed the first eight chapters to 250 mystery bookstores at $2,600 for printing and $562.50 for shipping; he bought 1,200 copies of the book from Berkley at 40% off the cover price at a cost of $4,032; he took 350 copies to a national fire convention spending $1,200 for a booth, $350 for furniture and $250 for a phone. He ran ads in two national fire industry magazines spending $5,900 including the design work; he set up toll-free phone lines for another $850.

And while we’re talking about books and money and bestsellers let me insert a piece of shameless commerce by saying you can download a copy of my books, “One Cried Murder” and “Exit Marks the Spot” at amazon.com/author/dcwall. Thank you.

The story is a reprint from the Wall Street Journal written by staff reporter, John Lippman. And it continues here:

The novel has won fans among firefighters, including Louis Garcia, New York’s deputy chief fire marshal. “Fire marshals have been overlooked as a member of the police community,” he says. “People don’t realize it, but we crack a lot of big cases.”

Next, Mr. Lance spent $4,000 for a Web site (www.firstdegreeburn.com). It receives about 150 “hits,” or computer visits, daily. He also hired a $100-a-day assistant, a former TV co-worker, to help compile lists of chain bookstores, write letters and schedule promotional appearances. His helper has cost him about $4,800.

Getting a foot in the door of chain bookstores was tricky. Many retail outlets, such as Barnes & Noble Inc. and Borders Group Inc., get marching orders from regional offices and are reluctant to have obscure writers in to sign books. So Mr. Lance sent 60 signed copies to outlets in California. Cost: $180. He spent $105 to print 500 copies of Berkley’s press release in flame red, and another $600 for 100 posters of the cover of “First Degree Burn.”

That campaign worked pretty well; he picked up a few signing engagements in California, then expanded his tour, hitting 70 stores in six other states and in Washington, D.C. Along the way, he dropped $3,000 for plane tickets and another $2,200 for hotels and rented cars. “I used up all my Marriott Rewards program points,” he says.

By mid-June, Mr. Lance says he still hadn’t received 900 of the 1,200 books he ordered the month before. Worse, he showed up at a lot of bookstore signings only to find that there were no books to sign. So Mr. Lance phoned the printer, Offset Paperback Manufacturers Inc. in Dallas, Pa. Soon the books he ordered were in the mail.

Mr. Lance then assembled a list of mystery-book critics by contacting 3,000 members of DorothyL (after the writer Dorothy L. Sayers), another mystery buffs’ Web site. Respondents sent him names of 44 critics for small mystery magazines and newsletters. His assistant called major newspapers in the U.S. and Britain and came up with another 150 critics’ names. Each was sent a copy, at a total cost of $450.

Now Mr. Lance is going after libraries. With a list of 650 library buyers that he got from the Mystery Writers of America, he sent out more pitches, at $1.55 a pitch. Shelley Ekeroth, fiction material evaluator for the 88-branch Los Angeles County Public Library, says she “enjoyed it immensely” and is recommending that local branches buy it.

Has all this expensive, time-consuming effort paid off? As a short-term business proposition, no. Mr. Lance will bring in roughly $14,000 in net royalties if he sells 50,000 books — for a loss of roughly $20,000 on his marketing investment. Also, he says, “It’s been hard on my day job.” Mr. Lance says he earns about $25,000 for a TV script, and that has got to be easy money compared with flogging his novel.

But Mr. Lance hopes sales will be sufficient not only to trigger a second printing but also to enhance his value for his next book. And if he garners a movie deal for “First Degree Burn,” he says, “that changes the whole equation.” Already he has been in talks, as they say in Hollywood.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lance has begun to write his second novel, which has the working title “Spontaneous Combustion.” No word yet on who will publish it.

………………………………….

A recent check of Mr. Lance’s Amazon author page shows he currently has seven books available. So, at least we know that his experience with a first publisher hasn’t kept him from writing, a lot. The moral of the story, if there is one, perhaps tells us that getting a manuscript accepted isn’t the end of the rainbow. The effort still has to continue. It really is hard work, Batman. And it may be never ending. Happy writing.

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Entertainments for Your Mind

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Entertainments.

That is the word writer Graham Greene used to refer to his books. And essentially that’s what a book is, an entertainment for the mind. At least we’re hopeful it will be when we first start in. Because your mind is a marvelous creation. When properly stimulated, it can produce the most intense, personally satisfying entertainments of all. Ellen Glasgow, a writer from Richmond, Virginia said:

I suppose I am a born novelist, for the things I imagine are more vital and vivid to me than the things I remember.

