Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NEW NOVEL - THE PERFECT CRIME



Hi folks,

Sorry I haven’t posted in a bit, but I have four new novels coming out this year and have been knee-deep in rewrites! I’ve also been covered up with the last (hope!) revision of my memoir, ADRENALINE JUNKIE, prior to sending it to my agent to begin marketing it. I had to do one last rewrite on it as, at the “young” age of 68 and as chronicled here, I found out the man I had always been told was my father… wasn’t. That kind of put an entirely new twist on my life so I figured I needed to address that.

Anyway, I wanted to talk a bit about the four new novels coming out and today I’ll focus on the first, a crime thriller titled THE PERFECT CRIME.

This one has a history. I wrote it back in the nineties and at the time my agent, Jimmy Vines, was arguably the hottest guy in agenting. If you’ve ever seen the movie, Jerry Maguire, the title character played by Tom Cruise was Jimmy to a T. A slick-talking (in machine-gun bursts), expensively-dressed, stereotypical polished New Yorker smart-ass type, Jimmy could easily have been the originator of the phrase, “Show me the money.” Lots of publishers did just that for his writers.

Jimmy received so much initial excitement from publishers when he first sent out feelers on THE PERFECT CRIME that he decided that even though this was a first novel, this was a book that needed to go to auction. For those writers here who’ve had a book go to auction, you know that’s one of the biggest thrills for a writer to be had, up there almost with getting a nomination for the National Book Award, or a travel agent calling to check on your drink preferences for your flight to Stockholm, or, even getting a message on your unlisted cell phone from Kim Khardashian giving you her private number and inviting you to a “personal and up-close” slumber party and something she called a “sesh” with her and her sisters, ending her message with a cheery, “Call me, ya big lug!”

In other words, a literary auction is a big deal.

It was… what’s the word?... exciting. I’m sitting here in the Great Flyover in Fort Hooterville, Indiana, and every three or four minutes, Jimmy was phoning me breathlessly from the Big Apple, giving me up-dates. Between his calls, I’m screaming at my wife Mary to “Don’t go near that phone!” and ignoring the withering looks she was shooting my way. Offers were being messengered to Jimmy every couple of minutes, and he’d be calling to tell me who’d offered what, what the bidding was up to, who’d joined the fray and who’d dropped out.

Finally, everyone had dropped out except two players, Random House and St. Martin’s. Both made their final bids. Random House offered $45,000 for their advance and St. Martin’s offered $50,000.

“It’s your call,” Jimmy said. “We’ll go with whoever you want.”

We talked about it and I tried to weigh the offers. Both were big, well-known, respected presses. Both were talking about a probable three-book deal, a series based on the same characters, and depending on how the first book did, the advances for the next two would most likely go way up. Jimmy figured the final tally would be in the healthy six-figure range. Enough money that I would be able to achieve my version of true wealth—being able to fill the gas tank up completely each time on my car instead of the normal two buck purchase. He talked about the excellent chances he saw for a future movie deal.

Finally, I made my decision.

Worst decision of my life, bar none. The financial fall-out from that decision destroyed me at the time and actually, I've never recovered. More about that later...

“Random House,” I told Jimmy. “Why them?” he asked. “Because,” I said. “They’re Random House.” The House of Bennett Cerf and all those legends of literature. I didn’t care it was for less money than St. Martin’s was offering. This was Random House.

Jimmy understood. He called St. Martin’s, told them my decision, and the editor who had been doing the bidding, Charlie Spicer, was disappointed, but before he hung up, told Jimmy, “If Edgerton ever has another book and is looking for a publisher, we want first crack at it.” Just a pure gentleman. I just wish...

Next, he contacted Scott Moyers, the senior editor who had been doing the bidding for Random House. Scott had just come over from Villard Press and been appointed a senior editor. Mine was the first book he’d signed for his new publisher.

The day I signed the contract was one of the happiest of my life.

