Posts filed under: writing

Fraud!

Fraud; I love it. Fiction depends on it, and genre fiction elevates fraud to art. All best selling fiction is about fraud. Oh the thrill of the swindle, the tension of the false identity, the smug comfort of well laundered money! Conspiracies aren’t about conspiracy, they’re about FRAUD. Why conspire to break the law if there isn’t a pot of gold at the end of the plot? And, the bigger the pot of gold, the more fun it is. We all know there are people out there flaunting the law, gaming the system, cashing in on some cleaver shortcut, and we all want to know how they’re doing it. That’s my genre. I’ve been a passionate student of fraud for 35 years. I’ve studied the masters; Bernie Kornfeld, Robert Vesco, the Butcher Brothers, the Penn Square/Continental Illinois Bank failure, Marc Rich, Bernie Madoff, and dozens more. I mine the tiny details of smuggling, money laundering, stock manipulation, and class action litigation to find the stories, characters, and techniques that will keep readers up at night.

After fraud comes schadenfreude, the second essential element of fiction. Schadenfreude is the pleasure we feel when the bad guy gets it in the end. It’s a universal emotion; enjoying the suffering of others. Cheap genre fiction; that schlock that hack writers churn out, is nothing more than a heinous crime and a bad end for the perp. We writers should do more. Readers deserve to learn something, even in genre fiction. Not so they’ll do it, because good fraud is very hard to pull off, but because people enjoy knowing.

Today two of my books were at #2 and #3 on Amazon’s Top 100 Bestseller List in the financial thriller category. The Other Pilot and The Devil on Chardonnay are geopolitical action thrillers; but they’re basically telling a tale of FRAUD. The next book, The Mingrelian is about spies, money laundering, embargoes, and Iran’s nuclear weapons program. I’t will be finished soon.

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Book Expo America: Oh, The Irony!

I just got back from Book Expo America at the Javits Convention Center in New York.  It was a hectic, exhausting, revealing four days.  Twenty five years ago the Book Expo consisted mostly of the big publishing companies, I’ll call them Big P, pitching new books to buyers from independent and chain bookstores, and there is a lot of that going on still.  Huge banners with book covers on them hung all over the center.  Each of the Big P houses had a block of floor space with sales people pitching books.  The problem is, there aren’t many independent bookstores left.  Hell, there aren’t many bookstores left.  It’s going online, and Amazon has the lion’s share of that.  The discount they offer is the money that used to go to warehouse and distribute books and to cover the higher operating cost of small bookstores.  Books are cheaper.

One whole wall of the convention center was devoted to desks of authors giving away and signing their books.   Lines for some famous authors snaked clear across the building.  Most of those lined up were young women with shopping bags full of free books.  But, some of those famous authors are self published.  The Indie Press section covered about 20% of the floor space.  Another third was taken up by start-up companies offering publicity, marketing, formatting, printing, distributing, design, and editing for Indie presses and self-publishers.

Away from the exhibition hall there were lectures; a dozen going on at all times from 9:30 to 5:00 daily.  I went to the ones on promoting books using social media; Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Google+.  Big P offered up data they’ve gathered showing where the publishing business is going.  With a collective sigh of relief they revealed that paper book sales were flat from last year, after three years of decline.  Ebook sales are still increasing; 45% this year, but at least it wasn’t triple digits like last year.  One of their slides showed the sale of ebooks increased by $780 Million, while paper book sales remained flat.  But, that same slide showed textbooks in the K-12 market down $800 Million!  I asked what was happening and was told it was because of the the states are broke and they aren’t buying textbooks.  Not so!  The school my grandchildren will attend just announced they got a federal grant to equip all students with Ipads.  A whole industry; the K-12 textbook industry, is going to go digital.  College too.

Statistics were skewed by the new marketplace.  Fifty Shades of Grey (a Romance novel) and Hunger Games (a Young Adults novel) padded their genres making both look like big growth areas.  Many ebooks sold at $.99 or were given away free, so there were many more books acquired than the dollar figures would indicate.  Many of those cheap ebooks will never be read.  Romance novels comprise a gigantic market of voracious readers who are also active in social media and want to know everything about their favorite authors.  I don’t think that carries over into non-fiction or other genres. There is a growing number of readers who have become very sophisticated in finding just the kind of books they like to read,.  Blogs and web sites are catering to that market by offering book reviews, chats, and giveaways.  It’s a game millions of people are playing.

Publishers Weekly, the indispensable magazine of the industry was sold by a Big P conglomerate and is now enabling Indie presses and ebooks.  Oh, the irony!