Entering the 21st Century, the written word is at a slight disadvantage to other forms of mass media. Books don’t flicker as we walk through a room and catch our eye with constantly changing images ilke television. Books don’t blare out of car windows and overwhelm us with sound like music often does.

Books actually require something of us — the use of our imagination. Books require us to be proactive, to actually sit down in a quiet, separate, space or even on a crowded bus, and do something — read. The reward for making this extra effort can be wondrous, because once those words and characters are loose in your head, they combine with and stimulate your inner thoughts and feelings to produce an unparalleled, and highly personal, entertainment experience.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are good books and there are bad books, just like there are movies you love and movies you hate. The challenge for the writer is to put something on paper that will captivate the reader and keep them turning the pages. Elmore Leonard said it best:

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.

I have written three books. All of them murder mysteries. My first two stories were based in New York City and involved a young detective, employed by an older attorney, who mingled in the theater world. Several reviewers observed that both “One Cried Murder” and “Exit Marks the Spot” reminded them of Nero Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin running around the city back in the 1930s. I would hope so because I lived there for almost 10 years before coming back south and my psychiatrist has observed that those first two books were my effort to work through my separation from a city that I loved. Graham Greene (the guy pictured above) would have agreed.

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human condition.

This is kind of cheating, but it's such a great picture of Orson Welles. I couldn't resist. And actually he was an excellent writer producing many excellent film scripts. It just so happens that it was Graham Greene who wrote the script for "The Third Man" in which Welles played Harry Lime.

This is kind of cheating, but it’s such a great picture of Orson Welles. I couldn’t resist. And actually he was an excellent writer producing many outstanding film scripts. It just so happens that it was Graham Greene who wrote the script for “The Third Man” in which Welles played Harry Lime.

My third book, “Dead Last” is set in the world of NASCAR and revolves around the efforts of a gin drinking, ex-racer trying to make his way outside the track as a private dick—that’s not a porn term just how Raymond Chandler would have said it. I’ve made a few bucks from my work but hardly enough to afford a new Aston Martin. Money is not why I write. It’s a consideration. No more than that. Though I have given John Steinbeck’s words some thought:

The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.

And just to show how little things change over time, I’ll quote the 19th Century French writer, Jules Renard, who, evidently, never had any friends who were actors or dancers.

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.

 Mixing sports, racing even, with murder is not new. Nothing is new. It’s all mutation. I took my lead for “Deard Last” from an early influence of mine, the English writer Dick Francis. For those who don’t know his work, Francis was a former steeplechase jockey, who combined horse racing with murder to produce about 30 novels over a period of forty-some-old-years. It was a subject he knew well and he was able to relate those experiences with a true sense of participation, of being there. Erskine Caldwell said:

I think you must remember that a writer is a simple minded person to begin with and go from there. He’s not a great mind, he’s not a great thinker, he’s not a good philosopher, he’s a storyteller.

My personal belief is the best way to improve your storytelling ability is to write every day. And until recently, the best place to hone those skills was at a newspaper. Unfortunately, journalism has taken it on the chin from the internet and social media so that today it is a mere shadow of its former self. But what working at a paper taught me was to write about topics I wasn’t really interested in and to do that on a daily basis. The catch is to make those stories, all stories, interesting to the reader. An expatriate in Paris from 1903 until her death in 1946, Gertrude Stein put it simply when she said:

To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.

The American science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, was a little more expansive, saying:

You have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done. For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality.

So, now that you’ve put in your time with the local rag, and you’ve gotten pretty good at telling stories about heroes, villains and even making the obituary column readable, how exactly do you get your head around pouring out 80,000 words to create a great American novel? Well, I’ll tell you how I went about it in the next blog: Entertainments for Your Mind 2. Now, how’s that for a Hollywood take on literature? Creative, huh?

Before I go, a few words of shameless commerce. Digital downloads of One Cried Murder and Exit Marks the Spot are available at amazon.com/author/dcwall for $2.99 each. I thank you in advance for supporting my work. I appreciate it more than you can know. Best, dcwall.

Enough already!!

Enough already with the death and dying I’m trying to work here!!

I cannot continue to wander off and watch old movies, or 30-year old NFL football playoff games, every time someone who marks a point in time during my life passes away. I realize that I’m at the point in time during my life when people do pass away, often, some more unexpected than others, but still, enough is enough.

