Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The green-eyed monster


A good friend of mine got some great news this week. She is going hard cover after toiling in the paperback original ghetto far longer than she should have. We got together to celebrate over a glass of Sauvignon Blanc last night. She confessed she had been wary of telling me, because she knew I would be jealous. Well, hell yes, I'm jealous! I've been PBO for six books now and we are the Rodney Dangerfields of the fiction world. You should hear us when we get together -- and we do, gravitating to each other like redhaired stepchildren at mystery conventions, mumbling that so-and-so HC author is a hack and such-and-such HC writer should be on the Sierra Club hit list for deforestation.

Okay, I admit it. I AM covetous. I want the respect that comes with being hard. I've been lucky to get reviews in some major rags like the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle. But will you ever see my name in the New York Times? (well, it has been on the bestseller list there, but I guess that doesn't carry any weight with their reviewers. Go figure). And today I called a bookstore in Key West who a reader had told me did not stock my books -- this despite the fact they had a prominent FLORIDA AUTHOR section. The owner snottily told me he carried only "selected" authors. I pressed him and he gave me names. Okay, the usual guys like Hiaason, but also some midlist laborers and even lesser lights. But they were hard, brother!

But here is the bottom line. As a PBO peon, I have a lot of books out there every year. And with HC prices pushing $30, do you really think most buyers are going to take a chance on someone they haven't heard of? Let's face it, there are two groups of crime book buyers out there. There is the intelligensia, those readers who follow the posting boards and subscribe to the mystery magazines, who know what the Edgar is, who are tuned into the genre. But then there is everyone else -- that vast pool of general readers who must rely on the media and reviewers to tell them what is hot. There are folks -- we have seen them in action -- who walk into B&Ns bestseller list in hand and who seldom venture down the aisles to check out the spine-out books. And then there are the readers -- thank God! -- who use word of mouth to cull their reading choices. These are the people we writers need, like it or not. These are the readers I am going after -- one at a time. Being a succes d'estime is great. But it doesn't give you a good sell-through or keep your publisher from dropping your series.

So am I really jealous of my friend's good fortune? Sure, but her good fortune does nothing to diminish me. I will lurk here in the PBO weeds, waiting for my chance. And in the meantime I salute my friend Elaine Viets She's moving on up, to the East Side. She finally got her piece of the pie.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Elaine Flinn said...

While I wish the same good fortune to youse all - I'm happy as hell to read Elaine Viets has made the big time. Elaine is a terrific writer and one terrific gal! Give her a hug for me next time you lunch.

p.s. your blog is also TERRIFIC!

Elaine Flinn

9:54 PM  
Blogger Bryon Quertermous said...

Count me in the shocked you've been PBO so long category. I've long since stopped trying to figure out why and how publishing works but I'm happy you maintain a great attitude and, more importantly, haven't given up. Elaine's story should serve as hope for you guys that eventually you get your reward. Really.

9:41 AM  
Blogger JA Konrath said...

I wish Elaine the best, and hope she has much success.

Making the jump from PBO to hardcover is an iffy thing---I know a few writers whose careers have tanked while doing so.

Why don't you consider foing what Libby Fischer Hellmann does? Berkley releases her paperbacks, but a month prior to that Poisoned Pen releases the book in hardcover. That allows for reviews and library sales and the collectors market.

F. Paul Wilson also does a limited edition of his hardcovers through Gauntlet Press before Tor does the mass market.

Does Pinnacle own hard/soft rights? Couldn't you hold back the hard rights for the next book and shop them around, if Pinnacle isn't using them?

10:05 AM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Joe:
If I didn't have an agent, I'd hire you, dude. My current agent likes good French wine. I know for a fact you can be had for a couple skunky brews.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Mark Terry said...

Well, PJ (or should that be PJs?), I RESPECT YOU!

Look, here's your chance. Closely watch Jeff Abbott for the next couple months and see how Panic does, which is his first hardcover after a bunch of successful paperback originals. Panic is a great book. I just finished it to review and I think it's fantastic. But will readers pony up $25 for it? Dunno.

Before I started reviewing books so much I bought probably 50 or 60 a year, and probably 20 were hardcovers. Those MUST HAVE books that were at the top of my list, the Robert Parker, Sue Grafton, Dick Francis, etc. And sometimes something really interested caught my attention in hardcover and I'd waver, should I read it now, or wait. Should I... And of course, some authors who I bought religiously in hardcover I lost that impulse for and waited for the paperback (David Morrell) or, gulp, didn't read at all (James Lee Burke), despite buying many of their hardcovers.

If writers feel that pbos are literary ghettos, one can only imagine what the publishers think, but they should all get rid of that mindset. I'm frankly concerned that the publishing industry is going to price themselves out of the hardcover business. It's really, really tough for me to think of dropping $30 on a hardcover. Particularly if the prices of movies on DVD appear to be dropping. Once HCs hit $25.95, I had my doubts they could go much higher without losing some of their market. Of course, I thought the same thing when mass market went from $5.95 to $6.95, but $7.95 is not uncommon now, and I wouldn't be shocked if they hit $9.95 soon. Of course, does anybody think that the only reason the movie industry is in a slump this summer is because they've got "sequel/remake-itis" so bad it seems terminal? I took my kids to a matinee Saturday that started at 11:55 in the morning, first show, of "Sky High." It's a local theater in Oxford, MI so it's slightly cheaper than the theaters at the mall. Two kids and an adult for tickets came to $17.50. Picked up popcorn, pop and M&Ms (for the son with braces on his teeth) for another $17.50. There you go. $36 for an hour-and-a-half. If my wife and I want to catch a movie as a date, throw in about $20 on top of that for a babysitter.

The point being, pbos may be the way to go.

Best,
Mark Terry

10:27 AM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Mark makes some really good points. Sometimes going to hardcover can be a career-killer. I won't name names, but I know several good authors who've had this happen. HC is somewhat of an ego thing when you think about it. The vast majority of readers don't care, but you DO lose some library sales and it can limit your secondary sales (audio, foreign).

As for movies...don't get me started. The only one I went to the theater to see in the past year was War of the Worlds because I wanted to big effects effect. It was...eh. I get impatient with Spielberg's sentimentality. He really should have killed off one of the main characters (won't say who in case you haven't seen it). But of course, he didn't. The aliens croak out and everybody is reunited. Gag...

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PK the Bookeemonster:
Keeping the movie analogy going (discounting the salary differences), being in PBOs is like having steady career as a character actor - not splashy but it's fairly long lived and perhaps more beloved. Moving into HBs is nice but it could be compared to those actresses who win the Academy Award and then their career nosedives -- where are they now? Marisa Tormei? Gwyneth Paltow? Halle Berry? (not to say authors in HB are bad, etc., but neither are PBO authors). The whole them/us dynamic of HB/PB is created from within the industry and authors as a measuring stick. And who needs that? I just wanna read a good story. If its in HB, I get it from the library. If its a PBO I buy it.


PJ wrote:Mark makes some really good points. Sometimes going to hardcover can be a career-killer. I won't name names, but I know several good authors who've had this happen. HC is somewhat of an ego thing when you think about it. The

4:15 PM  
Anonymous --john-- said...

Nice place ya's got here. Is the bar open? The hardboiled board seems to be out of liquor.
--john--

9:54 AM  

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