Friday, May 25, 2012

Caught in the middle: Amazon vs. IPG, Part II

Three months ago, I wrote a blog post detailing the contract battle between Amazon and IPG, book distributor for Medallion Press, publisher of my thriller, FINAL VECTOR. In that post I detailed the reasons why I found Medallion's support of IPG unacceptable. You can read the entire post here, if you're interested.

In the intervening three months, I asked for and received a reversion of rights letter from Medallion for FINAL VECTOR, leaving me free to pursue another publisher for the book or even, as was my intention, to publish the book myself.

I was just about at the point where I was ready to re-release FINAL VECTOR - I mean, literally, a week or so away - when I discovered IPG and Amazon have reached agreement on a new contract. This means Medallion's electronic titles (of which FINAL VECTOR was one) will once again be available for purchase at Amazon.

As I stated in my post back in February, the inability for readers to purchase my book at the world's largest ebook retailer was the reason why I wanted my rights to FINAL VECTOR back. Now that it will once again be available in that venue, I have withdrawn my request for a reversion of rights and plan to leave the book with Medallion Press.

Why would I do that? Why voluntarily stay with a publisher when I could release the book on my own and get a bigger cut of the royalties?

Here's why: Medallion Press showed faith in one of my novels when, to that point, no one else had. They believed in an unknown writer enough to offer me an advance and a path to publication at a time when self-publishing was still considered basically career suicide for a novelist.

I wanted all along to justify the faith they showed in me by earning out that advance through sales and then by making both of us - gasp! - money. I was well on my way to doing so when the rug was pulled out from under both myself and Medallion Press thanks to a contract dispute they had nothing to do with.

Am I crazy? Maybe. I have in my possession a letter enabling me to make more money from, and have more control over, a book that I wrote, and I am going to completely disregard that letter. If that makes me crazy, then so be it.

But some things are more valuable than the almighty dollar. Not many, I freely admit, but there are some. One of those is integrity. I like to think I have some. And I want to show Helen Rosburg and everyone at Medallion Press that they knew what they were doing when they signed me.

This is not to say I won't ever request my rights to FINAL VECTOR back from Medallion, but if I did it before earning out that advance I would always feel like I had walked away from a job before it was finished. My folks raised me better than that.

P.S. - Now that the book is available again, it is priced exactly where I was planning on pricing it - a very reasonable $3.99. If you've read and enjoyed my Amazon bestseller THE LONELY MILE, I think you might like to give this one a try as well...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Interview with bestselling author Lawrence Block

In February 2011, Medallion Press had just released my debut novel, a thriller titled FINAL VECTOR, and in an interview I was doing to promote the book I was asked to name the five authors, living or dead, I would invite to dinner if I could. One of the folks I named in my answer was legendary crime-fiction author Lawrence Block.

A few days later Mr. Block searched me out on Facebook, leaving a very gracious message thanking me for the mention. I was stunned. I discovered it really was possible to be, literally, slack-jawed with amazement.

Lawrence Block thanking me? That's a little like Michelangelo walking across Rome to thank the guy spraypainting graffiti on a sidewalk because the guy happened to mention how great he thought that Sistine Chapel job turned out.

But that's Lawrence Block. He's written more books than many people will read in a lifetime, created memorable characters (including my favorite, the stamp-collecting assassin, Keller), won a dozen Shamus Awards, nine Edgar Awards (not including the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master status he achieved in 1994), four Anthony Awards, millions of loyal readers and thousands of glowing reviews.

But more than that, he's genuine and real. He's also busy as hell, but agreed to take a few minutes to e-chat with me. Here's the result:

I would be crazy not to start off with a question about the recent announcement that Liam Neeson has signed on to play Matthew Scudder in the film adaptation of your novel, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES. Any thoughts on the casting? As Scudder’s creator, how do you feel Liam Neeson compares to Jeff Bridges, who also played Scudder in a previous movie version of a different novel?