I need to be writing, promoting my existing books—One Cried Murder, Exit Marks the Spot—while finishing the rewrites, and adding some sex(y) scenes to Dead Last. I am most definitely not supposed to be reliving David Lean’s oeuvre or the Oakland Raider’s first Super Bowl victory. But, then, how often do you get an entertainment duo like Omar Sharif and Kenny Stabler dying on the same weekend?

I can’t hep myself. I just can’t hep it.

I went to high school in south Georgia and football was a pretty big deal down there. Still is. It’s home to perennial state champs Valdosta and it’s not too far from Tuscaloosa, Alabama where Kenny Stabler took over at quarterback for Bear Bryant in 1968 after convincing the coach to let him back on the team. The Tide had just won consecutive national titles with Joe Namath and Steve Sloan under center and now it was his turn. Stabler led Bama to an 11-0 season but ended up 3rd in the national polls behind Michigan State and Notre Dame. It was a very big deal. Not unlike the Tide’s recent history with Nick Saban. Though, I don’t think Coach Bryant ever made $5 million a year.

I played football. It’s how I got to college. You watch, you follow, you imitate. Stabler was my hero and he was stitched pretty tightly into the fabric of my life. He was also a rebel, a renegade, and his off field behavior was probably the reason that year’s title went to some one else and not Alabama. After graduation, Stabler was drafted by the Oakland Raiders and he led them to a Super Bowl victory several years later. Now he’s dead. Colon cancer. He was only 67. And there’s a hole in my fabric that needs mending.

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I also worked as an actor. The early films of Omar Sharif were a very big deal, too. You watch, you follow, you imitate.

Sharif was fabulous in the desert winds of Lawrence of Arabia. Later he starred on the frozen tundra of Russia as Doctor Zhivago—two of David Lean’s magnificent film trilogy that included  Bridge on the River Kwai. Sharif also played opposite Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl and was a big reason she garnered the Best Actress award that year.

In direct opposition to his star turns opposite Peter O’Toole and Alec Guinness, Sharif had a supporting role in one of my favorite movies, The 13th Warrior, with Antonia Banderas. And, he is absolutely wonderful in the French film Monsieur Ibrahim: calm, gentle, understanding.

Sharif was a notorious gambler and an acclaimed Bridge Master. He said he often turned down film roles because they conflicted with dates of major bridge tournaments. So, the calendar cost us some opportunities to see that “face which told a thousand tales,” on the silver screen. But what we have is a treasure trove of great entertainment. The best of his films are timeless and worth watching again, and again,  even if we already know who gets the girl or, for that matter, who won the National Championship in 1968.

All of that reflection does not solve my problem of needing to stay in the present. I need to stop wandering off point. I need to keep my eye on the future. But it’s hard when the past has been so important. I think it’s worth taking the time to remember just how big a deal it all was.

The Best of Friends

I am easily distracted.

Faced with deadlines, unfinished chores or the need for additional edited copy, I can find a thousand things to keep me otherwise engaged. Recently, the death of Christopher Lee has sent me off on a tangent that I’m having more than a little trouble returning from.

Mr. Lee, for those who aren’t familiar with his work, was a very good actor who set the early standards for characters like Sherlock Holmes and Dracula. In a career that spanned 70 years, he made lots and lots of movies. And in more than 20 of those films he worked with his best friend, Peter Cushing.

In 1957, Lee played the Monster in Frankenstein. Peter Cushing played the Baron. In 1959, Lee played Henry Baskerville to Cushing’s Holmes. And so it went for many years as they cranked out film after film for Hammer Studios. These were the guys I watched running through graveyards on Saturday afternoon matinees when the cost of admission was 4 RC bottle caps and it wasn’t mandatory to leave the theater at the end of the film. You could stay all day and watch it again, and again and again.

The two men were inseparable in my mind: Mutt and Jeff, Lewis and Martin, Penn and Teller. So, with Lee’s death last week at 93,  it was like having to relive Cushing’s passing as well. It was almost too much to take. I was driven to the couch. Thank God for streaming television! Horror Express was my choice with a featured role by Telly Savalas as the Cossack Captain.

This was just a year before the hit series Kojac and all of Telly’s shtick was on display: the snarky attitude, the bald head, the thin, black cigarettes held underhand with two fingers like a Gestapo interrogator. Combined with the stalwart duo of Cushing and Lee it made for marvelous genre cinema.

A special feature on the DVD release of The Hound of the Baskervilles is an interview with Lee in which he says of his friend, “At some point . . . everyone . . . will notice that you have in your life, one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is  so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. And when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again.”

Now we’ve lost them both.