Tag Archives: #detectives

What’s to Worry? You’ve Already Got a Pulbisher, Right? lol!

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This writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.  Eeyore

Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being. A.A. Milne

In today’s world of digital DIY books and artless self promotion, the idea of a visor-ed editor nursing beginning writers through their early works is pretty quaint stuff. These days, everybody is looking for a Best Seller — the celebrity among books — which often is known just for its celebrity and not necessarily for its content. So unless you have a recognizable name, an agent or an online book that has already sold 10,000 copies, your chances of being taken into the fold at Penguin Press are pretty slim.

But suppose you do find a publisher. One that will support you. Promote you. A publisher who will sign you up for a mass market paperback. Is that enough to ensure your literary success? Are you set? What are your chances, really? Can you kick back and watch the balloons go up or is there anything you can do to narrow the odds?

The following article by John Lippman appeared in the Wall Street Journal several years ago and it had a profound impact on me and how I viewed the business of writing. It is an amazing tale about a first time author who decides his publisher’s promotional efforts need a little help and then proceeds to do anything, and everything, to raise his book above the masses. Does it work? Is it worth the tireless effort? The money? You be the judge.

Allow me to pause for a moment of shameless commerce: my detective novels can be downloaded from amazon.com/author/dcwall. Tks.

John Lippman, staff writer for the Wall Street Journal

For Peter Lance, the marketing of “First Degree Burn,” a novel about a firefighting sleuth, has been a five-alarm job. He has spent months promoting the book and begging stores to hold signings. Indeed, he thinks so much of the book, he paid $4,032 out of his own pocket for 1,200 promotional copies of the $5.99 mystery paperback published July 1.

Of course he cares. He isn’t the publicist, he’s the author. And he isn’t about to see his book disappear in the haze of 52,000 titles (including nonfiction) published this year. A few of those books, like Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes” which won a Pulitzer Prize this year, really catch fire. Most just go up in smoke.

Mr. Lance, 49 years old, is a successful independent television scriptwriter with credits including “Miami Vice” and “Wiseguy.” He is also a former ABC news producer. “First Degree Burn,” his first novel, is about a New York City fire marshal who investigates a string of murders involving an arsonist and a vanished painting. Mr. Lance was paid a fairly typical $8,000 advance. And, so far, he has shelled out an atypical $34,762 of his own money to try to crack the book market.

In other ways, his is a common writer’s tale of woe. Publishers lavish promotion money on books likely to sell written by bestseller writers. One of those lucky guys, Robert Crais, author of the Elvis Cole mystery series, says, “Everyone else pretty much has to fend for himself.”

Few could possibly fend more fiercely than Mr. Lance. During the past six months, from his home in Los Angeles, he has nudged “First Degree Burn” into every conceivable book nook, from chain stores to mystery-reader clubs to local libraries. He had to, he says. He was unable to light a fire under his New York publisher, Berkley Publishing Group. “My publicist hasn’t called me back in five weeks,” he said.

To hear Berkley tell it, that’s nonsense. The company publishes 700 titles a year, some of them reissues and about 60 of them mysteries. Berkley says it promoted “First Degree Burn” just as heavily as it does any other mystery novel by an unknown. The company dispatched more than 200 galley proofs to book reviewers and mystery critics. Publishers Weekly, in its pre-publication review, called the book “a smashing debut.” If others review the book, Mr. Lance will hear about it from Burrell’s, the clipping service he hired.

Berkley says its first printing of Mr. Lance’s novel was 55,000 copies, again fairly typical for a paperback first novel. Berkley is a division of Penguin Putnam Inc., which in turn is a unit of Britain’s Pearson PLC.

Berkley’s spokeswoman says it may be several months before actual retail sales are known, but all but 5,000 copies have been shipped. Will there be a second printing? It’s too soon to say.

In March, four months before the publication date, Mr. Lance spent $1,000 at Kinko’s to print and bind 50 copies of the galleys to ship to friends and former colleagues, such as ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings. He hoped Mr. Jennings might write a selling blurb for the book, but he never heard from him. He did get a plug from Miami true-crime writer Edna Buchanan. “Explodes off the page,” she raved. “Hot, hot, hot!”

Then Mr. Lance assembled a list of 250 mystery bookstores nationwide, compiled from searches on the Internet and a reference book called “The Deadly Directory.” He mailed the first eight chapters to independent bookstores, enclosing pitch letters. “I didn’t want you to make the commitment,” he wrote them, “without sampling the book.” The printing cost him $2,600, the shipping $562.50.

In April, Mr. Lance bought 1,200 copies of “First Degree Burn” from Berkley at 40% off the cover price. He took 350 signed copies with him to the National Fire Protection Association convention in Los Angeles, spending $1,200 for a booth, plus $350 for furniture and $250 for a phone. He sold 200 copies.

In May, he ran big ads in Firehouse magazine and Fire & Arson Investigator, trade journals with a combined circulation of 510,000. The ads, including design work, ran him $5,900. Setting up two toll-free mail-order phone lines cost another $850.

And now, in the best network television style, we’re going to step away for a commercial before revealing the exciting conclusion of Mr. Lance’s assault on the world of mass market paperbacks. Be sure to tune in next week. Same Bat Time. Same Bat Channel. Until then, please visit amazon.com/author/dcwall and download a copy of “One Cried Murder” or “Exit Marks the Spot.” “Dead Last” will be joining them shortly. It may turn out to be the most entertaining three dollars you’ve ever spent.

