The Hard-Boiled Fix for TV Producers: An Open Letter

tvDear High-Level, Mucky-Muck TV Production Exec, Esquire:

You know who you are. Reading this on your quad-quad-quad pentium lap-tab built into your leather couch. Or scrolling through it on your custom BMW ported dashboard. Or leaving it to your assistant’s assistant’s assistant. Wherever you are, however you are, have I got a show for you. Sure.

For your consideration: “The Hard-Boiled Detective.” You can roll your suntanned peepers all you like, but you’ve never seen the likes of this. It’s no rehash of what’s been rehashed for the last ten years, and it’s nothing like last season’s near misses with a makeover. I promise you, this concept has so much going against it that it simply cannot miss. Unreality TV at its best. So old-school, so throwback, it’s fresher than wet paint.

Source Material
I’ve been grinding out three stories a month since February 2013. You want yarns? I’ve got yarns. Sixty-three and counting. Short stories perfect for cramming into a 30-minute slot—you won’t just leave ‘em wanting more, you’ll leave ‘em gasping for breath. But a half-hour drama? you ask. It’s inconceivable. It’s just not done. Sure. And All In the Family didn’t break barriers. And The Flintstones and The Simpsons never existed. I’m telling you, in a world of The Great Race and NCIS: Rotterdam, any thing is possible. If thirty minutes was enough for The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Dragnet, you’ll take it and like it.

Gray as the Late Edition
It’s got to be in black and white, too. That’s only natural for a period piece. Yeah, you’ll need to cover a wide-open timeline from 1929–1959. Cars, furniture, clothes, the works. And all the political incorrectness that goes with it. If cigarettes were good enough for The Twilight Zone…

Any Lead You Like
I’ve saved the best for last. Real boffo stuff. If those previous selling points didn’t put you over, this’ll floor you. It’s the living end. See, the hero’s got no name. Get it? In the stories, he’s never called by name. So play it up. Make it big. Make it splash. And I’ll tell you how—you get a different actor to play the lead in every episode. Ain’t that wild? Imagine the intrigue, the anticipation, the pins and needles out there in TV land. Every week you’ve got this audience salivating to know who’s going to play the PI. Maybe Johnny Depp. Maybe Patrick Dempsey. Maybe Bill Mahr. Okay, maybe not Mahr. But you savvy.

You want to break ground? Ready to give convention a rabbit punch with a bazooka? Ready to ignore every piece of conventional Hollywood wisdom? Probably not. But if it was good enough for The Twilight Zone…Sure.

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Indie Publishing & Surprises

lucyIt’s been a month since the release of “The Hard-Boiled Detective 1″ in paperback and ebook. Big dreams. High hopes. Low expectations. Call me a romantic realist. Sure, I can fantasize, but I don’t get much fooled when it comes to practical matters. Maybe that’s why so many pleasant surprises keep popping up.

First off, when I approached authors and local celebs for blurbs, I didn’t know what I’d get. But I figured to crap out big time. Instead, I came across more graciousness and generosity than you find on the red carpet at Oscar time. Of course there was one Chicago hotshot who misread my query and looked at me all sideways and suspicious. Then there’s the big mucky-muck author who never replied at all. But they don’t know me from dirt and don’t owe me a damned thing. What got me were the eight gentlemen, and I mean “gentlemen,” who tossed me some of the most terrific book blurbs I could’ve hoped for. A couple just plain over the top. And then there are those who took a pass, but fell all over themselves doing so, apologizing and offering deep regret for not being available at the time. They’re apologizing to me? What a bunch of sweethearts.

Last week I walked into a local bookstore for a scheduled reading. The owner had taken a couple copies of my volume on consignment and told me he’d already sold one. Number-wise, one is next to nothing. But the point here is that there’s no reason for even one to sell. I’m just another unknown in the expanding wasteland of the self-published. I couldn’t of been more surprised, or more delighted.

I’ll also note this one for what I consider sheer lunacy. Would you believe that since the book release I’ve been approached for a book blurb? Not once, but twice? I feel complimented like Groucho when he said he didn’t want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member.

Crazy times. Crazy business. Plugging along, all innocent-like, and the unexpected crops up to slap another smile on your kisser. Maybe it’s always been like this. Maybe it’ll always be like this. Sure.

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The Hard-Boiled Book Tour: The First 30 Days

one. word. at. a. time.

one. word. at. a. time.