I think Liam Neeson’s perfect for the role. He’s been on my list since his magnificent portrayal of Michael Collins—a favorite historical personage of mine, as it happens. This said, I should stress that Jeff Bridges did a wonderful job with what he was handed. The script was lousy and unfinished, and the studio took the cut away from Hal Ashby, a director whose greatest strength was in the cutting room.  I’ve met Jeff a few times since, and he’s said how much he regrets the way the film came out.

Will you be given the opportunity to provide any input into the scripting of the film, or is that completely out of your hands?

I may have some sort of role, but I’m not uncomfortable leaving it in Scott Frank’s very capable hands. He’s been trying to make this film happen for a very long time now.

When your first Scudder book was published back in 1976 did you have any inkling he would still be struggling through life nearly forty years later? Was he created with an eye toward making him a continuing character or did it just somehow work out that way?

Crikey, I didn’t know I’d still be struggling through life my own self. I did know Scudder would be a series character, and the first three books were written under contract before the first was published. What I never expected, though, was that he would age or that his life would change. That was not often the case with fictional detectives.

Matthew Scudder isn’t the only memorable character you’ve created over the years. Is there one who stands out as your favorite? One character or book you would change if you could go back in time?

I’m embarrassingly fond of my own work, so they’re all my favorites. And no, I wouldn’t change any of them. There are some awful lines here and there, and I certainly would hope I’ve learned a bit about narrative and dialogue over the decades, but show me a writer who revises his early work and I’ll show you a person with too much time on his hands. It’s written, it’s published, leave it the hell alone.

As someone who has spent nearly six decades writing fiction professionally, there might be no one working right now more qualified to answer this question: how have you seen the business change? Is it better or worse for writers today than when you started back in the 1950’s?

Well, I wrote a blog post about that, and it’s gone bacterial, if not positively viral. Seems to have struck a chord with a good number of people.  Best thing is probably just to give you a link:

I’d say the business has changed more in the last two years than in the twenty before them. But is it better or worse for writers? Better for some, worse for others, I suppose.

After collaborating early in your career with the great Donald Westlake on a couple of titles, you did so again in the early 1990’s—along with Tony Hillerman, among others—on the novel, THE PERFECT MURDER. Those are some editing sessions I wish I could have sat in on. What was the collaboration like? Do you wish you had worked together on other projects?

The Perfect Murder was easy; Jack Hitt quarterbacked the project, and we more or less winged it. I had no contact during the writing of it with Peter Lovesey, Tony Hillerman, or Sarah Caudwell—I’m not absolutely certain I ever met Sarah, though I may have done. So there was really nothing to sit in on. The three erotic novels Don and I did in tandem were enormous fun, as we didn’t consult with each other at all, but just tossed chapters back and forth. I talk at length about the process in the afterword of HELLCATS & HONEYGIRLS; the book’s hard to come by, but the three individual novels (A Girl Called Honey, So Willing, and Sin Hellcat) are eVailable, as is my book Afterthoughts, which tells all about the process.

And one regret I’ve had is that Don and I never did a Dortmunder/Rhodenbarr novel. A fan suggested it to me at a signing, and I fucking hate ideas like that, which so many fans think are just brilliant. But I liked this one, really thought it would work and would be fun to do. I could never get Don past the fact that the Dortmunders were third person and the Rhodenbarrs first. Then at one point I realized I could write about Bernie in the third person, and Don said if he ever got clear of what he was working on, maybe he’d be up for it. I don’t know how genuinely receptive he was even then. But then he was dead, and that was the end of that. Among other things.

Was there ever a time in your career you were tempted to chuck it all and go paint houses for a living?

I was lucky, I never had anything to fall back on.

If you look back over your career, is there one book you’re most proud of? One book you feel best exemplifies you as an author?

Hypothetical situation: You are marooned on a desert island, but just before your ship sinks, you can grab any one book of your choosing. What book do you choose, and why?

In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust. Because there’s no other way I’ll ever read the fucking thing.

What are you reading right now? What’s next on your “To Be Read” list?

I’ve been reading and enjoying The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.  And I’m looking forward to Mission to Paris,  coming next month from Alan Furst. Hmmm, I seem to be on an Alan binge, don’t I?

Thanks very much for taking the time to visit A Thrill a Minute. Any last words of wisdom you’d like to share with my thousands hundreds dozens handful of readers?

