Butcher, Baker featured in “The Lineup”

This month’s edition of The Lineup, a community website for fans of true crime and horror, features an excerpt from Butcher, Baker.

ROBERT HANSEN: THE ALASKAN SERIAL KILLER WHO HUNTED HUMAN GAME.

A must read for fans of true crime, the excerpt is the gripping account of those horrific moments when everything in Robert Hansen’s criminal career hung in the balance. It features an unlikely heroine, 17-year-old Cindy Paulsen, whose instincts and drive for life changed things forever. Cindy was one of the fortunate ones.

Her fellow dancers were not so lucky.

Paula Goulding Gravesite on the Knik

And if you’re a true crime fan, and haven’t checked out The Lineup, you should!

Getting to Go

In December of 2013, Butcher, Baker was republished by Todd Communications. It was a limited run, sold only in Alaska. That might sound like a small thing. It wasn’t. We finally reached an agreement with Flip Todd, swept all the misunderstandings away and moved forward on better footing. This is what life is about.

So… you can forget about all that other nonsense that was said in some ancient past. It’s history. Thank goodness for that!

Butcher, Baker; Frozen Ground; Fair Game

This too will pass… but indulge me for a moment while I eat sour grapes…

This should be a happy week. The movie version of the Robert Hansen serial murder case, called Frozen Ground, is enjoying a limited opening in theaters somewhere in America. But in the grand scheme of things, um… There’s not as much happiness as I would have liked…

My book, Butcher, Baker, is an afterthought in all of this. A coulda, woulda, shoulda. My gut sense is still that it shouldn’t have come to this, but life is complex and sometimes co-authors (and literary agents) don’t see eye-to-eye. I am trying to be diplomatic.

To add insult to injury, I just got a mail from Amazon, touting Fair Game, another book about Robert Hansen. Calling it “the Definitive Account of the Crimes of Alaska Serial Killer Robert Hansen.” For the record, I just want to say “bullshit.”

But you be the judge. Read both books. See the movie. Look at the arc of the story. Pay attention to how long it takes Cindy Paulson to appear in each version (and yes, it’s true, the publisher made us give her a pseudonym; think of her as the 17 year old who got away).

And Bernard, no hard feelings. Really. Congratulations. Fair Game, right?

Remembering Robert Lescher

Robert Lescher, of the Lescher & Lescher Literary Agency, recently passed away at the age of 83. his post is my heartfelt remembrance of a man I knew for almost three decades.

In 1985, I was an absolutely unknown author, trying to sell a true-crime manuscript called “Butcher, Baker,” the story of a serial killer in Alaska. Walter Gilmour (my co-author) and I knew we needed a literary agent to get there. That agent turned out to be Robert Lescher. He told us his was a small, boutique agency which carefully selected its authors. He was our man. We just weren’t sure whether we belonged there, given that he represented heavy hitters like Isaac Bashevis Singer and Alice B. Toklas. We needn’t have worried.

Bob immediately started working his magic. Soon we were getting rejections from   Norton, Grove Press, Harper & Row… all the majors. About 16 rejections in all — each from editors who could, on their own word alone, make publication a reality. Then came the letter from Bob, dated January 5, 1987. It read in part:

… I have only now been able to turn to the revision. It was read here by someone else as well, and I have to say that neither of us has the enthusiasm for the work that we had hoped to have…

I’m afraid now I’m going to have to return the material to you in the hope you can find an editor yourself, or another agent, who might give you the help you want. I’m sorry I can’t be the one, but I know that you wouldn’t want me to represent your work if my feelings are as ambivalent as they seem.

There is was. We’d been fired by our literary agent. He’d taken a chance on us, and we’d let him down.

My co-author and I were in a quandary. Walter wanted to go forward with the manuscript as-is. I felt we had about $1million worth of great advice (those pesky rejection letters). That advice said: “start over, start fresh, do a complete rewrite.” Walter balked. I got him to give me a year and a half to turn the whole thing around. Then came the next discussion. To whom do we send the new version?

Walter’s abiding frame of reference for all things business is real estate, which meant we needed to give Bob Lescher the right of first refusal. I didn’t expect much, because at the time I put little stock in second chances (hey, I’d just been through a divorce). We hadn’t really identified any alternatives, however, so… Back to Bob. His response came on May 24, 1990:

The manuscript just came in and I can see at once that a considerable amount of new work went into it. I’m going to share the manuscript with [editor], as I promised… and I’ll get back to you when his response reaches me.

Wow. Re-hired by our literary agent. And successfully published soon thereafter. Amazing.

There are several  lessons here, but I’ll always remember this one: Bob gave us a second chance when none seemed possible. It was at that moment I realized how deeply he cared about authors and how much he respected the writing process. Equally important, he had that essential but elusive ability to change his mind, based on additional evidence. I was blown away. I still am.

Postscript: A decade later, I wrote a book called “Huck Finn Is Dead.” Though a flawed work, Bob saw its potential — and encouraged me to take a second stab at it, even after a disappointing round of rejections. Only recently was I able to take him up on that proposition.

