Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

Hey Kids – Despair and Frustration!

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

I received an e-mail from a loyal reader and good friend to me and my work, who expressed the following concern: “It is probably just my imagination, but…this week’s and last week’s posts seem to have a certain edge of despair and/or frustration about them. Hope all is well.”

I didn’t answer this directly, but will answer it now. Right here.

While “an edge of despair” goes too far, “frustration” does not. This is a frustrating time for me, and for a lot of working writers. Let’s restrict this to writers in the mystery/suspense genre, because that’s the world I know. But I can tell you there are some difficulties of the moment that are impacting probably everybody but the very upper reaches of fiction publishing – the consistent big sellers, and they undoubtedly have their own woes.

Among the problems – the realities – of publishing that have just begun to show themselves in a major way is the policy of many editors and especially publishers to no longer offer multiple book contracts. For much of my career, going back to the mid-‘70s, I would be offered three-book contracts. For somebody like me – prolific and working no “day job,” and dealing with multiple publishers – that has allowed me to be able to look ahead several years and know I have work. In other words, you know you have money coming in (and something to do with your time).

I have been very, very lucky. The only really slow patch came about when, on the same day back in 1993, I had my Nate Heller contract with Bantam cancelled and my Dick Tracy comic strip contract with Tribune Media Services not picked up for the usual five-year run. I was blessed by the friendship of two great men who are no longer with us: Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg, who almost smothered me in short story assignments until I could get my career up and running again. From these ashes, rose both Road to Perdition and my movie/TV tie-in career.

Other than that rough stretch, made smooth by Ed and Marty, I have always known that I have a couple of years, at least, lined up, keeping me busy and the lights on.

But publishing itself is in a rough patch. I don’t have to go into any detail with anyone reading this about the ongoing changes in the industry – the disappearance of Border’s, the restructuring of Barnes & Noble, the death of many mystery bookstores, the dominance of Amazon and other on-line stores, self-publishing, Amazon’s own publishing, e-books, etc. Some of that stuff represents new opportunities; others represent empty stores with tumbleweed blowing through.

I benefitted greatly by having the bulk of my Nate Heller backlist picked up by Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer, who later picked up Mallory, the “disaster” series, and two thrillers by “Barbara Allan,” Regeneration and Bombshell.

But of late, many publishers – and I think soon most publishers – are offering authors one-book contracts for new work. That is not only troubling for those of us trying to figure out if we have work/income lined up more than a year, but it also presents creative problems. Take the Antiques series, which deals with an on-going storyline in addition to the self-contained mysteries – Barb and I have regularly figured out three-novel story arcs, which have greatly impacted the books creatively.

There is no such thing as a one-book arc.

Caleb York is now getting one book at a time, and I have built an ongoing storyline into that series as well. But a reality of one-book-a-time contracts means every book has to look over its shoulder and make sure that if it turns out to be the last novel, it will provide a satisfying conclusion to the series.

Hard Case Crime has been a huge boon and boost to me, and they have published more books by me than any other author (thanks, Charles!). But, hard as it may be to believe, I’ve never had more than a one-book contract from HCC (other than when they reprinted the early Quarrys in tandem with the Cinemax series).

Nathan Heller has always benefitted from multiple book contracts – the JFK Trilogy (Bye Bye, Baby; Target Lancer; Ask Not) is one of the major achievements of the saga, in my opinion. But Better Dead and the forthcoming Do No Harm were written on one-book contracts. I am looking at a two-book RFK cycle next, but can I find a house that will guarantee me two slots on their publishing schedule?

Girl Most Likely has done very well, but until we see how Girl Can’t Help It does, I won’t know if a third book will happen. This is both nerve-racking and frustrating. The book has done well – sales have been brisk, and the reviews at Amazon average four-stars…and there have been a lot of them (over 200).

But among those reviews were weak ones from several of the trades, complaining that the book was too much of a departure from my Heller/Quarry/Hammer norm. Some readers have complained similarly, and a really nasty two-star review (“What Is This?”) has headed up the Amazon reviews of the novel from the start, and is still there, discouraging sales.

Why do I read reviews? Often I don’t. Do I take them seriously? You bet I do. Why, because I can’t take criticism like any normal human? (Maybe.) But absolutely these on-line reviewers – bloggers who are courted by publishers now – are taken seriously by the editors and publishers who decide whether or not to offer another precious one-book contract to an author. How successful that writer’s track record is seems increasingly irrelevant, unless sales have been through the roof.

