Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bears and Men

Yes, Thriller Guy is aware that he has neglected his blogging duties recently. In his defense, he can only say that he has been working on a large project where he has been talking to many thriller writers, some of the biggest out there, and this diligence will pay off in material for future blogs.

TG has received several e-mails saying he's being too tough on the cheapskates who own Kindles and who have not immediately bought a Kindle copy of Abraham Lincoln: Detective, from Amazon. TG is grateful for those of you who have done so and assures you that every cent TG makes off the book will be squirreled away to pay for him to write another in the series, someday, maybe in the next hundred years the way sales are going right now. TG is, he must say, a little disappointed in some of you out there. No need to name names, you know who you are. It's the same feeling one has when one has a book signing where sales are disappointing. Regular readers of this blog might remember the rule taught to TG by his early mentor, Kent Carroll of Carroll and Graf Publishers, who told TG the following when asked how many books one should order for a signing: Write down a list of names of those friends and family who you are absolutely certain are going to buy a book, and then cut that number in half, then cut that number in half again. That's how many books you're going to sell, and let TG tell you from personal experience, and the experience of most of his writer pals, it's usually a pretty sad number, but almost always correct. There's nothing like seeing some of your best friends not only leaving the bookstore with nothing under their arms but looking pissed off because you didn't give them a free, personalized copy of the book.

Normal people have no idea that the number of free books the publisher gives to writers is usually very limited and usually written into the original contract between writer and publisher. That number starts out at five and if you can get your agent to argue about it they'll easily go to ten, but anything more and they get really grumpy. TG learned years ago to not worry about it in the contract because you can always get freebies out of the marketing department who will gladly give you as many as you want.

OK, you want to know what's really got TG ticked off this week? He was reading a thriller by a pretty famous guy for review and right up near the front the writer describes a character as “a shambling bear of a man.” TG is aware that most thrillers are, sadly, riddled with cliches, but he was stunned to find that particular old war horse still in circulation. Good God, does the writer have no shame? Does the editor have no shame? Or is he afraid to tell the writer that the phrase makes him look like a tyro? (Now there's an excellent word you don't see around much these days.) Have all the excellent proof readers who used to point out mistakes like this all been fired? TG was reminded of his early days in the business when he read a manuscript as a favor for his busy publisher and was shocked to find two separate characters described as shambling bears of men, and then stunned when another character was described as “a shambling leviathan of a man.” TG gently pointed out that the word leviathan almost always refers to whales or sea monsters, creatures who could hardly be expected to shamble anywhere. The publisher, looking very unhappy, took that reference out but still left the two earlier instances in.

Never forget TG's rule when it comes to cliches: when one comes to mind while in the process of your daily writing, pause and try to come up with something better. If you can't, don't waste time on it but mark the offending phrase in boldface and then go back the next day when doing your rewrites and change it to something original. This is usually pretty easy the next day when your brain is fresh.

Which leads to TG's next rule, which is when starting out your writing day, always read over what you wrote the day before and do quick rewrites. It gets you into your own voice and will put you well into your new day's work.


  1. The part about everyone you know expecting freebies made me laugh. My own book is coming out fairly soon and I'm shocked by the amount of people who want a free copy. Most just make obvious hints, but some just come right out with it, and it's really starting to grate. What ever happened to showing some support? I even had a a guy who I used to go to school with, who I hadn't seen in 15 years and was never even that good of a friend in the first place, ask for one. Drives me mad.

  2. I used to run book signings at Olsson's Metro Center store. I was always amazed at the number of long lost "friends" who would linger to reminisce with the authors after the signings, and then not buy anything at all.