Friday, July 27, 2007

THRILLERFEST 2007: THE END (for this year...)

The beginning of the end has to be the awards banquet. It really is a thrill to be in a room with 450 thriller writers and their fans, and I was fortunate enough to be seated with Lisa Unger and her family. Lisa's book BEAUTIFUL LIES was nominated for the Best Thriller award, and she brought her biggest fans with her; her husband, his brother & sister-in-law to be, her dad, her agent and her editor. Her mom was babysitting for Lisa's adorable daughter, Ocean, so she missed the festivities. BEAUTIFUL LIES was one of my favorite thrillers last year, along with the winner, KILLER INSTINCT by Joe Finder.

My only complaint about the evening was the temperature in the beautiful ballroom. It was so cold, I don't think there was a woman in the room who didn't have her escort's jacket on. I brought my 14-year-old daughter along as my date, so we just huddled together for warmth. The centerpieces were a much coveted stash of advance reader copies of upcoming thrillers, all tied together in a neat pile.

Besides awards, the Killer Thriller Band performed, including Michael Palmer & his super talented son Daniel, John Lescroart, F. Paul Wilson and several others. The Killerettes sang back-up: Alexandra Sokoloff, Harley Jane Kozak and no-longer-a-blonde Heather Graham. The show included David Morrell singing a special tribute to ThrillerFest chair M. Diane Vogt, and Jeffery Deaver doing a funny-as-hell impression of Bob Dylan. The biggest laugh of the night came when Clive Cussler tripped over a few words during his introduction of the 2007 ThrillerMaster, James Patterson. He quipped, “You just can’t get good teeth on eBay.”

I have to say a few words about this year's ThrillerMaster. Patterson has probably done more for the thriller genre than just about any other author except maybe Dan Brown. He's worked with several authors who help him write his four books a year, and he puts their names on the books too, making New York Times best selling authors out of people you might never have heard of, like Andrew Gross and Maxine Paetro. I heard so many authors offering to be his next co-author that it became a sort of running joke all through ThrillerFest. People poke fun at his super short chapters, but no one can say the man doesn't know how to keep his readers turning pages. In fact, Patterson poked a little fun of his own at the banquet, which sort of ground to a halt during the presentations of the awards, joking, "They should have asked me about pacing."

In case you missed it, here are the 2007 Thriller Award Winners:

Best First Novel - MR. CLARINET by Nick Stone

Best Paperback Original - AN UNQUIET GRAVE by P.J. Parrish

Best Screenplay - THE GOOD SHEPHERD by Eric Roth

Best Novel - KILLER INSTINCT by Joseph Finder

ThrillerMaster - James Patterson


Sunday morning after the banquet was a tough time to have a panel. It was even tougher when there was a technical glitch. I went to "Love's Masquerades: Thrilling relationships with a dangerous edge" with Elaine Flinn as Panel Master. Elaine's next book in her Molly Doyle series, which I love, is DEADLY VINTAGE, and comes out in September. Authors Sandra Balzo, Jane Cleland, Carla Neggers and Joan Johnston participated in an animated discussion. But it didn't start out that well.

We were all getting settled in when suddenly a man's voice boomed a good morning into the room. There were no men up at the mics, and everyone was looking around and wondering. More booming voice, followed by Elaine Flinn questioning the voice, and we learned that it wasn't God speaking to us early risers, but David Morrell, in the next room. It seemed that the mics were somehow mixed up, with the mics in our room being broadcast into the next room, and vice versa. The women stepped off the podium, came down front and started chatting away, and all was good.

This was an interesting mix for ThrillerFest, and for me. Balzo and Cleland write traditional, cozy mysteries, Balzo's set in a coffee shop (UNCOMMON GROUNDS) and Cleland has the Josie Prescott Antiques mystery series. Neggers and Johnson write romantic suspense, with Johnson having a firm foothold in the romance genre. A brief discussion of traditional mystery versus thriller ensued, with the mysteries having no graphic violence and what violence there is happening off stage, so to speak. Johnson said that her books have a lot of sex and mentioned THE RIVALS, that she claims has sex on almost every page. She is a one woman book producing machine, somehow tying all of her books together, and we are talking double, maybe triple digits here. Neggers made what I thought was the most interesting comment; she said "Agents are the keepers of the readers' expectations." Her new book, ABANDON, came out in June.