If you are interested enough in my work to click onto the links I provide here weekly, you already know that most of the reviews for Girl Most Likely have been very good. Mostly excellent, actually. But publishing takes the negative reviews more to heart than the positive ones – at least that’s how it feels to me.

One problem was that Girl Most Likely debuted in the UK a month before America, and racked up a number of reviews by females who didn’t like an old male writing about a young female (and that the secondary protagonist was also an old male), as well as readers who understandably don’t like America much right now (and those two groups seem to overlap). Most of those hateful reviews were channeled into Goodreads, which set Girl Most Likely up for an initially rough ride.


Trade paperback edition with new material.

There have been other frustrations. Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and myself is one of my proudest accomplishments (though Brad deserves much of the credit). It’s a massive, 700-page work that is probably the definitive work on this important, influential aspect of American history. We received not a single nomination for any of the major mystery awards. We were not reviewed in Mystery Scene or The Strand, although the book was much praised outside the genre (we were the Chicago Public Library’s Book of the Year and won a best audio award).

This is why I put so much emphasis on the importance of on-line reviews coming from those of you who are kind enough (and smart enough) to like my work. That’s why I do the book giveaways – and one is coming soon for Killing Quarry.

Also, thanks to those of you who wrote about your willingness to receive Advance Reading Copies of my stuff for review purposes. Right now I don’t know if Do No Harm is even getting ARCs…I’ll let you know. If not, finished copies closer to publication date will be made available, in part through another giveaway.

And you collectors out there who love classic tough guy stuff, like Hard Case Crime publishes, and wish HCC and others would reprint more great old novels…swell, but how about supporting some writers who are still alive? They need your love, and royalties, much more than dead guys. So when I suggest you write reviews on-line of my books, I also want to encourage you to do the same for any writers whose books you regularly read. Remember what the great Don Westlake said: “A cult author is a writer who is seven readers short of making a living.”

So, despair? Not really. Frustration? You betcha, Red Ryder.

And there’s another aspect to this that gets even more personal. At 71, with some health problems behind me (and, like anybody my age, more undoubtedly ahead of me), I am really less concerned with making a living now and more concerned with building the M.A.C. bookshelf…with expanding my legacy. A major part of that is making sure I can keep doing Heller. I have half a dozen more in mind, and in particular want to get the RFK duo done, as I’ve set that up so thoroughly in the previous novels.

So look for a major push for Do No Harm here, to help make another Heller…more Hellers…possible.

And I want to say that I don’t mean to be critical of my publishers and editors. They are navigating a tough, fluid world, where they’ve chosen to be because (like writers) they love books. I salute Titan, Hard Case Crime, Kensington, Morrow, and Thomas & Mercer for everything they’ve done for me and, so far anyway, continue to do.

And I have books coming out from every one – in some cases more than one.

And I can’t forget Brash Books, who have brought out in beautiful editions not only the prose Perdition trilogy (including the complete Road to Perdition movie novel) but Black Hats and USS Powderkeg, previously seen under the Patrick Culhane byline. (Powderkeg restores my preferred title to Red Sky in Morning and is somewhat revised.)

So will you stop bitching, Collins? You have been so damn lucky in your career! Shut-up and thank your readers for everything.

Next week: some good news on a couple of fronts.

* * *

Here’s a great review from Ron Fortier of the Caleb York novel, Last Stage to Hell Junction.

Urban Politico has a fun review of Seduction of the Innocent.

Here’s another of those “movies you didn’t know were based on comic books,” featuring a little something called Road to Perdition.

Scroll down for nice stuff about Ms. Tree, Killing Quarry and Mike Hammer (although the writer doesn’t realize there are two Collins-scripted Stacy Keach radio-style novels-for-audio).

M.A.C.

Must Be Raining, ‘Cause We’re Talking Arc

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

This going to be very brief, as I am starting work on the new Mike Hammer (Masquerade for Murder), again working from a Spillane synopsis with a few snippets of his prose to work in. The early chapters are always the hardest, getting the tone, getting into the swing of it, and just generally building momentum.

I had a nice response last week from readers interested in getting advance copies of Do No Harm. Interestingly – and disappointingly – not a one asked to see Girl Can’t Help It. I hope readers of Quarry, Heller, Hammer and so on will give this series a fair try. This book has particular meaning for me because I’ve finally – after all these years – really engaged with my rock ‘n’ roll background in the telling of a crime story.