I was at a crossroads in life. Up to that point, I had made a terrific living for thirty-plus years as a hairstylist. My wife Mary and I had our own salon, Bold Strokes Hair Design, and we were booked solid for six months in advance. But, our lease was up and we had to make a decision. To sign a new 5-year lease or close the salon. Up until then, even though I had sold several books, I had never considered quitting my day job. I’d heard and listened to all the advice about not doing so until one was absolutely certain he’d be able to make his entire living from writing.

Now seemed the time. I’ll relate the rest by including the gist of an exchange of emails between myself and one of the most respected agents in the business a couple of years ago. I won’t name the agent as I don’t want to reveal his identity as he was honest with me about what had probably happened but didn’t want to be identified for clear reasons.

Here’s is the email I sent this agent:

Dear____________;

I'll try to be as concise as I can be. A few years ago, when I was a client of Jimmy Vines, I wrote a crime thriller that he was ecstatic about. So ecstatic that he took it to auction, which, as you know is a rarity for a first novel. It was an exciting time—phone calls and emails every few minutes for several days—you know the drill. The upshot was that it came down to two houses, Random House and St. Martin's. St. Martin's offered $50,000 and RH offered $45,000. Jimmy said we'd go with whoever I wanted. I decided on RH because... well, it was Random House. The company that Bennett Cerf built and with all that glorious history. I was going to be a Random House author!

The editor who took it was Scott Moyers who had just that week come over from Villard to become a senior editor at RH and this was the very first book he signed. They were going to bring it out simultaneously in hard and soft cover, from Ballantine and RH. Jimmy told me that Ann Godoff, who was the president at the time, personally phoned him and raved about the book, telling him how much she loved it. She said they were going to guarantee me that not only would it come out on the NY Times bestseller list; it would come out as #1 the first week. She said she could guarantee that because the lists weren't derived from sales but from copies printed, etc. She and Scott then asked that I change the title as they saw a trilogy in the future and they wanted the name to be one that would lend itself to that. The original title I had was The Perfect Crime and they asked that it be changed to Over Easy, a play on the "Big Easy" since it was set in New Orleans and they wanted the other two to be as well. As soon as it came out, they wanted to create a new contract for a new two-book deal. But, my God—I couldn't believe what she was telling me—that my book was going to be Number One. That's a cloud I'm probably never going to reach again. From the lips of the president of Random House, that's something you can take to the bank. Or so I thought. (I'm bad on dates, but it seems to me this was around '97.)

I know this is all very interesting and all, but so far everything's going well and why am I telling you all this you're probably thinking. Well, that's when the bottom dropped out. The time period here is crucial as you'll see. A week after I took RH's offer, Bertlesmann took over Random House. Being out here in the "great flyover" I had no clue as to what was probably going on in NY and London, in the power centers of publishing, but it's obvious to me now that the Bertlesmann takeover is what impacted my deal.

For the next several months I rewrote the book entirely for Scott four times. I'd already rewritten it twice for Jimmy before he'd sent it out and I had no problem with either guy requesting rewrites. I'm a firm believer that writing is rewriting and I do it cheerfully and professionally. At the end of the last rewrite, Scott emailed me and said he was regretfully going to have to turn it down. During the process, he had me eliminate a major character and do some other things. In his notes for the last rewrite, he said he wished I would write like Russell Banks! For the first time I got mad. I told him if he wanted Russell Banks, why didn't he just sign him? Just weird stuff. I told him I'd done everything he'd said without question as I didn't want to "be that guy" editors talked about--the difficult writer. To that he said, "You should have pushed back." My bad, I guess...I talked to Jimmy and he was furious with Scott and RH and said he'd never ever do another deal with Random House the rest of his life—that he'd never heard of a major publisher treating someone this way, etc. At this remove, I confess I'm a bit skeptical now of what he was saying, considering I was this little guy out here in Indiana and he was claiming he'd never again deal with the biggest publisher in the business because of what they'd done to me. Lots of things I thought at the time have changed the more I think about it. I have a strong suspicion that he was... how do you say it? Blowing smoke up my ass? Yeah, that's a good way to describe what I think happened.

