Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who's looking out for you?

A couple days ago I receive two interesting e-mails within minutes of each other from the two sides of a lawsuit that should be important to every author on the planet. The fact that I know some of the people involved made it even more meaningful to me.

Not long ago, Google struck deals with major university libraries to scan and copy millions of books in their collections. Many of these were older books in the public domain, but millions of others were still under copyright protection. The Author’s Guild saw Google’s scanning as, in their words, “a plain and brazen violation of copyright law.” Google countered that its digitizing of these books represented a “fair use” of the material. The Guild decided that a lawsuit was the path to a sound resolution. As it happens, Joseph Goulden and Paul Dickson were named plaintiffs in that suit. I know them because they are both founders of American Independent Writers (formerly the Washington Independent Writers,) an organization of which I am proud to be a member.

Just days ago, Google and the plaintiffs announced a settlement agreement. This settlement, according to Google, opens new opportunities for authors, publishers, libraries, Google and readers. You can learn more about the settlement at the settlement site But since it’s still awaiting Court approval, the principles can’t talk much about it. However, the bottom line is that Google cannot continue to scan copyrighted material without permission and royalties. One could make a case that if the Guild had lost this suit, the essential nature of copyright would have been at risk.

As it is, if you have books under the Google Book Search Partner Program nothing changes except that you will be entitled to benefits under the settlement, if and when it is approved by the Court. The settlement includes at least $45 million for authors and publishers whose in-copyright books and other copyrighted texts have been scanned without permission. If your book was scanned and you own all the rights, you’ll get a small share of this, at least $60. Those authors will also get paid for institutional subscriptions to the collection of books made available through Google Book Search, sales of online consumer access to the books, and printouts at public libraries.

What’s the lesson of this lawsuit and its outcome? I don’t think it is that Google is a bad company. I like the Google Book Search concept and they’re in business to make money. I think the real lesson is how important it is for writers to support the organizations that lobby for our rights, organizations like the Author’s Guild and American Independent Writers. These groups, made up of authors, are the only entities looking out for us.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion

Part of the writer's life is promoting his work, and when you do it a lot there is sometimes a time lapse, then a sudden rush of appearance. This last week was good that way, and well timed too because of the new release. But more on that later.

I did have a fine showing, signing my novels at the Borders Express in Dulles Town Center last week. We ran completely out of two of my titles - The Troubleshooter and Collateral Damage - but if you’re in that area, don’t worry. They’ll order more.

Also, my new Blood and Bone trailer turned up in a few new places last week including on and popular video site Revver.

And I was a guest on the BlogTalkRadio program Book World News. You can still Listen to the Book World News Interview.

But best of all, in the aftermath of Bouchercon, yours truly was name checked all over the internet by several of the people I had a chance to chat with during the con. My publisher, Karen Syed mentioned me in a Bouchercon recap in her blog about “The Life of a Publisher.” Then Jared Case referenced me on his “Post-Game, and Onward” blog entry on his excellent blog, A Case of Murder. Fellow mystery author Persia Walker mentioned me in the post “Bouchercon & Good News” on her blog, Criminal Musings. And I turned up in Dana King’s Bouchercon recap on his blog One Bite at a Time.

And in an example of pure synchronicity, co-author Lisa Spahr is about to release an audio companion volume to our book, “WWII Radio Heroes.” She thanked me for my part in writing that volume on her insightful blog, POW Letters.

So all of this exposure was excellent on the week when I have some big news to share. As you probably know, The Troubleshooter is the seminal Hannibal Jones novel, the book that introduces my fictional private eye and his world. Although I wrote it first, mysteries were hto at the time and this one is more of an urban adventure, so it was not published first. However, urban fiction is now in its ascendence.

