Posts Tagged ‘Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher’

Why You Are More Important…

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

…than the trade publication reviewers.

Okay, here we go into the weeds. For the record, there are four trade publications in the publishing industry – Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal. These are our version of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

I have nothing bad to say about any individual reviewers who write for those publications. Often I get good reviews, occasionally great ones, now and then bad ones. Recently Girl Can’t Help It got a very good review from Booklist; shortly thereafter, Publisher’s Weekly hated it (apparently the same reviewer who felt the same about Girl Most Likely). And that’s one of my two big complaints about the reviews in the trades – PW and Kirkus publish unsigned reviews. I prefer knowing who hates me, thanks (also who loves me). Booklist and Library Journal have signed reviews.

I also consider the reviewers for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Mystery Scene and The Strand to be in a class of their own – these publications clearly love and support the mystery. So do Crimespree and Deadly Pleasures and a few others (don’t mean to leave anybody out). Some web-based review/news columns are also great boons to the genre, including my favorite, The Rap Sheet.

My other complaint about the trade publication reviews is that most contain judgment with no supporting evidence. If you stink, you just stink – no excerpts or examples to prove a point. Same goes if you smell just fine.

But okay. The format is fairly short for all the reviews in these publications, so maybe I’m asking too much that a reviewer support an argument. You can’t expect a limerick to be an epic poem.

Where it gets unfair has to do with the book industry’s publishers and editors. They love it when you get good reviews. They hate it when you get bad ones, and often write or even call authors supportively. Some publishing houses hold bad trade reviews against the authors, though. You may think that’s fair, but stick around….

I have received rave reviews from all four trades on a book, and then had that series almost immediately cancelled. The reviews and a dime wouldn’t buy you a cup of coffee. But I have also not received a new contract, at least in part, because the trades reviewed a book of mine unfavorably.

The technical term for this is damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

So where do you come in?

If you come by here often, you know that now and then I do book giveaways to encourage reviews at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other web sites, and at blogs, where many reviews appear. I do this because I believe those are the reviews that really count – that sell books (and sometimes discourage sales, but that comes with the territory).

This March I will have three books from three different publishers come out almost simultaneously – Do No Harm (Nate Heller), Girl Can’t Help It (Krista and Keith Larson) and Masquerade for Murder (Mike Hammer). This was not planned – it’s sheer accident, and not what I wish were happening.

This feeds into the notion that I write too many books – an editor (who should know better) recently said to me, “Are you still writing six books a year?” I have never written six books in one year. All I’m trying to do here is (a) tell my stories, and (b) make a living (okay, avoid real work, but that’s understood). But this kind of thing feeds into careless reviewers essentially panning me for being prolific and not taking each book on its own terms.

It puts you on the spot, too.

As a reader of my work, how can you be expected to shell out all that dough for three books of mine in the same month? Some of you selfish people seem to want to eat. And three books out at the same time encourages the trades to only review one of them, or none, or praise one and trash the other.

You, ultimately, are more important than the trades where reviewers are concerned. Amazon is the world’s biggest bookstore and reviewing there definitely sells books. Blogs are part of the social media world and that tells real people about books. The love for books and authors that comes through in many such blogs is a gratifying thing to see.

My hunch is that the trades are read by booksellers and libraries, both institutions that already know what their audience buys. If Stephen King gets a bad review, do you think bookstores won’t stock it? Or libraries won’t handle it? That applies to authors who aren’t bestseller types, too. I constantly hear from readers who know and support my work through their local libraries. A stealth good influence for an author like me is the bookstore employee who is a fan and makes sure my stuff is stocked.

You are the valuable reviewers. You read and enjoy books, and don’t get paid to review books you’d rather just throw out the window (like the reviewer who suffered through Girl Can’t Help It).

I’m writing this to encourage reviews for my books, sure, but I want to emphasize that if you are a reader who loves to read – who follows favorite authors – you owe it to yourself to review those authors and their latest books at Amazon and elsewhere. It keeps the books from those authors flowing from them to you.

I recently sent out copies of Girl Can’t Help It and Antiques Fire Sale to readers who requested them when I ran out of advance copies of Killing Quarry. I hope to have more of both titles and Do No Harm soon to do another big book giveaway.

Antiques Fire Sale by Barbara Allan will be out May 1.

Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher by M.A.C. and A. Brad Schwartz on Aug. 4.

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This coverage of the Blu-ray release of Mommy and Mommy 2 appears on the web site of the major horror magazine, Rue Morgue. It’s a rare interview with me that focuses on my filmmaking. Hope you’ll give it a look.

My editor and friend Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime gives a terrific interview specifically on Killing Quarry and the Quarry series at HCC. Thank you, Charles!

Check out this great review of Killing Quarry at Paperback Warrior.

A very nice review of the Mike Hammer graphic novel The Night I Died appears here.

Here’s an earnest appeal for DC to reprint my continuity for the Batman newspaper strip as drawn by the late, great Marshall Rogers.