Nah, scroom.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Winning free stuff has never been easier

I've had a number of folks tell me I need to establish an author page on Facebook. I'm not exactly sure why I need one, but all the cool kids are doing it. Now, I've had a personal Facebook page for years, and having an author page too always seemed to be not only a duplication of efforts, but kind of self-indulgent, too.

Well I've finally knuckled under. The Allan Leverone author page is live, and now that I have it, I'm looking for readers and interested Facebookers to populate it.

So, to that end, I'm running a little promo. To qualify, all you need to do is "Like" my Facebook author page by 9:00 a.m. Friday, May 25. That's it. Just click "Like" on my author page. Do that, and you will be in the running to win one of the following:

- A signed trade paperback copy of my Amazon bestselling thriller, THE LONELY MILE. This book's sales exploded in February, reaching #21 overall at Amazon, #16 in all fiction titles, and #2 in Suspense Thrillers, behind only Lisa Gardner's CATCH ME. Scott Nicholson calls THE LONELY MILE "a taut crime drama," and it has earned a 4.2-star rating on seventy Amazon reviews.

- A signed, limited-edition mini-hardcover copy of my Delirium Books novella, HEARTLESS. This is an author promotional copy of the 19,000-word novella, of which only 150 retail-sales copies were printed, and sells for $30.00. The striking cover art was created by the amazing Daniele Serra.

- A signed, hardcover copy of NORTHERN HAUNTS. This 2009 anthology from Shroud Publishing sells at Amazon for $26.59 and includes 100 terrifying New England tales from a diverse collection of authors, including Nate Kenyon, Steve Vernon, Stephen Mark Rainey and many others. My story, "Heart and Sole," is included.

- A signed, trade paperback copy of Northern Haunts. This is the exact same book as above, except in paperback rather than hardcover. The paperback edition sells at Amazon for $18.99.

- A signed copy of the Summer 2010 issue of Needle: A Magazine of Noir. This is Issue #2 of the magazine that has quickly become a noir legend and features stories from Ray Banks, Chris F. Holm, Nigel Bird, Frank Bill and others. My story, "The Waiting," is included.

- A signed copy of the Fall 2011 issue of Needle: A Magazine of Noir. This is Issue #11 and includes stories from Keith Rawson, Stephen D. Rogers, a brand-new, previously unpublished story from the late Gil Brewer and others. My story, "The Ticket," is included.

Here's how this will work. Friday, May 25, I will draw the first winner and contact that person via Facebook message. That person will get the choice of any of the above six prizes.

Once the first winner has selected a prize, I will draw the second winner, who will get the choice out of the remaining five prizes.

We'll continue until all the prizes are given away. I'll post the selections of the winners on my author page as they are picked, and depending on how long it takes for people to pick, may take a couple of days to complete.

There you go...good luck!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Interview with bestselling author CJ Lyons

As an author with a full-time job on the side, I sometimes find myself complaining about being busy, about how difficult it is to find the time to write. But after taking a gander at what my guest today has accomplished in her life, I promise I'll never do that again.

CJ Lyons is the New York Times bestselling author of fifteen thrillers, including four different series and two books co-written with environmental activist Erin Brockovich, as well as four non-fiction books on the subject of writing. She spent seventeen years as a practicing Pediatric Emergency Physician before giving it up to write full-time, and has done a bunch of other stuff, all of which got me so tired reading about I had to take a nap afterward.

She's a superstar in the world of thrillers, but also down-to-earth, grounded, and generous enough to take time out from trying to beat a deadline to answer my stupid pointless incredibly intelligent questions:

According to your official bio, you’ve spent seventeen years as a Pediatric Emergency Physician, worked on the Navajo reservation, spent time as a Life Flight physician, participated in an archaeological expedition in Australia, worked on an environmental impact survey in the Hell’s Gate Wilderness Preserve in Kenya, traveled extensively and hold an orange belt in Kempo. Is that it? No skydiving?

CJ: I never had the urge to skydive. After two hard landings in helicopters, it just never made sense to me to jump out of a perfectly good plane and trust your fate to a piece of silk.

