Sunday, February 18, 2018


“You can’t judge a book by its cover.’

Oh, really? Have you scanned the covers of the “romance” novels that populate the best-seller lists, particularly those devoted to self-published eBooks.

Unless you are suffering from a terminal case of macular degeneration, a book cover showing a long-haired, muscular young man ripping the clothes off a sultry and bosomy woman should give you a pretty good idea of the prose you will find within. 

In case you are still in doubt, try these titles on for size: The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife; Marcus Wilding: Duke of Pleasure; How to Catch a Wild Viscount; The Desperate Love of a Lord; The Earl’s Desire, and Dukes for Dummies.

OK, I made that last one up, but you get the idea.  The “Bodice Rippers”, as these actual purple-prosed books are called, are hugely popular, both in print and online. In addition to the catchy titles (did earls, lords, dukes and “wild” viscounts really get that much action? – it would certainly explain why England lost India), many of the covers are works of art and could be hung in, say, the lounge of a local Holiday Inn.

The world is awash in books, and except for those (print or otherwise) which are heavily advertised or promoted, or whose innate quality generates enough word of mouth to insure success, most need a lot of help to get noticed. Thus, their authors strive for unique covers and catchy titles.

I know I strive. And I’m constantly tinkering with my sales model. I write thrillers and mysteries, and my early covers and titles were probably too dark. The cover art featured lots of weapons, and I used the word “blood” too often in the titles, which probably convinced people I was trying to cash in on the vampire craze in publishing. (Not that I wouldn’t have loved to.)

The blood and weapons are mostly gone, at least on the outside.  Handsome men and women (bodices intact!) now dominate my cover art, on the assumption that more readers might be attracted to them – rather than a stiletto dripping blobs of gore (yes, that was an old cover; go figure). 

Even though all the inspired titles have apparently been taken by romance novelists (see above), I enjoy coming up with my own. And I have learned a few tricks. It seems that any book that has the word “Conspiracy” in its title often sells better than its peers. I’ve only used it once. In my other books I’ve been hampered by the fact that you can’t use the word if there isn’t an actual conspiracy involved in the plot.

Unless your desire is to write that one great novel that will be remembered forever and result in having many high schools named after you, you should think about giving your books a chance of success by learning what readers like – both on the inside and outside of those books.

I don’t mean to imply that an author should tailor his or her work to fit a fad, or to squeak it into a genre it doesn’t belong. In the end, it’s quality and integrity that counts. We shouldn’t sell out, just to make a few extra bucks.

Well, enough for now. I have to finish my latest thriller, The Bodice Rippers Conspiracy.   

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


To plot, or not to plot?

Aye, there's the rub, as Shakespeare would say.

I wonder if the Bard plotted his works. Did he, say, outline Coriolanus? The mind boggles. I believe Sidney Sheldon once admitted that he didn’t plot his novels, preferring to start with an idea and then see where it went. In effect, he liked to write himself (and his characters) into corners and then write his way out of them.

(If you  are wondering if anyone has ever put William Shakespeare and Sidney Sheldon in the same paragraph to make a point, I am, too. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of. My only excuse is that, like Sidney, I’m not sure where this column is going. By the way, Sheldon, author of The Other Side of Midnight and Rage of Angels and creator of TV shows including The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie and Hart to Hart is no one to sneeze at. He happens to be the seventh-best-selling fiction writer of all time. I don’t know where Bill Shakespeare ranks.)

But I digress. I don’t plot. I usually have a general idea about what I want to say, but sometimes not even that. I write thrillers and mysteries, with three different protagonists: two private eyes and one C.I.A. assassin. I’d guess that in probably half my books, I started out with an idea and filled in the blanks. In some of those novels, the idea could have worked with any of my protagonists, so I usually chose whichever series was due up for bat.

In the books that weren’t particularly idea-driven, I just started with the protagonist (again, whenever he was, basically, next in line) and then wrote. Crazy as it sounds, the stories usually came to me. Maybe that’s not so crazy. Isn’t that how life is? At least my life. I’m the kind of guy who goes to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread and winds up needing help carrying all my bags to the parking lot.

Writing without a plot, or with only the vaguest idea of one, does have its advantages. You can adapt and take advantage of current events and trends. For example, I once started a thriller in which some college football players abuse women. Sad to say, based on new headlines I had to include the NFL.

Look, I must be doing something right. I can’t tell you the number of times people have said to me: “Where did you get that great plot?”  

I guess I shouldn’t have written this blog. I told you I didn’t know where I was going.  


“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” I think I got this quote from Oscar Wilde right. It should be every writer’s mantra — up to a poi...