A smart and nicely favorable review of Killing Quarry can be read here.

You’ll have to scroll down for it, but here’s a fun review of the Mommy/Mommy 2 Blu-ray.

Same thing here – scroll all the way down for another favorable Mommy Blu-Ray review, although the word “terrible” is involved.

M.A.C.

A Tale of Two Titles (Actually, More Titles Than That!)

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

I mentioned a while back that the title of what had been announced as The Untouchable and the Butcher: Eliot Ness, the Torso Killer, and American Justice was called into question by our editor. This is, of course, the follow-up to Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and me.

From the beginning, Brad and I had viewed this second book as a sequel, and thought the echo of the first book in the title of the second was desirable. It was certainly intentional. But our editor, not terribly long ago, made his desire known: he wanted the book to stand apart, to stand on its own, and he wanted a title that he considered more marketable.

We felt “Untouchable” said Eliot Ness, but our editor’s opinion was that – minus Al Capone – that connection was not as obvious in 2020. We argued. We lost. And since we agreed with our editor that we wanted to sell books, we began searching for a new title.

So did our editor. He had found a vivid phrase in newspaper coverage of the Mad Butcher case: “The Headless Dead.” Initially it was presented as “The Mystery of the Headless Dead,” but neither Brad nor I liked it – I frankly said it sounded like the Hardy Boys. Do I know how to get on an editor’s good side or what?

But I thought “Headless Dead” was worth considering in some form or other; Brad never came around to it. He and I generated probably a score of titles, among the better ones (some mentioned here previously) Shadow of the Butcher and A Knight in the Dark City. This went on for some time.

Then our editor came up with The Haunting of Eliot Ness. I felt that sounded like a book about the paranormal, but Brad saw the merit of referring to how the Mad Butcher case had haunted Ness to his dying day, among other resonances (the real Ness in history is haunted by the TV/movie Ness, for instance).

Beyond this, we had a subtitle to come up with, and I would guess we came up with two score of those. The problem came down to the title needing to focus on the Mad Butcher case, but the book itself also covered the rest of Ness’s post-Capone life, with an emphasis on his innovations in criminology and law enforcement. He was a real innovator in that regard. So the subtitle needed to suggest that.

We spent three hours on the phone with our editor, and I have to hand it to him for his patience with us and his persistence in arriving at a title that he felt readers would be pulled in by (and that the sales force and marketing folks would also like). In that phone call, we zeroed in the subtitle, and while we didn’t settle on anything, we got very close – we knew we just had to assemble the words we’d summoned in a slightly different way. Exhausted, we went to our separate corners to try to come up with some good versions of our basic idea. Also, we had agreed on the overall title – The Haunting of Eliot Ness.

Overnight, I couldn’t stop mulling that title. All I could think of was spending the rest of my life having to deal with readers complaining that Eliot Ness’s ghost was not in the damn book. Or Capone’s or the Butcher’s or somebody’s ghost. The paranormal feel just couldn’t be denied, I felt – the cadence was strictly The Haunting of Hill House.

The next day I opened the can of worms. I began pitching other titles, including The Mystery of Eliot Ness, as our editor liked the mystery aspect of the book. Brad, rightly, was underwhelmed by that. Our editor was worn down by us. Few editors would have spent three hours on the phone with two stubborn writers in search of one decent title and a good subtitle.

Like Solomon, the editor asked Brad and me to come up with two titles that we both could live with. Brad and I started e-mailing back and forth. I did not go with any version of Headless Dead, because I knew Brad would under no circumstances sign off on that. Brad’s pick was The Haunting of Eliot Ness, which of course I had misgivings about.

Then I came up with Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher. I was operating on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre theory – has any title ever told you more honestly, more completely what you’re going to get than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

To my astonishment, the editor chose Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher. He was happy with it. I was happy. Brad was happy. We did some tweaking back and forth of the final version of a subtitle that I had attached to my preferred title, and that discussion did not take three hours. More like half an hour of e-mailing. And so.

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing…

Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher: Hunting America’s Deadliest Unknown Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology

Available this coming August by M.A.C. and A. Brad Schwartz. You can order it at Amazon now, under its now former title The Untouchable and the Butcher: Eliot Ness, Al Capone, and America’s Jack the Ripper.

One of the reasons that subtitle is gone, by the way, is that very early in the writing we decided not to use the Al Capone material because it would have taken us to an unpublishable length.

And for those of you who have been holding off on getting Scarface and the Untouchable, the hardcover is available here for $6.98!

But you should also know that the current trade paperback has a bunch of corrections and bonus material that may make you want to spring for the version still on the bookstore shelves.

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This review of both Mommy and Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day at Horror Fuel is extremely gratifying. The reviewer sees past our low-budget limitations to the performances and story. He likes both movies, but rates the second one higher – a rare honor for a sequel. Please give this a look.

And in just a few days at Amazon the Mommy/Mommy 2 25th Anniversary Blu-ray goes from pre-order to in stock! Still $19.99 (almost ten bucks off!).

M.A.C.