What turned out to be one of the most popular panels of the weekend was called “The Snare of the Hunter: How writers and publishers work to get you to buy their books.” Moderated by Putnam editor extraordinaire, Neil Nyren, and featuring the always outspoken Tess Gerritsen, editor-turned-author-and-still-an-editor-but-at-a-different-house Jason Pinter, reviewer David Montgomery and St. Martins Press VP Matthew Baldacci, these folks told it like it is to a standing room only crowd that spilled out into the hallway.

David Montgomery was asked how he selected the books he reviews. His candor was refreshing. He said the newspaper usually wanted the popular titles reviewed, and it was almost impossible to get a first novel reviewed in his paper. He also said he does give preference to review copies that have actual covers over the more basic galleys with plain paper covers.

Somewhere I heard these magic numbers: there are 700 agents but only 70 editors that actually buy books; sobering numbers indeed. And speaking of numbers, this panel took lots of questions from the audience but there were some panel members - Baldacci, in particular - who shied away from giving actual figures. But Gerritsen spoke up and said, "They want numbers -- I'm going to give them numbers!" And she did. Numbers like she sells 3% of her books through Amazon.com, and fully one third through the wholesale clubs like Costco & Sam's Club.

Gerritsen also talked about money and how she likes her advertising dollars spent. She said she wants the bulk of her money to go to co-op, which is when the publisher pays the book store, like Borders or Barnes & Noble, to put their book at the front of the store. She says she sees her sales drop 70% when the book goes off co-op. She said that authors can get all their numbers from their editors, but it was important to remember not to shoot the messenger.

Someone asked how many books have to be sold to reach the New York Times best seller list. Again, Baldacci and Nyren - the only ones who would really have access to those sorts of numbers - hedged. But Joe Finder, sitting on the floor in the back of the room, offered that he'd heard that in a slow month, like January, a mere 7000 books or so would get you on the list. Someone else said they heard it was even lower, maybe 4000 or so.

Baldacci did share that St. Martins Press publishes 800 books a year. He also offered some excellent advice to writers. He suggested they should always check the flap copy very carefully. It is usually written by editorial assistants, who have been known to give away the killer!

I introduced myself to Mr. Nyren afterwards. I've been a fan of his for years, as he edits what sounds like the who's who in thriller writing: Clive Cussler, W.E.B. Griffin, Frederick Forsyth, Tom Clancy, Daniel Silva, John Sandford, Patricia Cornwell, Dave Barry, Jack Higgins, and one of my favorites, James O. Born. He also edited Sheldon Siegel's series, which I loved, but is no longer. The next thing I knew, Nyren, Baldacci, Gerritsen, Shane Gericke, and a few others and I spent so much time chatting outside in the hall that I missed the next panel - and it was worth it. I got to ask something that's always bothered me - why do publishers buy full page ads in the NY Times for best selling authors like Gerritsen or Patterson. I feel like the new guys like Gericke need it so much more. After all, Gerritsen and Patterson are going to sell just as many books, even without that ad. But Baldacci pointed out that it's just protecting their investment. There are more books produced, so there is greater urgency to make sure they are sold. Which made some sense to me. Wish I could have gotten a picture of that group.

The final event of ThrillerFest was the Grand Finale Brunch, featuring a spotlight guest presentation with Jeffery Deaver. Instead of being grilled, Deaver took the mic and spoke about his life and his writing. He was eloquent and funny and heartwarming and altogether a wonderful speaker.

Deaver spoke about being a nerdy kid; not nerdy in the billionaire way of a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, but pudgy and socially inept. Which I think also applies to those guys but I digress. He said he started writing poetry and submitted it to these publications that would pay him in "pennies" then force him to buy a copy of the finished book if he wanted it, for $30-40. As he got older, he turned to singing and songwriting, but found he was too literary to be a songwriter.