Here’s to you, Bob… After reworking the manuscript like crazy — and belatedly adding an entirely new beginning — I recently published “Huck Finn Is Dead.” And yes. I thoroughly believe in second chances…

Take Two: Frozen Ground Trailer

For the moment, there seems to be a site where the Frozen Ground trailer actually works. Thanks, Emmett/Furla Productions. Our collective breath is, um, not exactly being held… UPDATE: The PC-friendly version was Gone in 15 Seconds. Or should I say, Gone In 60 Seconds.

However: The trailer still works on my iPad. And my smartphone. So, we recommend mobile devices for viewing the trailer. It’s the only way. Go figure.

Frozen Ground Trailer

And if nothing else you can always read the original. Butcher, Baker, is available at Amazon. Highly recommended.

The Publicity Sales Bump

Butcher, Baker is in its fourth, and perhaps final, print publication cycle. I say perhaps because I’ve been wrong before. But the last year has provided me an eye-witness perspective on the difference publicity makes in book sales.

One of the “jobs” I’ve had over the last year and a half is to track Butcher, Baker sales. We wanted some independent accounting in our discussion with Todd Communications. As it turns out, Amazon has some amazing tools for tracking book sales, with data from Nielsen BookScan.

The numbers tell quite a tale. I’ll let them do most of the talking… In the first graph, you can clearly see three sales spikes:

  • First, when the film was announced (The Frozen Ground)
  • Second, when Todd Communications re-published Butcher, Baker
  • Third, when Christmas sales took over

Butcher, Baker Sales: 2010-2012
Butcher, Baker sales, 2010-2012

In the second graph, you see the magnitude of the Christmas spike. Book sales jumped to a recent high (highest sales were during the book’s first printing in 1991; we sold close to 100K). Of course, you can also see the steady decline in sales from that high-point onward. Indeed, Butcher, Baker, is headed back toward “normal” levels (note the pre-July 2011 line in the graph above).

Butcher, Baker Sales: September 2011-June 2012
Butcher, Baker sales, 10-2011 to 6-2012

Go See: The Frozen Ground, the movie inspired by Butcher, Baker. Opening in theaters December 2012.

Todd Communications Settlement

After some yeoman work by our Anchorage attorney, I am pleased to announce that we’ve reached agreement with Todd Communications. I just received a check for back royalties on copies sold since last year. Hooray! I can now buy some postage stamps.

One mystery remains. The attorney mentioned something about copies of Butcher, Baker, being awarded us (authors) as part of the settlement. So far, no word back from the attorney or my co-author as to the details.

UPDATE: As part of the settlement, we received 350 books, 30 of which went to our attorney. I’m donating my half to the Alaska State Trooper Museum in Anchorage.

UPDATE TWO: In November 2013, we reached a landmark agreement with Todd Communications, which published “Butcher, Baker’ for the fifth time. Wow. Quite a run. Thanks again to Flip Todd for making this happen!

Harry Marks Quits Reading

So this Harry Marks dude announces he’s going to quit reading for a year. Ok. Sure. Count me skeptical.

This whole stunt reminds me of the Breatharian, Wiley Brooks. Brooks, like many Breatharians, claims he can live solely on light and air. He doesn’t need food. Or drink. Which is fine, if you can get away with it.

In 1983 he [Brooks] was reportedly observed leaving a Santa Cruz 7-Eleven with a Slurpee, hot dog and Twinkies. He told Colors magazine in 2003 that he periodically breaks his fasting with a cheeseburger and a cola, explaining that when he’s surrounded by junk culture and junk food, consuming them adds balance.

I imagine the same fate will strike Mr. Marks. He’ll get busted reading a food label. Or someone will spot him reading a highway sign. You know, something like “Detour Ahead.” At some point, he’ll need to find the EXIT. Or choose something from the MENU. I’m not saying it’s going to happen at a Santa Cruz 7-Eleven. But it could. It really could.

Hey, Harry. No cheating.

Microsoft Decides

Last November, I speculated as to which, if any, eBook format Microsoft would support in Windows 8 tablets.

[Mistakenly, I also ranked Windows Media Center as “more central” to Microsoft’s media consumption story. What? It’s just one piece of the puzzle. Anyway. Always willing to admit mistakes.]

And now it looks like we have our answer. A $1.7 billion answer, by the way. Call it the Nook. From Barnes & Noble.

Microsoft agreed to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Barnes & Noble’s Nook division on Monday, giving the bookstore chain stronger footing in the hotly contested electronic book market and creating an alliance that could intensify the fight over the future of digital reading.

ePub is now the official winner in the eBook format wars. Why do I say that? It’s the eBook format supported by nearly everyone. Apple. Sony. Adobe. Kobo Reader. Blackberry Playbook. Everyone except Amazon, which uses a proprietary variant of the Mobi format; to be kind, they also support a command-line ePub converter called KindleGen. Woo woo.

Oh wait… I’m missing something… Amazon owns 60% of the eBook market. And the U.S. Department of Justice apparently wants to help them get back to 90%. Winner: Mobi.

At any rate, here’s what Microsoft has decided:

  • On the eBook format side, Microsoft chooses ePub by investing in the Nook Division. It’s the primary eBook format for the Nook Color and that’s the future. Winner: ePub.
  • On the device side, the news release says the Nook Division will create a Nook Reader for Windows 8. That reader will likely read multiple format types (the Android-based Nook already does), with ePub prominent among them. Winner: ePub.