Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Keep Those Cards & E-Mails Coming

By Paul--

Several friends e-mailed me Monday to say they’d seen a commercial for KILL ALL THE LAWYERS on ABC’s Good Morning America.

I missed it, but I’m told the spot will run every day this week. A big thank you to the folks at Bantam who arrange (and pay for) this.

As for those newsy, talky shows...I once appeared on GMA. For reasons I cannot recall, I was interviewed in front of the shark tank at the Miami Seaquarium. (No lawyer jokes, please). My one scheduled appearance on NBC's TODAY show was bumped by breaking news. Recently, I've appeared on Court-TV's Catherine Crier show,which has an upscale, book-buying audience.

I don't know if my fellow bloggers agree, but I think a single appearance on network or cable television sells very few books. Different story if you're saturated on all the networks, plus Larry King on CNN, plus "Fresh Air" on NPR. Which usually means you have the hottest non-fiction book around. (For a while, that meant having "O.J. Simpson" in the title).

How, then, do you sell books...especially if your name is not known to the general public? A great title helps. What's the best title in the history of publishing? I think you'd be hard pressed to beat THINNER THIGHS IN THIRTY DAYS. Tells you all you need to know And alliteration, too.

Abbie Hoffman's STEAL THIS BOOKwas a damn good title, reflecting both the tone of the work and the tenor of the times. The first sentence: "In a country such as Amerika, there is bound to be a hell of a lot of food lying around waiting to be ripped off."

Ah, but times have changed. As someone who was gone from publishing for eight years, here's something I've noticed. Much faster and more intense communication with readers. All thanks to websites and e-mail. I published my first novel, TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, in 1990. In those Dark Ages, readers would contact authors by sending letters to publishers, whose addresses are not always easily obtainable. Weeks or months later, the publisher would send off a box of letters to the author. By the time you responded, the reader may have moved, died, or forgotten she wrote you in the first place.

But now...

With e-mail, it is far easier for readers to contact writers. In the early 1990's, most of my mail seemed to come from prison inmates seeking counsel or cigarettes. They were all innocent, by the way, so I would refer them to James Grippando, Esquire.

Now, I get e-mail the day a reader finishes a book. Or, in one case last weekend, BEFORE the reader even starts the book. Herewith (as lawyers say), the note from a male reader (or at least, a buyer) of KILL ALL THE LAWYERS.

Paul, I just got back my judgment and divorce decree from my two year divorce case. I got royally screwed by the judge and I now have a sizeable judgment from my first two lawyers and over priced accountant on top of it. I have not read your book but the title caught my eye. I am really shocked that the system is as corrupt and inept as it is. Keep up the good work.

Well, I don’t disagree. The system is “corrupt” and “inept.” I would only add “humorous.”

There’s a sign that hangs over the bench in every Miami courtroom. “We who labor here seek only the truth.” Taking note, Jake Lassiter, my first series character, responded, “There oughta be a footnote: subject to the truth being concealed by lying witnesses, distorted by sleazy lawyers, and excluded by inept judges.” Cynical, you say? I prefer to think of Jake as brutally self-aware. As he once said of himself and his brethren at the Bar: “They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.”

Trivia question: Who portrayed Jake Lassiter in the 1995 NBC Movie-of-the-Week? Answer: Gerald McRaney, who currently plays the villainous George Hearst on "Deadwood."

Another e-mail this weekend caught my attention. The subject line read: “Your first ‘Solomon vs. Lord’ novel was an embarrassment.”

"What!" I screamed. Then I read on. The e-mail came from a sergeant in the Canadian Army who said HE was embarrassed because he’d burst out laughing while reading the book on the bus. He promised he would start KILL ALL THE LAWYERS as soon as he finished Sandra Brown’s CHILL FACTOR. “She’s pretty good,” the sergeant writes.

Fine with me. Just keep those e-mails coming.



  1. Well, I loved Jake and wish you'd bring him back (but not at the expense of Steve and Victoria--hell, you need 2 serieses (es-es-es) going, don't you? Write faster!

    As for Gerald McRaney, he's a fine actor, but if you gave me a list of 100 actors to play Jake, I'm really not sure McRaney would appear in my top, uh, well, who else would be on the list? Paul Reubens, aka Pee-Wee Herman? Well, McRaney would be higher on the list than Reubens. And probably higher on the list than, say, Dan Goodman (although maybe not; that could be an inspired acting choice, if you over-emphasize the "former" football player part). Of course, since somebody saw fit to have Whoopie Goldberg cast as Bernard Rosenberg from Lawrence Block's "Burglar" novels--yes, I can imagine the strategy session at the studio--replace an urbane Jewish male burglar with a profane African-American female burglar, but hey, it's an easy lift from Goldberg to Rosenberg, so let's go with it--

    The point being, I guess you could do worse. Gwyneth Paltrow as Jake? Pamela Anderson as Jake?

    Mark Terry

    p.s. Is it Rosenberg? I'm blanking on Bernie's--aaahhhh, that's it--Rhodenbarr, I think. Same thing, right?

  2. Really, Paul. Can you get any more famous? This fellow blogger has never been on network TV promoting one of her books, so she can't speak with authority. Obviously, Bantam wisely realizes that you are the real deal. I once heard that it takes a consumer five times of hearing/seeing the name/product/book before it finally registers. How many of those spots do they have planned?

    McRaney as Jake? Nope. Who do you think should have been cast?

  3. Patty,
    I was partial to Tom Selleck, who at the time, was turning down TV jobs, as hurting his quest for a feature career. "Mr. Baseball," etc. The Lassiter MOW was produced by the multi-talented Stephen J. Cannell, who had first cast Selleck as Officer Lance White back in "Rockford Files" in the late 70's. So I thought we had a shot at Selleck...but it was not to be. McRaney played the character with a Confederate flag on his law office desk, something I assure you the author never contemplated.

  4. Well, I guess I'm going to have to watch GMA all this week (at least until Katie's replacement debuts on the Today Show) to check for Paul ads. Publicists do argue about whether a single appearance on TV sells books. They usually measure this "sucess" by going onto Amazon.com and seeing if there is a bump in sales ranking right after the show. I used to get excited about this, I admit -- until I learned that Amazon accoutns for 2% of all book sales (even less, if you take out the used market). But I do believe that ADVERTISING sells books, so congrats, Paul, on having your publisher behind you in such a big way.


    I think name recognition sells books. Best is to be a Hollywood starlet of modest abilities but in the hands experienced publicists, masseurs, and chaffeurs. Next, at age 20 or so, (with the help of an out-of-work and alcoholic journalist), she should write her autobiography with a grabber title, say "Adventures in Fellatio."

    Pathos helps. Anecdotes about being abused by the family German Shepherd are a plus. Mentioning brand names of items not one reader in 1000 can afford is also useful. A statement that "I don't want to act because acting isn't real" is worth points, too.

  6. Having something worth the expence of one's time [to read it]could help sell a book too,eh? I remember a business card that was once presented to me:
    Books worth reading generate their own audience.......not to say that A LOT of BS enjoys voluminousity on merely "press."

  7. Having a super rich husband helps sell anything. Remember Pia Zadora?

    A confederate flag? Sheesh! Didn't they read the books? Selleck would never have allow that to happen.