Almost 30 days into the release of “The Hard-Boiled Detective 1.” A good time to update the scorecard. Success? Failure? Progress? Depends on the size of those rose-colored glasses.

The paperback came out on August 28. The ebook came out on September 11. I’ve been featured in four online interviews with another due tomorrow. I’m scheduled for a big-deal radio interview on October 5. I’ve held two book readings, got another tonight, and appeared at two reading series. You could say I’ve been busy.

For all that, about a month in and I’ve sold nearly 30 books. Does that number mean anything to you? Sounds small, looking at it bare and all. But I’m impressed. That’s no egotistical claim, and I’ll tell you why.

There’s no damn reason my book should sell at all. Who ever heard of me or my humble volume? Sure, I’ve got my social media friends and followers approaching 100 folks. Toss in another 100 from my series subscription list, allow for overlap, and that’s one humble group. Now put that up against Amazon where there’s 300,000 mystery and suspense titles listed. That’s one heck of a field to compete in. All together, the site offers more than 8 million titles. Put any kind of dent in that and you’re getting somewhere.

So I’ve moved 30 books in the first month, in my own, little way. Through Facebook and Twitter and blogs. No paid advertising. No media coverage. No published reviews. No viral campaigns or celebrity scandals to draw on.

I began writing the stories in this collection in August 2012. It’s been plenty of work getting from there to here. I’ve covered my shoestring costs of publishing. And I’ve got enough yarns, ready to polish and proof, for another 2–3 volumes. I’ve just gotten started. Sure.

 

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There’s No Success Like Failure

"The future ain't what it used to be."

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Sophistry and card tricks. Monday morning quarterbacks and backseat drivers. Data mining, info-graphics, ten-best lists. Rankings and reports and royalties and reviews and readings. The stuff of success?

Am I above the all-American dream? In by nine, out by five and make your first million before the first pot brews? Of course not. I’m a yankee doodle dandy as much as the next fella. But as soon as notions of success-measuring cliches enter the mix, I’m overwhelmed. Besides, a million isn’t cracked up to be what it used to be cracked up to be.

I wouldn’t turn down commercial success. Not on your life. But I can’t measure myself by it. That’s not why I do what I do. I haven’t made any New York list or bestseller list or even some Hoboken list. I’ve still got to do what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to create. I’ve got to produce. I’ve got to get it out and put it on paper or turn it into pixels or some damn thing.

Sure, I’ll promote myself. I’ll pitch. I’ll sell. But there’s boundaries. There’s some reasonless gut level line drawn in that invisible sand I’ll never cross. My writing isn’t based on market analysis or Pew polls or the latest Amazon stats.

I get an idea, see? I imagine an image or hear a voice. An artistic question pops into my little head that I’ve got to try to answer. It ferments and bubbles and boils over. It spills through my fingers and onto the electronic canvas.

Spinning on the so-called creative process leaves me with dizzy dissertations such as this with no business prospects in sight. Left brain-right brain? I sometimes wonder if they’re connected.

I meant this post to hold forth on measuring success, and here I am slinging in circles. But my hourglass is running on empty and I have writing to do. Maybe I’l be a success tomorrow. Or next week. Or next leap year. Maybe I’m already a success and I don’t even know it. Sure.

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The Next Great Unknown

Magritte_TheSonOfManIn case you hadn’t heard, my latest book has just been released. No, not from prison. The paperback recently went “live” on Amazon. Just got my first review, too. Five stars, no less. The ebook’s also in the works, promising to grab some screen space from just about every major distributor…and then some.

So I’m forced to indulge in the indulgence of self-promotion. Press releases, interviews, guest blogs, readings, signings. All that and more, if you can get it. That’s the old catch. It’s tough going for unknowns to get any attention because they’re unknown, but they’ll never become known unless they muster up some attention. It’s kind of like going to a bank for a loan. They’re not all that excited about handing out dough to anyone who really needs it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not griping. I’ve got no kick. That’s the way things are which is a hell of a lot better than the way things used to be. Not only have I self-published my first book, but I’m confident I made a damn respectable job out of it despite pulling it off on the cheap. And I expect to easily cover my out-of-pocket costs.

I’ve done okay at the attention game, too, considering. I received no less than eight blurbs from some pretty respectable names. A legendary, local reporter invited me for an interview on his weekly radio program. On top of that’s a handful of associates  spreading the word, offering reviews, and conducting interviews. All this generosity and grace staggers me. My first of three readings is scheduled for tonight, this being the 11th of September, and three metro-area bookstores are carrying my little volume on consignment.