What was the kicker was that St. Martin's had offered $5,000 more and wanted to publish it without changing as much as a comma and they wanted an additional 3-book deal after it came out. The editor who participated for them was Charlie Spicer and Jimmy told me that after they lost out in the auction, Charlie told him that "if Edgerton ever wanted to leave RH, we'd take him in a minute." He said later, that if "Edgerton wrote another novel like that that they wanted first crack at it."

Which made what transpired next hard for me to get the logical part of my brain around. After the RH fiasco, I asked Jimmy if he could take it to St. Martin's as only a handful of people had even read it—RH and St. Martin's and maybe a dozen others who had participated early in the auction. No, Jimmy said, it's a dead issue now, but as soon as we sell your next one, then we can get it published. That never made sense to me being as no one had read the book except the ones mentioned above. It wasn't as if the public was aware of it or had read it or anything.

Anyway, Scott was very apologetic and said he'd make sure I would never have to repay the part of the advance I'd already received ($12,500). Shortly after that, he left RH and I've never heard from him again. About two years later, I got a bill from RH for the 12.5 and I wrote them back, relaying what Scott had told me. Nothing happened until a couple of years after that and I got another bill and I told them the same thing and again, haven't heard from them since.

This whole thing really impacted my life in ways that are still happening. At the time, my wife and I owned a very successful hairstyling business. At the exact time I signed with RH, our lease for our shop was up and we had to make a decision to sign a new 5-year lease or not. I'd always tried to be realistic and practical and even though I'd sold a number of books before the RH thing, never succumbed to the temptation of quitting my day job. Well, this seemed to be the perfect time to do so. I was given enough money to live on for the next year while I rewrote; Ann Godoff had guaranteed Jimmy (according to him anyway) my book would be #1; they wanted at least two more books after this one, etc. I felt it was time to become a truly full-time writer. So we closed the business and my wife went to work at another salon and I settled down to all that I've related above. The upshot was that after a year of all that, our business was gone and I was jobless and went through some health problems that wiped out our savings and put us heavily into debt, etc. We've never caught up since. You can't go back and regain your clients--they're gone forever, for the most part. I feel pretty sure that Bertlesmann taking over probably put all this into action—there was probably some sort of house cleaning and lots of books like mine were probably thrown overboard, and people jettisoned, etc. I have no way of knowing this—just a strong suspicion.

I'm not a whiner and I don't blame the world for the bad things that happen to me—it's just part of the deal of life and usually because of bad choices I'd made on my own. The reason I wanted to share this with you is that I still have this novel and it's a good one and I'd like your opinion as to if I should send it out.

Mr. ______, thank you for reading this and taking your valuable time to do so. If any of this intrigues you and you'd like a look at it, I'd be very happy to send it to you. Also, if you know Charlie Spicer and run into him you might ask him about the deal. We don't get "do-overs" in live as a rule, but that's one guy I wish I'd gone with. He really liked my work and in every dealing with him I always felt he was a true gentleman.

Thank you so much for taking time for someone who isn't even earning any money for you.

Blue skies,
Les

The agent’s reply to this was:

Les-
You don't owe Random House squat. Having "won" you at auction, followed up by having you rewrite the book multiple times, what they did is completely shitty behavior. And it happens every day. I'm actually surprised they bothered to send you two bills. For Das Random Haus, $12,500 is pocket change and they probably cleared it from their books as a write-off years ago.

When Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp Inc bought a company, (name deleted), they cancelled a lot of contracts... only they found other ways of saying it so CEO Jane Friedman could be quoted in the press saying, "We didn't cancel any contracts."

