Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Welcome back Jon Breen and Terrill Lankford

From Terrill Lankford--
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL AND ME

Many months ago, on another incarnation of Ed's blog, I went on a rant about how the strange buying practices of the chains was leading to an even stranger practice of an ever-growing number of writers adopting pseudonyms to trick the computers/buyers at the chains into ordering their books with fresh eyes and not slashing pre-orders of new books to match the actual net sales of the author's last book. I have a feeling this piece was read by more people than all my books combined. It was copied and quoted all through blog-dom (and yes, I know a couple of you jokers out there had your way with me behind my back - Cowards! Meet me in the square come midnight! And bring your dying clothes!)

Ahem... where was I? Oh yes. Not long after this blog ran, I had a series of long conversations with Jeffrey Trachtenberg, who was preparing an article about this very subject for the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Trachtenberg's article ran many months later, on Nov. 8, under the title: "Authors adopt aliases after their books flop" (Hey, Jeff, tell me next time if you're going to use a title like that!). The article was shorter than I thought it would be and it didn't focus on what I think the main reason is that this practice is becoming so popular: the ordering habits of the chains. That said, it was still an insightful piece and I stand by my contribution to the article. But since only a small quote of mine was used, and, by the very nature of this kind of article, it was taken out of full context, there is something I want to clear up in case I hurt any feelings out there. The quote Mr. Trachtenberg used was:


Mr. Lankford says switching monikers is unethical. "If somebody didn't like my book under my own name it would be wrong to sell another book to that person under a different name," he says. "Just to defeat the computers at Barnes & Noble and Borders isn't a good reason for doing this."


Once again, this article was quoted and linked all through Blogville. Debates broke out. Houses were burned. Fruit carts were overturned. And I got nailed in a few blogs for my scandalous attitude. How dare I claim that using a pseudonym is unethical! I didn't respond anywhere because I've been healing up from my latest car accident (a jackknifing 18 wheeler hit me this time. I hate when that happens) and I've been a bit blogophobic of late. (I've been noticing a lot of the dark side taking over out there.)

The thing I want to clarify is that I find NOTHING unethical about using pseudonyms - in most cases. Many people have adopted them for many reasons. Whether it be because a writer was so prolific that he/she didn't want to flood the market with his/her name (we can't have every third book in the stores sporting the name "James Reasoner" on the spine) or because they were changing genres and didn't want to confuse fans who would follow them into places those fans might not want to go or just the simple desire to protect their private life. The names writers put on their books, like everything else about their work, SHOULD be THEIR own decision (but we all know that this is often not the case). And all who go this route have their own reasons for making this decision. The ethical problem I faced - and I am only speaking for myself here - is the idea that I might adopt a pseudonym in a shallow attempt to confuse the chains, which, in turn, becomes an act of deception that is passed on to the readers. After looking at it from as many angles as I could, I just concluded it was wrong - for me. Many other writers have taken the opposite attitude and more power to them. It's a tough business - and getting tougher every day. If they feel this is the best way to stay in the game, so be it. For some, it will work. For others it has led to a series of two book deals, history repeating itself over and over again. And maybe that's enough. They are still getting published (some of them, at least). Maybe the idea of developing a brand name will soon be a thing of the past in publishing except for the lucky few who break big with their first or second books.

The most insulting thing about this practice is that it smacks of the quick-fix. The easy play. The kind of move that executives dream up over martinis and then slap each other on the back like they are geniuses. I've heard the same story being told by so many writers, about how their editors or agents have come up with this brilliant idea to beat the computers, that it almost feels like it's a fad. The long term ramifications of the practice are not being considered (and no, I'm not going to go through all that again). And by buying into the practice we don't address the real problem at hand, the "logic" behind the math that is eroding the business as a fertile ground for developing writers.

The bottom line is this: I hope I did not offend any of the thousands of writers out there who have adopted pseudonyms - for whatever reason - to bring their work to the public. I'm very aware that whatever led to your decision to take this course of action is your own business and none of mine. I was speaking only for myself and my own personal feelings about my decision to stick with my own name - no matter how much it costs me! Please accept my apology if that wasn't clear in the article.

FAREWELL APPEARANCE

Mike Connelly recently signed THE LINCOLN LAWYER at my favorite bookstore, MYSTERIES TO DIE FOR, in Thousand Oaks (my girlfriend is a co-owner, so I'm contractually obligated to call it my favorite bookstore). A few days after the signing a very nice lady e-mailed me and said she saw me in the crowd and wondered if I would speak at the Burbank Library some time before the end of the year. I said I would be glad to do so (pain pills at work), and now the day is upon us. It's this Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 7:00 PM. I'm fairly certain this will be my last public appearance for quite some time, so if any of you live near Burbank, please drop in and say hello (and/or goodbye). Books will be for sale, but there will also be a lot of giveaways, so I'll try to make it worth your time. And they are promising us all free coffee. This will be just like an AA meeting, but shorter. The place:

Burbank Central Library
110 N. Glenoaks Blvd.
For more information call: 818-238-5600

Hope to see you there.

And if not, see you some time next year!

And be careful out there!

TL

Steamed again? Meet me behind the barn at: lankford2000@earthlink,net
-------------------------------
From Jon Breen

A couple of film notes (one current, one retro):

1) The movie version of Scott Phillips's novel THE ICE HARVEST is a dandy, recommended to anybody who likes very dark comedy and doesn't mind a little blood. Billy Bob Thornton is establishing a niche for himself as a specialist in cynical Christmas movies--but this one makes BAD SANTA look like GOING MY WAY. Ordinarily I would predict an Edgar for a movie this good, but I think this year's will go to CAPOTE, which is notable for much more than just Philip Seymour Hoffman's remarkable impersonation. If it wins the Edgar, it will be the first film about the writing of an Edgar-winning book to win an Edgar. (In fact, it's probably the first movie about the writing of an Edgar-winning book period.)

2) Rita and I have been revisiting the old Perry Mason movies from the '30s, taped off air from TCM some years ago. We have all but the first one, THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG (1934), which Leonard Maltin finds the least interesting. (Mike Nevins disagrees, and I'd be inclined to believe Mike.) Though Warren William, who played the role four times, was a much more formidable actor than either Ricardo Cortez or Donald Woods, who each played it once, the latter two made better Masons simply because they were closer to the character in the books. And I believe Ann Dvorak, who plays Della Street in THE CASE OF THE STUTTERING BISHOP (1937) opposite Woods, was the all-time best Della, even edging out TV's Barbara Hale. (The worst was Genevieve Tobin in THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS (1935) with William--she was a fine actress, but the director obviously told her to try to play it like Joan Blondell, and the result is just too cutesy for words.) By the way, STUTTERING BISHOP was the only Mason film not to play Paul Drake as a silly comic relief. Obviously, the Mason TV version was better, but the old films are fun to watch. Best one may be THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE (1935), which has one version of William's eccentric Mason, a good Della in Claire Dodd, an attractive client in Margaret Lindsay (owner of one of the best female speaking voices in film), Michael Curtiz as director, Errol Flynn as murder victim, and that great '30s chanteuse Winifred Shaw belting out a song called (believe it or not) "A Dark and Stormy Night."

2 Comments:

Blogger TL said...

Ed, you left off the first part of my post, which was a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY! to you!

Happy 39th Birthday!

4:58 PM  
Blogger Duane Swierczynski said...

Happy Birthday, Ed. Just think: next year, you can finally vote! Bet you're excited...

7:41 PM  

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