So here’s the shameless plug that’s easily skipped.
The paperback on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0692269940
Events page: http://thehardboileddetective.com/events.php

Not bad for an independent unknown, flying by the seat of his pants without a compass or handler in sight. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next, great unknown.

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Life After Publishing: What’s Next?

mmwatchSure I remember getting my first grown-up watch. No cartoon character bolted dead center. No skinny black arms with white gloved hands pointing out the time around the dial. A simple, clean face with a mini box displaying the date. A real big boy’s watch.

Getting that watch thrilled me. Excited me. I tried putting it on and taking it off over and over. I was chomping at the bits, anticipating to see that watch strut its stuff.

You know what that watch did? Nothing much. Sure, I could stare at it as much as I wanted. The watch didn’t mind. Didn’t much care, either. Just kept ticking off the seconds. That’s what watches do. Nothing much. You could stay up till midnight and relish the tiniest movement as the date changed. That represented the highlight of that watch at work. Not exactly what you’d describe to your pals as heavy action.

I showed the watch to everyone I could. Got a “good for you” and a pat on the head from relatives. A friend or two said, “Cool.” So they’d stand around in a tight circle and stare at your wrist. Sure, it’s a watch, all right. And a new one, too. But that’s about it. A few seconds goes by and party’s over.

The existence of that watch had no immediate, measurable impact. The very fact of the watch itself didn’t seem to mean a whole lot. I wore it all day without any discernible cause and effect, without side effect, even. That watch had no immediate impact on my life. Nothing really changed. On its own, when you come right down to it, that watch didn’t do much of anything, no matter how much you stared at it.

Publishing a book’s kind of like a new watch…

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My Name is Ben and I’m a Salesman

BaldwinCould I sell you a bridge? A Fuller brush? A fuller set of encyclopedias? A subscription to the Columbia Record Club, maybe? Or how’s about a paperback or ebook?

Sure, the book is almost ready. I launched “The Hard-Boiled Detective” in February 2013, an ongoing series boasting three—count ‘em, three—new adventures each and every month. The Paris Review never came calling. Tinseltown, neither. But that’s just swell ’cause I didn’t call on them.

It’s nineteen months since my first yarn saw the light of day. I’m prepping stories 58–60 for Monday, about to cross the 300,000 word threshold. It’s about time I published the first collection, and it’s hitting the virtual shelves in September.

So it’s also almost time to put on my snappy, translucent green visor. Snappy armbands. Get a couple clipboards and some number twos. By this time next month I’ll be in full tilt Glengarry Glen Ross mode. I’ll probably kick off like Al Pacino and wind up as Jack Lemmon.

But I’m not sweating it. I’ve got this thing knocked. All I’ve got to do is work a little razzle-dazzle and come up with another couple million friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter. Land a segment on Ellen, plant an interview in O magazine, and ask Dave to work me into a “Top Ten” list. Maybe I’ll concoct a photo-op with Miley. Or  just with her tongue.

The real trick is follow-through and follow-up. No one-hit wonders for me. No flash in the pan flies on me. I’ve already got that covered. The trick in this racket is having numerous titles. And the more concurrent series the better.

So I’ll give my dear blog readers a sneak peak at what’s next for my throw-back, hard-boiled detective. I’m pulling no punches by bringing in the big guns, narrative device-wise. That’s right, I’m drawing on every trend  coming and going and developing the first noir, vampire-zombie private detective. If that’s not putting “pulp” in “pulp fiction,” I don’t know what is. And of course with a little sex thrown in. Sure.

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What Price Literature?

That favorite book on your shelf—how much is it worth to you? Sure, ebooks count, too. Would you say five bucks, easy? Ten? Twenty-five? Might you go so far as to say priceless? How can you put a value on one of your most cherished possessions?

burstluridImagine you’re publishing your very own volume, and imagine you’ve got to slap a price tag on it. So you study the marketplace, other forms of entertainment, and how you spend your dough in general. If you look at it all too close, I guarantee you’ll go nuts.

Take my upcoming tome, for instance. We’ve got a collection of 11 shorts stories, more than 70,000 words, 212 pages in a 6×9 paperback. I can conservatively estimate that it takes five hours to read this book. Probably longer. That equates to three days’ worth of viewing to an avid Netflix user, the value of one buck. On the other hand, compared to the average movie theater, the value jumps up to around $20. The time value tops a staggering $50 looking at the cost of CDs. Stacking it against the cost of downloading single MP3s at $0.99 a pop is completely off the charts.