I do business with Random House every day, and would sell them one of my represented books in a heartbeat. To booksellers and book reviewers that little house on the spine, or even better, that little Borzoi dog, still carries a lot of cachet and helps get reviews and in-store display space. The fact is, though, the Random House of Bennet Cerf, or even Bob Bernstein is long gone. They do some books brilliantly. Most others are little more than putting a cover on the barely edited manuscript and shipping it out the door. Sadly, that's true most places. The hard part for old grizzlies is that they remember what Random House used to be -- before it was a division of an arm of a media conglomerate and expected to cough up 15% quarterly profits to the Mother Ship. The old souls have either fled the building (actually "the building" is gone too) or sit in their offices, bitterly waiting for the day they can full advantage of a fat 401K.

Ann Godoff is over at Penguin now.  She "might" view this as an opportunity to do right by a book and an author she once seduced with fantasies of a #1 New York Times best seller ** or she might want to slink away in embarrassment. Plus, who knows what portraits of you as a madman had to be painted by Scott or others in order for them to look less evil. 

I'm actually surprised Ann would do such an amateur thing. She is a total pro and I think brilliant publisher. I love the way she works between the cracks. Who could have predicted the huge best selling audience for Orchid Thief or Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil before they were published? All those previous best sellers about Savannah or orchids? What was the obvious category for these books? They are not typical true crime or travel or anything but extremely well written. I love Ann for that.  But I would NEVER promise an author a best seller. The fates are too fickle. Why is Marley & Me a massive and ongoing seller, where Mark Doty's version of the same book (only MUCH better) a quiet success and no one reads Willie Morris' classic My Dog Skip. I'm not even sure the Morris is still in print.

There is a great essay by E.B. White called Here is New York. White wrote it in 1949 and it is absolutely relevant to this day. In writing about New York City, I think he nailed the right attitude for anyone aspiring to be a writer. He wrote (and I paraphrase badly, having not read the piece for ten years), "If you come to New York, you having to be willing to be lucky."

If Ann Godoff is a "No," maybe George Witte, the editor-in-chief of St Martin's would be intrigued by the story of the Auction they lost so many years ago, but get a chance to win now. Sally Richardson, their President & CEO, I'm sure was at St. Martin's at the time and probably read your manuscript. She's very involved. I sold one of my writers on the idea of going to St. Martin's over going to HarperCollins and a "name" editor in David Hirshey. My reason was because both Sally Richardson and Matthew Shear, their publisher, had called me to say how much they liked the manuscript. I told the writer that in-house enthusiasm is worth its weight in gold. The book comes out in July. We'll see how right or wrong I was.

So yeah, dust off Over Easy and send it in. I am even more surprised than Ann's promised best seller that your agent would say it's a dead book and nor resubmit it to St. Martin's. This happens all the time. After David Ulin had post-Harper Morrow back away from his book, he resold it to Viking. And heck, what's gotten more press this last year than the passed around If I Did It by O.J. Simpson?

Best,

Mr. ______________


Mr. ___________ and I ended up not hooking up, as I have other forms of work he doesn't represent, such as sports books, a YA, etc. He's a great guy, though, and very generous in sharing his advice and wisdom with me as he did with the above. I just thought it'd be easier to show you our correspondence about the PERFECT CRIME/OVER EASY book as it contains all the pertinent facts about what happened so you'd know the history.

I had some other worries about this novel. When I wrote it, the idea behind the crime was truly original. Such a crime had never been committed. My worry was that some outlaw would eventually come up with the same idea and even though I had thought of it first, his effort would trump mine in the public’s eye. Well, a couple of years ago that very thing happened. And then again. The good thing is that neither were really the “perfect crime.” They’d made some mistakes—which is why they were caught. Mistakes I’d foreseen and hadn’t had my character make. So, while yes, there have been a couple of instances where the basic idea has been used, they still haven’t reached the “perfect” level mine has.