So the decison was made to re-release The Troubleshooter - and it is now available for the first time in hardcover! It’s not in any bookstores yet, but is running a very special promotion for the book, bundling it with two other Hannibal Jones novels for a phenomenal price. Seize the opportunity to be among the first to see Hannibal between hard covers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Life After Bouchercon

Bouchercon - the premiere annual event for mystery writers and fans - was more fun than a writer should be allowed to have. Thursday thru Sunday I was in my element, and I'm still sorting through the sensory overload. I won't bore you with details of all four days of wonder but I will hit the highlights just to give you an idea.

I sat on a panel with some excellent writers and got to talk about how we construct a puzzle to keep the reader interested. I watched a slew of great panels too and, while it's hard to rate them on a relative scale I'll admit that my favorite panel had only 3 people on it. Christa Faust talked about Richard Prather (Shell Scott's creator,) Gary Phillips talked about Chester Himes (Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones) and Max Allen Collins schooled us on Mickey Spillane (I don't have to tell you he wrote Mike Hammer, do I?) They were all amazing in both depth of knowledge and understanding of these seminal authors.

Another highlight of the event was the most excellent hospitality suite that Sisters in Crime put on. It was an oasis in the midst of merry chaos.

Then there's the whole ego thing. It's kind of cool to have fans ask about my work. It's very cool to have new writers ask for my advice. It is super cool to be recognized by guys like Max Allen Collins (Road to Perdition and a zillion other things) Louis Bayard (Edgar nominated The Pale Blue Eye) and Bob Randisi (founder of the Private Eye Writers of America.) When guys like that call you by name you feel like a star yourself for a minute.

I left the hotel long enough to give a presentation Saturday at the Canton Library, the nation's first branch library, standing in the same place since 1886. Those wonderful folks kept me there, answering questions and signing books for two hours.

In the meanwhile, my Bouchercon blog post for the Baltimore Sun was so popular that it was referenced and quoted in the competing Washington City Paper. And then it was referenced again in an article in the Baltimore Sun, and again in the Baltimore Sun's Read Street blog.

But the BEST thing was getting an e-mail Monday from a lady I met at Bouchercon for whom I signed a book. She said, "I finished reading it on the plane ride home. Wow! It was even better than I anticipated after I heard you speak. I will be buying and reading your susequent books. Your characters are believable, interesting and "hooked" me from page 1. I hope to see you at Bouchercon in Indianapolis next year. Thank you for your books and I hope you keep getting published!"

Yeah, THAT would have been a good reason to show up at Bouchercon all by itself!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The sorta kinda writing life

When I’m writing fiction I always know what comes next because I work to a detailed outline. Blogging, on the other hand, gives me a chance to experience what so many other authors have whined to me about in the past - writer’s block.

So here I am in my blog that’s supposed to be about my writing life. The only thing is, I haven’t been writing. The last couple of weeks have yielded precious few new words of fiction. So what am I supposed to talk about when I’m not living the writing life?

Well, when my editorial director self asked that question, my worker bee self replied, “What about all that writing that isn’t writing?”

Hmmm... well, I do write that newsletter every week. It’s meant to be marketing, but there’s always some value added in there - a web site of interest to my readers, or a new book they should read.

I wrote to my agent. She’ll be at Bouchercon and I wanted her to know all the questions I’ll ask when she gets here. And I did add a chapter to the urban fantasy novel I’m working on with a collaborator.

Oh, and I did prepare some questions and answers for the panel I’ll be on Thursday at Bouchercon, just so I’d be prepared. In fact, I’m giving a talk during Bouchercon at the Canton branch of the Baltimore library. For that I refreshed and updated a talk I gave a while back on why people love crime fiction. Then I wrote a blog based on that talk for the blog I post on Criminal Minds at Work.

I was also asked to guest blog on Read Street, the Baltimore Sun's book blog. I put together a piece on African American private eyes in fiction, pointing out just how rare Hannibal Jones is. That will appear Thursday so watch their web site.

So, looking back I guess even when I’m not seriously working on a novel or short story I still get a little writing done.