Seriously, though, what possesses someone with the ability and desire to work their way through medical school to give it all up to tell stories?

CJ: I was a storyteller long before I even dreamed of being a doctor. Used to get me in tons of trouble as a kid—but all those hours in time out because I didn't know the difference between real and fantasy (or truth and lies according to my parents and teachers) just gave me more time to listen to the voices in my head.

For a small town girl from rural Pennsylvania who had to work her way through college and med school, becoming a doctor was a dream come true. But once I had a few book contracts and realized how much time and energy it would take to be a writer, I decided that if I wanted to be good at either job something had to give. I'd already had seventeen wonderful years of living the dream of being a doctor, why not try a second dream come true as a fulltime writer?

How difficult a decision was it to put aside your medical career and concentrate on being a novelist full-time? Do you miss working as an active physician? Any plans to go back someday?

CJ: It was an extremely difficult choice. When I first quit medicine I missed my patients terribly—some of them even emailed and wrote me. But I've never missed the ungodly hours or paperwork or hassles with the insurance folks.

I don't plan to return—I'd have to do some intensive retraining if I ever did. But one thing I realized after my first book was published and I began getting fan mail was that in medicine I touched one life at a time. With my books I can touch tens to hundreds of thousands of lives.

That's a pretty darn good feeling.

Marketing people say authors need to figure out how to brand themselves. You seem to have managed that perfectly by promoting your work as “Thrillers with Heart.” That seems particularly apt given your medical background, but I’m guessing it means more than that to you. Can you talk a little about what “Thrillers with Heart” means to CJ Lyons?

CJ: I created the term "Thrillers with Heart" back in 2004 when my first book was a finalist in RWA's Golden Heart contest. I quickly realized that what I wrote wasn't traditional romance (sometimes there's not a happily-ever-after and some of my books have no romance at all) but it wasn't traditional mystery, either.

My books aren't about who-did-it or winning the girl/boy or car chases and explosions, although all of those elements appear in them. They're about the people and their relationships.

The common thread that runs through all my books is that heroes are born everyday. They're about how ordinary people find the strength to stand up and risk everything to change the world.

(Which, by the way, is the same reason why I went into Pediatric Emergency Medicine, so I guess my ending up writing Thrillers with Heart makes perfect sense.)

What was it like the first time you saw your name on the New York Times bestseller list for fiction? I’m guessing you can remember every detail from that day, true?

CJ: It was surreal. I was at a conference but a friend's husband went out and bought a lot of copies of the NYT and brought them back to the conference for me to sign. I honestly didn't believe it was real until I saw it there in print!

There’s a growing trend among established, big-name authors to release some of their work through other than traditional means. You seem to have taken advantage of this with the incredible success of Snake Skin, among other titles. Yet you’re working now with Minotaur. Do you ever envision a time when you will completely bypass traditional publishing?

CJ: I actually already did! The six months before BLIND FAITH hit the NYT list I was out of contract, relying solely on my indy-self-publishing to pay the bills (which actually was so incredibly empowering! Knowing that I didn't have to rely on NYC to make a decent living).

After the success of BLIND FAITH, my agent and I were suddenly inundated with offers. We held an auction—I even debated turning them all down given the money I was making myself. But I wanted two things that I couldn't do by myself: my readers kept writing, wanting to see my books in bookstores at affordable prices, and I wanted an editor to work with to kick my writing to the next level.

I found both in the offer presented to me by Minotaur. It's a gamble, working with NYC again, but the good news is that if things go wrong, I won't be losing too much. And if things go right, my readers will be winning big time.

What is a typical day like for CJ Lyons? Do you have a set routine you use to get your writing done?

CJ: God, no. After seventeen years of being tied to a pager and trauma radio, I thrive on never knowing what time it is or even the day of the week. I have no set schedule, never keep track of word count or page count—some days I don't even write! Heresy, I know!

All I need is a deadline. That keeps me on track. And on those days I don't write, put words on the page? I'm still writing—the story is fermenting in my head so that when I do get back to it, it's like scratching an itch, letting all that out onto the page.