He studied journalism in school and got his first job as a journalist. But writing about 'the facts only" wasn't for him, he thought, "what's the fun in that?" Then he went to law school because "truth, accuracy and honesty were not valued there." He practiced mostly corporate law. But during all those jobs, writing poetry, singing, writing the truth and telling lies, he was writing what he loved to read: thrillers.

He set aside his first novel and decided to try another one to see if that first was just a fluke. Wrote another one, read the first one and threw it out. Reread the second one and shredded it. Six weeks later he wrote what he thought was the best thriller of the 1980s. Except it was rejected by everyone - including one rejection that was his manuscript returned along with his cover letter, only it was upside down and had a big footprint on it. His best rejection, he said, was a typewritten note that said that the manuscript was unpublishable. He was thrilled that they bothered to type it. And his next novel sold.

Four books later he was behind schedule so he sent in that "unpublishable" novel, just to buy some time. Except they loved it - same publisher that had previously rejected it, different editor.

Deaver also talked about his writing habits. He does full outlines, working on them for eight months or so before writing a single word of prose. And sometimes he ends up throwing the whole thing out and starting over. His latest novel, SLEEPING DOLL, had a 150 page outline with every clue, every red herring, every character, every exit. After that, the book only takes a couple of months to write. His favorite book is GARDEN OF BEASTS, which he said did well in Europe and won the UK's Dagger award. But Deaver says readers like series and he has very loyal fans. He sees no reason to do anything different. He's sticking to this genre, thrillers.


I haven't mentioned the auctions yet. There were two this year, one at CraftFest that was geared towards writers, and one at ThrillerFest. The two auctions raised thousands of dollars for literacy, and some very happy people went home with great prizes.

The ITW worked very hard to have diverse panels and to make them audience inclusive. Most of the panels had audience participation, games and giveaways. One of the nicest things they did was Author Bingo – conference attendees had most of the weekend to ask various authors specific questions to fill in their bingo cards, making for easy mingling. There were lots of great gifts and prizes offered throughout the conference, including advance reading copies of upcoming thrillers and the opportunity to win Sony e-readers, the iPod Nano, subscriptions to Audible.com, and other prizes simply for being there.

For me, spending time with some of my favorite authors was prize enough.

Please check out my report on CraftFest, ThrillerFest 2007: The Beginning and ThrillerFest 2007: The Middle.

A much abbreviated version of this report will appear in the September 1 issue of Library Journal. Copyright © 2007 Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Reprinted with permission.

7 comments:

Elaine Flinn said...

'The voice from God'?? Wasn't that hilarious, Stacy? Thanks so much for mentioning what great troupers my panelists were with all the sound system problems! And thanks for coming to the panel!!

Hope you like the new Molly book as well as the others...it's a tad different this time. So let me know, k??

David J. Montgomery said...

"[David Montgomery] also said he does give preference to review copies that have actual covers over the more basic galleys with plain paper covers."

Clearly I tripped over my words there. I'm willing to read and review anything, if I think the book merits it. But presentation does inevitably, I think, make an impact on whether or not I pick up a book. I try not to let factors like that influence me, but I think subconsciously, at least, it does happen.

That was an excellent panel and there were so many people giving such great advice, I was trying to talk fast to get my share in! :)

BookBitch said...

Perhaps the snippet of your comments that I posted wasn't as clear as it should have been. I'm sorry if the implication wasn't as you had intended.

I do appreciate your clarifying this, David. It was an amazing panel, in no small part due to your input.

BookBitch said...

Elaine, you did an awesome job, as did your panelists. Everyone was so professional and just took the bad news about the sound system in stride and just went with it.

DEADLY VINTAGE was the only book I brought with me to ThrillerFest. I started it on the plane and never read another page while I was in NY - no time! Came home to other responsibilites but so far, I'm just enjoying spending time with Molly Doyle...

Maria said...

Found your website via the 4ma site. Really enjoyed your post here on Thrillerfest. I learn a lot from reading those little tips from the editors (had never heard the one about the flap cover!)

Maria

Ali Karim said...

Great Report Stacy - reminded me of what a greattime we had! pity we seemed to be at differnet panels and I spent more time in the bar -

Ali

David J. Montgomery said...

I read DEADLY VINTAGE right before ThrillerFest and it's a damn fine book. Highly recommended.

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