A froufrou Starbucks drink could run you a five spot. A gallon of gas goes for $3.45, a gallon of milk $3.64, and most people pony up about $50 every month for their mobile phone service. Using those kinds of expenditures to price your book twists one’s brain into knots.

Logic says look at the marketplace. Logic says consider book size, genre, author recognition. But logic, my friends, has no place in book selling. Logic can go take a flying leap. You can find new copies of paperbacks starting at one penny. Loads of ebooks are being given away. There’s no true middle ground, no one reasonable average, no apples to apples—even if you find an apple, you can bet it’s thick with worms.

There is no right, there is no wrong. I’m left figuring what I want to make per paperback and ebook, and price accordingly. The ultimate bottom line’s with the reader, anyway. If you love my book, the sky’s the limit—how can you put a price tag on love? If you hate it, you wouldn’t want to give me two cents for it. Sure.

 

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Wooing Art, Success and Lady Luck

I grew up with Hammett, Picasso and Cagney. Throw in Beethoven, Ellington and Buddy Holly. The list goes on, from Bogart, Raft and Robinson to Cezanne, Matisse and even Pater Max. Plenty of examples of artists with rare talents, works of brilliance, and all with varying degrees of success.

You can't lose if you don't play.

You can’t lose if you don’t play.

How would they make their way today, if they made it all? You can’t account for luck, fortune, kismet—however you want to tag it, so I’ll skip that. What I’m spinning on is approach. I’m less than a month out from launching my first book, and the promotion side is overwhelming. How would Chandler or Hammett play it today? How would any of the Black Mask boys?

Can’t say I have an easy time transplanting these guys into another era. Except for his writing, Chandler came off like an SOB unfit for any setting. Would he join the crowded field of indie authors? Would you find him going exclusive with KDP Select and running book giveaways on GoodReads, etc?

Hard to picture Picasso giving away pictures. A two-for-one sale on signed lithographs? Are you kidding? Or Mozart plugging his latest divertissement MP3 on Facebook, linking back to his website where you can sample movements from his latest symphony? Would Buster Keaton start up his own YouTube channel?

Perhaps the oddest fantasy that springs forth is Charlie Chaplin. World famous, wildly successful, a man of his day who kept at his art form for decades without significantly changing. But Chaplin was also a social butterfly, a guy you could easily imagine rubbing internet shoulders on every social platform imaginable.

There’s no one way to succeed, and thousands more ways to flop. All I can do is put it into perspective. Those great ones who inspired me found their own way somehow. They did what they did, mostly on their own terms, and their success stories are as unique as their art. Maybe I can’t account for luck, but maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to discount it, either. Sure.

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Your Title Here

By this time next month, give or take a couple days, I’ll have my first book. I don’t mean some tome by Sendak or Seuss, no A.A. Milne. I mean my very own. That stack of my papyrus marked through by my personal keyboard scratchings. That either-riding cowboy full of sure’s and swells and uh-huh’s. That pile of piles with that curious tag on the front and spine, “By Ben Solomon.”

thbd1-1I know. You’re all tingly. Like seeing you name in lights, isn’t it? But that’s where they all started. Every last one of them had their very first. Fitzgerald. Hemingway. Groucho. Sure, once upon a time each on of them a literary virgin. Carefully protecting it. Trying not to give it away. Makes you wonder if their moms and dads ever gave them the talk on the facts of publishing.

Of course that was long before independent publishing. Not that such a thing ever stopped Homer or Tommy Paine. But those were different eras, different cultures, different markets. Nowadays, any monkey can independently publish any damn thing he likes. That’s any monkey with a credit card. Even a rhesus like yours truly.

So I’m joining the fray, diving in, holding my nose. I’ve got my 73,000 words running 212 pages. I’ve got my cover, I’ve got my spine. I’ve even got some awful nice blurbs from some very gracious folk.

Of course there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. There’s no avoiding it, no getting around it or making up for it by doing more stomach crunches or downing more coffee or buying Grecian Formula: if a book is listed on the internet, and there’s no one there to buy it, how do we know it’s any good?

That’s where I am today, and that’s where I’ll be a month from now. I’ve got to wonder where I’ll be in another two months, or three…or fifteen. Sure.

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