I'm the same way about the books—each one is written differently. I don't plot ahead of time, so if I'm surprised, I hope the reader will be as well. I write out of order, then string the scenes together in the second draft—one book, CRITICAL CONDITION, I actually wrote backwards! I knew who was alive at the end and scene by scene worked my way back to the beginning to see how they got there. It was the most fun writing a book I've had!

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what’s some of your favorite writing music?

CJ: Yes, I love head-banging rock, zydeco, celtic, really anything with a good beat to it. Specific choices depend on the story I'm working on. For BLOOD STAINED, which is the darkest story I've ever tackled, I was playing MudVayne over and over along with Tool, Slipknot, and Godsmack.

For the book I'm working on now, it's Amergin, Whirligig (two Irish bands), Eddie Vetter, and the Drop Kick Murphies.

Can you name some of the authors who have influenced you as a writer?

CJ: Ray Bradbury had the greatest influence on me as a child. He was the first author who taught me that the words themselves can be as beautiful as the picture they create. I also love the way he can evoke emotion on a very subliminal level.

My stories have been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and I owe that to a childhood spent reading EE "Doc" Smith, Harry Harrison, Leslie Charteris, Dashiel Hammett, John D MacDonald, and CS Forester.

If you could pick one book you feel best exemplifies your work, what title would it be?

CJ: BLOOD STAINED. That book took me to some very dark places and was a struggle to write because I drew on a ton of emotions from my days as an ER doc working with victims of violence.

It was a book that I could not not write. I hate when thrillers depict violence (especially violence against women) in a gratuitous, almost "titillating" manner, such as opening a novel with a rape or torture scene in the point of view of the victim to "grab" the reader. It does an injustice to the reader and to real life victims. Plus, as a writer, it's clichéd, taking the easy way out.

If I was going to depict these dark, twisted crimes, it had to be about the impact on the characters. I wanted readers to read these scenes and feel as if they were living through the experience of a professional law enforcement officer who has to deal with this every day in an empathetic fashion while not allowing their emotions derail their work.

It was a very tough balancing act. I think I pulled it off, both by using an immature character's point of view in Adam, and by using the victims' own words describing their abuse during police interviews.

I hope by going the extra mile to not use the clichéd serial killer torturing his victim scene, that I served the victims I've worked with and honored my readers, allowing them to appreciate the pain in a way that propels the story forward but also makes them empathize with what real life victims have suffered as well as challenges facing the professionals who work with them.

Hypothetical situation #1: You are marooned on a desert island, but before your ship sinks, you can grab any one book of your choosing. What book would that be, and why?

CJ: Perrault's collection of fairy tales. Makes the Grimm brothers look so very tame…

Hypothetical situation #2: You are given a choice by the Gods of Publishing. Your books can either bring you tremendous monetary wealth or they can be universally acclaimed as outstanding by the critics. Which do you choose, and why?

CJ: Neither. While I appreciate the critical acclaim my books have achieved, it's my readers who matter most to me. I want to empower and inspire as well as entertain, and from the fan mail I've gotten, I'm doing pretty good there, although I always strive to do better with each book.

And while NYC pays me very nicely, if I can earn the trust of my readers and keep delighting them with every book, the money will take care of itself.

What are you reading right now? What’s next on your “To Be Read” list?

CJ: Aside from research books on quantum mechanics and the multiverse, I'm actually on a YA reading jag (while I love to read all genres, I am constantly astounded by the fantastic YA available now—where were these books when I was a kid?). Currently I'm reading John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. Up next is Meg Rosoff's There is No Dog.

Thanks very much for taking the time to visit A Thrill a Minute. Any last words of wisdom you’d like to share with my thousands hundreds dozens handful of readers?

CJ: This is a true Renaissance for readers and writers. For the first time ever writers can make a living wage and be free to write the stories of their hearts—and readers are loving being able to find books that don't fit traditional publishing's cookie-cutter molds. Talk about your ultimate win/win! The future is bright and I'm honored that so many readers have chosen to spend their time and energy on my books.


Fascinating interview, no? Huge thanks to CJ Lyons...