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'The Action in Publishing is Ebooks': An Interview with Lee Goldberg

By Joanna Campbell Slan

Note: Lee is one of the guests at the upcoming Love is Murder conference in Chicago. He’s also the author of too many books to mention, as well as being a TV scriptwriter and producer. Visit him at


You’ve spoken candidly about
your decision not to “ghost-write” any more Monk books. What would you tell any
writer considering work-for-hire? Is it ever a good idea, and if so, why? If
not, why not? What pitfalls can you tell people to avoid?

The Monk novels are not
“ghost-written.” My name is on the cover. Ghost writers, by contrast, are not
credited and do the actual writing for the person whose name is on the cover.
But while I write every word of the books, I don’t own them. The rights belong
to USA Studios and Andy Breckman, who created the show. At this point in my
career, in this fast-changing publishing world, it doesn’t make any financial
sense for me to write books that I don’t own. For a new writer, though, taking
on a tie-in can be a shrewd move…introducing your name and your talents to
thousands of readers. You get to ride on the coat-tails of an established
franchise. My brother Tod was an established author of literary fiction when he
took on the Burn Notice books. He sold more copies of his first Burn
novel than all of his previously published books combined…and saw an
immediate bounce in sales of his backlist. He quit writing the Burn Notice books
when the drawbacks (two books a year, small royalty, non-ownership, etc)
outweighed the benefits. To learn more about tie-ins, and the business behind
them, check out the book Tied In, which you can find on Amazon.

You were published very
early, but never saw a dime from that first book. A lot of people get overly
excited when offered a contract and jump at the chance to be in print. What
would you counsel them?

You can’t really compare my
situation thirty-some years ago to a new writer being offered a contract today.
The business has radically changed…and is still in the midst of turmoil. 

The benefit of taking a contract
— from a known, reputable publisher — beyond just getting some money is the
opportunity to have your work professionally edited and marketed, to have it
reviewed by respected publications, to become eligible for membership in
professional organizations (SFWA, MWA, Authors Guild, etc.) and awards,

For the time being, it still means
something, it still has cache, to be published by publishing company. But
financially, it might not be the best move…because you are likely to get a
lousy advance and, for all intents and purposes, be trading ownership of your
book forever.

The action in publishing is
moving to ebooks, and there’s very little these days that publishers can do for
you that you can’t do for yourself self-publishing (with the possible exception
of the Amazon Publishing imprints, which have the benefit of being able to
promote your book aggressively on the Amazon site and directly to its
customers). You will own the book and the royalty rate is far, far better than
anything publishers can offer you. However, if you self-publish, and if you
want to do it right, you will need to hire a great content editor (i.e.
ex-editors from major publishing companies) and commission a terrific cover, so
your book will read as well, and look as good, as the stuff coming from major
publishing houses. That will cost you money. Whatever you do, however, NEVER go
to a company like Authorhouse (or their other imprints), Tate Publishing, etc.
They are scams that prey on an aspiring author’s desperation and naivet

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