As it happens, I already have on hand Advance Reading Copies (ARC’s) of Girl Can’t Help It, but am hesitant to start sending any out, since the book won’t be available till March 10.

As for Do No Harm, I have yet to ascertain whether there will be Advance Reading Copies at all – if we have to wait till the actual book exists, that will complicate getting reviews out there early enough to do any good. Publishers are starting to send out mostly e-book versions of ARC’s, which sucks. Stay tuned.

I also have not received a supply of Killing Quarry ARC’s, but some are finding their way into reviewer’s hands. A nice write-up is included below.

The readers who wrote interested in doing reviews (thank you, all of you) are mostly veterans of the Book Giveaway Wars here (and there will be more of those). I am building a list (finally) of you loyal reviewers. But I’m frustrated that so few bloggers and other on-line reviewers were a definite minority among those who responded.

Apologies for the brevity this time, but here are some interesting links to make up for it.

This one is a review of Quarry, the first novel I wrote about the character (not the chronological first – that’s The First Quarry), and the third novel I wrote if we start with Bait Money as the opening gun. (Mourn the Living proceeded it, but didn’t get published till years later. Also, there were four full-length novels written by me in my junior high and high school years, never published…thank God…but the reason why I got fairly proficient early on.

This is another nice write-up, mostly about the Quarry books, from a reader who admits having trouble keeping up with me. Here’s the thing, for those who are dealing with my prolific nature: first, I am trying to make a living; and second, I can only write books while I’m alive, so I’m using the time as best I can.

Here’s a write-up about comic book tough girls, and Ms. Tree gets some nice ink along the way.

And here’s that early Killing Quarry review I promised you.

M.A.C.

What Can You Do Today?

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

I know what you’re thinking.

What can I do today for Max Allan Collins?

Thanks for asking. Here are several suggestions.

Girl Can’t Help It – the sequel to Girl Most Likely – comes out on March 10, 2020. So does the new Nate Heller novel, Do No Harm, the first in several years – the Sam Sheppard Murder Case novel. I am prolific enough that this kind of thing (dual publication) happens from time to time, because I work with more than one publisher (and they do not coordinate releases with each other). This causes certain problems, as you might imagine, because promoting two books at once is less than ideal.

The future of other books featuring the respective series characters in these two very different novels is riding on the success of these new titles. That’s hardly unusual in the publishing world today, where publishers who for many decades gave writers like me multiple-book contracts now offer one-book contracts. The freelance writing trade has always had its insecurities, but this is a new low.

What can you do to help? Advance order one or both novels at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM! or whoever your favorite on-line bookseller is. That will help me out while not putting you in the position of having to buy two M.A.C. novels at the same time next March, straining your wallet and the credulity of the B & N clerk.


Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon
MP3 CD: Amazon
Audio CD: Amazon

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

What else can you do?

If you have a reviewing blog or such-like (these updates of mine fall into the “such-like” category) you can e-mail me your snail-mail address and I will get you an advance copy of the book you wish to review, as soon as it’s available. Advance reading copies (ARCs) will be available fairly soon. If you want to review them both, just say so.

You will not be expected to write a rave, just to write an honest review. Mixed reviews are fine and negative reviews are legal (but be gentle). Write me at macphilms@hotmail.com.

This is only for on-line reviewers. Help me build a mailing list for readers of mine with review columns (or who review at times within a more eclectic column, like, oh I don’t know, this one).

For the rest of you, I will be doing giveaways when we get closer to the pub date of both books (which, as I say, is the same date). A new Quarry (Killing Quarry) is coming in November of this year. The Untouchable and the Butcher by A. Brad Schwartz and me is set for next May – another massive tome, and in conjunction with Scarface and the Untouchable will be the definitive work on Eliot Ness. There will be a new Caleb York novel, Hot Lead, Cold Justice, also in May.

So there will be plenty of M.A.C. to read. But if you are a Nate Heller fan, I do need your support, because there’s nothing harder to keep going than a long-running series that doesn’t star a household name like Bosch or Reacher. Even my Mike Hammer novels (and Hammer is a household name, or used to be), co-written with Mickey, are almost never reviewed by the trades (Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal). There are exceptions, of course – Killing Quarry has been reviewed by all those except Library Journal (so far), and very favorably.

What’s on the docket for Heller are two novels completing the Kennedy cycle – both RFK-oriented one dealing with the Hoffa feud, the other with Bobby’s assassination. But I have no contract for those books yet. I am considering Martin Luther King, Watergate and the Zodiac to round out Heller’s career, but I have to have a publisher to do that. And it takes readers to encourage a publisher.