Entertainments for Your Mind 3

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A photograph of the author Graham Greene topped the first blog in this series and I included a pic of Orson Welles as Harry Lime from The Third Man, a film based on Greene’s screenplay. In Hollywood Summer Smash Hit fashion, I followed with William Faulkner and a poster of The Big Sleep from his studio days when he worked with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Today, Ernest Hemingway headlines the third, last, and shortest, of these blogs on fiction and creative writing. He, too, spent time in Hollywood and also penned a screenplay for Bogart and Bacall: To Have and Have Not. I can’t seem to help myself. I just love movies and the best ones are almost always based an a great screen play that is adapted from an exceptional book.

Then, if the producers get the casting right, it’s zip, zam, zowie-am-swoosh to the top of the box office receipts. The whimsy of success is what makes movies so magical. It’s also what makes them such an incredible gamble and why so many go straight to DVD/Streaming or are only released in China. The window for success is incredibly small. Just as it is with writing fiction.

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Speaking of windows, what no wife, or partner, can understand is that a writer is working when they’re staring out of one. It is referred to as ‘the muse’ and Agatha Christie knew what it was. She once told a friend:

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

I mentioned earlier this would be the shortest of the three blogs and that’s because this is where we follow the Nike directive and just do it. You’ve had this idea in your head. You think it’s good. You think there’s a market for it, but you don’t really care. It’s so compelling you’re ready to turn off the phone, shut the kids in the bathroom, and abandon the outside world entirely until you can get this thing done. It will be as Gordon Lightfoot sang, a magnificent outpouring. Or, as the famous editor at Scribner’s, Maxwell Perkins, often suggested to his writers (among them Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe):

Just get it down on paper, then we’ll see what to do with it.

By the time your manuscript is complete, edited and ready for publication, you will have every one of the 80,000 or so words committed to memory. You will know it by heart. You will be able to visualize each and every paragraph. But because there are so many words, so many characters, so many connecting threads, you may find it useful to have some guideposts to keep you from getting lost along the way.

For example, once I get the idea for a story, I sketch out a very loose outline that sets down a general plot direction. These are basic mechanics you’re dealing with here: who’s going where, when and why. It also helps to know who’s related to whom, who’s having whose baby and where you want the bodies to end up.

Because what happens is, once you construct your characters, and they start talking to each other on the page, suddenly they develop a sense of independence and they will say things that surprise you. Seriously, you have created a monster, and not just one, but many. You’ll actually say to yourself, ‘well, that’s an interesting turn of events,’ and if you’re not careful, or, if you’ve misplaced your outline, you can wander off in any number of directions that may take many, many pages before you loop back into the story line.

It’s not a bad thing if you’re writing War and Peace, but for most of us who just want a mass market best seller, it’s a digression you want to try and avoid. Though, Hemingway kind of disagreed with that approach.

Don’t hold anything back. Let it all hang out and write from the heart. And write truly. That’s the continuing struggle. You will change, the world will change, but one thing will never change, and that is you must find out what is true: true to the moment, true to the character, true to the situation, and once you have found that truth you must project it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who is reading it.

During this first write-thru, your story will have an incredible freshness and you’ll get a sense of elation that will lift you above the keyboard. You’ve brought together all these people—your characters—and they’re new and interesting and you’re meeting them for the first time and you’ve just never had so much fun with your clothes on. But you only get that feeling once.

As you begin the process of rewriting and editing, your characters can become leaden and burdensome and virtually unbearable. They’re like dinner guests who refuse to leave. You revisit them again and again, moving this conversation, changing that action, revising that motivation: nudge, nudge, clip, clip, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

To me, rewriting is like a lovely red head with enormously thick hair who’s just gotten out of the shower. She towels her hair dry and then starts to comb out the snarls. First time through, she can barely get the comb to move. It’s just a little tug, pick-pick, tug. The next time through it’s easier and the next and so on until she’s got an easy pull the whole way down. That’s rewriting. You start with this enormous mass of words you’ve spewed onto the paper and, the first time you go back over the manuscript, you cut this paragraph and rework that chapter and smooth out that snarl and crop that passage and you keep going until you can read the entire passage with a natural flow that pulls the reader into the story line.

This is what I find encouraging about the writing trades—Kirk Vonnegut told a friend—They allow mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence.

Now, when you’re rewriting, you have to be careful not to lose the emotion of your story while you’re adjusting it. You have to keep the tension between the characters and they have to remain believable and interesting. Stay true, Hemingway reminds us. If you’re not caught up in the situations and lives of the cast you’ve put on the page, then they are not going to come across as very compelling to the reader. This is what Robert Frost said:

 No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise for the reader.

Now, I should say a word or two about research. It’s fun. You get to hang out in the library with a lot of really smart people who know much more about the subject you’re writing on than you do. You need research to give your story authenticity and a sense of place, but you can do too much. Just because you’ve collected a thousand facts doesn’t mean you have to use them or that it’s important to the movement of your story. Be prudent, use a pinch of salt in your cookie dough, not a whole tablespoon. And remember:

If you copy from one author it plagiarism. If you copy from two, it’s research.

Once you complete your manuscript, you’ll have a marked sense of relief and you’ll be deserving of a pat on the back. You should give yourself one, because what you have to do next is going to be harder to  accomplish that what you’ve just finished. You’ll need to find a publisher. Even in today’s world of internet blogs, Amazon author pages and inexpensive websites, a publisher is a good thing, as Martha used to say. They have a lot more resources and a much bigger advertising budget than the rest of us.

But that’s an entirely different lecture series. So, let me leave you with a quote from Steve Martin, the comedian, on the occasion of finishing his first book.

I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.

Best of luck, good writing and please remember you can download a digital copy of my books at amazon.com/author/dcwall for only $2.99. Forgive the shameless commerce, I’m just trying to make a living, too.

David