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Book Expo America: The Revolution!

Book Expo America is the premier convention in book publishing. It’s next week in New York City. In the past it was publishers pitching their new books to bookstore owners, but now there aren’t any independent bookstores any longer. Well, a few, and more power to them. The industry consolidated, and now it’s fragmenting again. Just when all the publishers were consolidated by a few multinational corporations and the booksellers all became big box stores, Amazon fostered the Indie movement and waves of Indie presses and self published books resulted. Publishing is about whose voice is heard, and it’s a free for all. The BEA this year has seminars on marketing with social media, panel discussions on how the ebook is changing publishing, and a whole day on how to self publish. There are hundreds of authors paying big bucks to autograph books for half an hour on the convention floor. Some of them are pillars of the novel, and some of them are first timers. There are vendors of all types catering to Indie publishers; marketing, formatting, art, public relations, printing, distribution. The little guy has a chance again.

I’ll be there from gavel to gavel; reveling in the revolution, savoring the panic as the big boys struggle to remain profitable when Indie presses can make money selling ebooks for a buck. These are exciting times. Stay tuned.

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Book Review: City of Promises

A story about Mexico, written by an American who lives in Canada; odd, but interesting.  Let me explain.  D. Grant Fitter has studied and worked in Mexico long enough to know and understand that place, which is very different from the United States, as we will learn.  He says he thinks he must have been Mexican in another life.  In his tale Arturo Fuentes, a young businessman moves to Mexico City in 1943 and opens a glass bottle factory using sand from his native region.  In short order he falls in with a famous Mexican dancer and some shady characters from the totally corrupt government of that nation.  The story winds through the headlines of the 1940’s as Perez Prado becomes internationally popular and the rumba sweeps the nation’s dance floors.  In the meantime corrupt politicians deal themselves in on every business transaction of consequence, with Fuentes swept along and becoming wealthy in the process.

This story reads like Gabriel Garcia Marquez was given a stack of old newspapers from 1943-1948 and told to write a mystery/thriller.  It has dreamy descriptions of rich coffee and aged rum served up in restaurants and night clubs of the period, then business deals, the development of Mexico City bus service, the presidential election of Miguel  Aleman, and the development of Acapulco.  It’s told in linear, first person prose eliciting more curiosity than tension or suspense until the end when it finishes up tidy.

So, interesting but not literature.  It’s a primer in how government corruption infects every part of life, and it isn’t unique to Mexico.  It’s happening in Egypt as we speak, and it’s always trying to happen in the United States.  That’s why our two party political system has stood the test of time.  Mexico now has a two party political system, and they’re a better nation for it.

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James Patterson was wrong!

Best selling author James Patterson took out an ad in Publisher’s Weekly suggesting that the government “do something” about the decline in the traditional publishing industry.  Specifically, he mentioned the decline in bookstores and libraries, but he also suggested the major publishers needed some kind of government help to maintain their monopoly over what we read.  Not so!  There are more publishers today than ever before, and many of us who have published our own material are learning streamlined new ways to get our words out, and entrepreneurs are rushing to find ways to help us flank the big boys.  No longer can an editor in New York decide which dozen authors will publish thriller fiction, and which 50 will publish romance fiction, and which handful will get the chance to be read in literary fiction.  Today, it’s a stampede.

Here’s where I think it’s going to go.  Instead of wannabe authors wasting years submitting to agents who won’t even read their query letters, they will publish.  It isn’t that hard.  Avid readers eager to find something good are wading through the mass of new fiction and publishing reviews in hundreds of weblogs.  Some readers are reviewing more than one book a day.  It’s easy to flip through a book on a Kindle or Nook reader, and independent fiction is dirt cheap; 99 cents.  A lot of it is given away.  Much of that new fiction is terrible, but voices are emerging out of all that chaos; new voices.  E.L. James self published her Fifty Shades of Gray and managed to sell 50,000 books.  One of the big publishers picked her up under contract and she sold millions.  That’s happening a lot now.

The adventurous reader will scan the book review blogs looking for something fresh and new, or that certain formula they want, and find the independent.  The reader wanting a guarantee will seek out the name brand.  There will be more writers, more books, more variety, more voices.  Now about libraries and book stores; people are reading in coffee shops, on the bus, walking down the street, WHILE DRIVING CARS!  How can you say people aren’t reading?  Libraries are going to have to re-think what they offer, or people aren’t going to come in; they don’t need to.

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