So. As I recall, you asked what you could do for me. Let publishers know you’re interested. Pre-order both Girl Can’t Help It and Do No Harm, and do so with my thanks. And Krista and Keith Larson’s. And especially Nate Heller’s.

* * *

Speaking of Do No Harm, here’s a nice advance write-up from Craig Zablo.

Nice Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother write-up from Mystery Tribune.

Here’s another nice review of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother.

M.A.C.

Crusin’: One More Time, and Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

My band’s “season” is winding down – we have only one gig left, in a couple of weeks. Crusin’ has been playing outdoor gigs at scenic Ardon Creek Winery in recent years – I believe this was our fourth (maybe fifth) appearance. We had 365 people for the fresh-air event, which made us the second biggest draw in the venue’s history (“That’s the second biggest draw I’ve ever seen!” – Maxwell Smart.)

The weather was beautiful, the audience responsive, and the only drawback was I forgot how dark it could get by the time the third set rolled around (we began at sunny six p.m. and closed out at stygian nine). You will note the improvised lighting on the picture of us playing.

We already have lined up two of the three jobs we’ve decided to do next summer. The other one will likely be at the Brew for the Fourth of July. That doesn’t mean we won’t respond to phone calls seeking to book us, but we won’t be actively seeking any.

For me, seriously considering rock ‘n’ roll retirement comes down to the setting up and tearing down – I’m dealing with two keyboards, an amp, and fairly elaborate pedals and so on to hook up. It can require a lot of bending, kneeling, standing, repetitiously. While I am in generally good physical condition, I have side effects – dizziness, balance issues – from the handful of meds I take each morning. Barb has been helping me set up, which has been a real boon, but she was down with a cold and couldn’t make Ardon Creek. After three hours of playing, the tear-down and loading (and returning home to load back out) is a drag, as Paul McCartney said asked for his response to the news of John Lennon’s murder.

What is keeping me going is the desire to do one more original material CD. The plan, as I’ve mentioned here, is to do the CD over the winter and sell it at the three bookings and offer it here (and on CD Baby). It will (if it happens) include 9 new songs and three songs from “Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market” that have never been on a CD; these mark the last recordings with my longtime musical collaborator, Paul Thomas, who also produced the tunes.

Photos of the Ardon Creek gig are by our guitarist Bill Anson’s son, Scott Anson, who also ran sound for us at Ardon Creek. He plays bass with his dad and his dad’s brother Dave (a gifted guitarist) in the Anson Brothers Band.

* * *

There seems to be some nice buzz about the first of the five Titan Ms. Tree collections, Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother. I will provide some links to some of the coverage, and it feels good to see fans saying how pleased they are that these books are happening.

Let me address the one complaint, though I believe I’ve already talked about it here, so forgive my redundancy. I made the determination to lead with the DC material, the ten graphic novellas we did for Ms. Tree Quarterly – the last published Ms. Tree comics to date. This was in part because we had already collected the earliest stuff in trade paperbacks back in the day. But also I felt this was strong material, perhaps our strongest, and wanted to lead out of strength.

Additionally, five of the ten DC novellas form (somewhat loosely I admit) a single graphic novel, while the other five are stand-alone stories, not tied to ongoing continuity (at the time). So the DC novellas have been rearranged into the graphic novel and a “casebook.” Anal retentive fans who want to have the material in published order will only have to put up with my desire for shuffling those ten stories in that fashion. Volumes three through five will print everything in order, with one continuity leading into another and bringing the ramifications along for the ride. (A few oddball standalone stories, like the one in the 3-D comic book, will be dropped in here and there, and the Johnny Dynamite crossover will appear in the Johnny Dynamite collection that Terry Beatty and I are editing for Craig Yoe. I wrote the intro for that last week.)

My understanding is that the early volumes of collected comics are invariably the bigger sellers, which is another reason to (a) put our best foot forward, and (b) collect material previously ungathered.

So my advice to any of you lovely, wonderful if anal retentive fans – when you put the books on the shelf, start with volumes 3, 4 and 5, and then add on 1 and 2. (But buy them as they come out!) Since they aren’t numbered on the spines (or anywhere else), you will only have to suffer minor distress.

* * *

Here’s a nice example of the coverage the Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother trade pb from Titan is getting.

The delightfully titled site Comics for Sinners covered us this way.

Here’s another.

But wait, there’s more!

M.A.C.