Indeed, when I was writing it, I conferred regularly with Bob Parker, a good friend of mine who’s a computer genius and has done work for various government agencies. He looked it over, found a weak place and told me how to fix that and when I had, proclaimed it indeed, a “perfect crime.” You’ll have to leave some stuff out, Bob said, or it will be a template for someone to actually use and get away with it. He went on to say that I could either do the crime myself or publish the novel and I’d probably make more doing the crime. Well, at one point in my life I would have been tempted, but I’ve since been in prison and that isn’t an option these days… And, I did take his advice to leave a couple of things out. I really don’t want someone to use it and if they don’t know the parts I omitted, they’ll stand a chance of getting caught, especially with today’s CSI units.

And now, I have a publisher and it’s coming out! We don’t have a firm date yet, but it will be available by the end of the summer from StoneGate Ink. Check out their link at http://www.stonegateink.com/ for updates and ordering information. I’ll post that info here as soon as we get a firm date.

The publisher, Aaron Patterson, is doing some remarkable things with books. He’s created the new paradigm for authors and literature and it’s spot on. What he’s doing is the best thing that’s ever happened for us writers. In fact, I was so impressed with him that I recommended him to Jennifer Wilkov, hostess of the top-rated show on WomensRadio, for an interview, which came on today. You can hear Aaron at http://www.womensradio.com/episodes/Your-Book-Is-Your-Hook!-Show--Aaron-Patterson%3A-Best-Selling-Author-and-Publisher-Stone-House-Ink/9775.html.

I discovered this press through an old friend of mine, Vince Zandri. Vince and I have been buds ever since we were classmates at Vermont College, getting our MFA’s and hanging out at Charlie O’s. We hit it off immediately and have remained steadfast friends forever. We’re big fans of each other’s work and have each blurbed the other’s books. At the time we were in school, I was looking for a new agent and Vince hooked me up with his, the aforementioned Jimmy Vines. Jimmy did even better for Vince, getting him heavy-duty advances for his work. One for $175,000. In the intervening years, Jimmy left the business, and the publishing industry began to change. Vince discovered Aaron’s company and began to publish with him and now he’s the “star” of the company. He’s selling more now than he ever did with the legacy publishers and he did pretty well with them. Much “gooder” now… Like to the tune of selling 100,000 copies in a month! In another of those turns life takes, Vince was looking for a new agent and I was able to recommend and introduce him to my guy, Chip MacGregor, who happily took him on. What goes around comes around… Check out Vince at http://vincentzandri.blogspot.com/. His only flaw is that he will never be able to keep up with me drinking… Maybe that’s my flaw… Depends on your perspective, I suppose…

And, check out THE PERFECT CRIME when it comes out! Just don’t use it for the template for your own perfect crime. There’s a tiny flaw in it that if you don’t figure it out, may land you in a six by eight room with a guy who looks like your worst screamin’ meemie nightmare and involved with him in a heavy debate over who’s going to be playing the prom queen role in the near future…

I hope the above proves of interest to the writers out there. This isn’t stuff that’s reported on in English class or even your MFA workshops as a rule… The Cosa Nostra has very little on publishing…

Blue skies,
Les

Next post, I’ll talk about JUST LIKE THAT, the other StoneGate Ink novel coming out along with THE PERFECT CRIME. This is a road novel, based on an experience I had with a former cellmate of mine at Pendleton. It’s about 85% autobiographical. The only reason it isn’t 100% is that pesky statute of limitations thing…


9 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

Les, that's a hell of a story. More chilling than many horror stories I've read. Glad things are on the up and up now though!

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks, Paul! I just keep looking at stuff like this as "material." Good stuff if you're a writer, eh, mate? I have an even worse experience with a university editor who cost me both my memoir being published along with a done-deal with HBO. Saving that one for when we sell the memoir. Young writers may be surprised when they start to see the "honor" of publishers... Gotta love 'em...

Vincent Zandri said...

Yah, Les, I recall those days like they were yesterday. Your story mimics mine in many respects, especially the getting fucked over by Jimmy Vines part. Remember when he stole a title from my list of titles in order to sell his own script??? That was a doozy... Well you and I are still here, bestseller bound and he's not. Funny thing is, if Random House didn't begrudgingly release the e-rights to the two books Jimmy sold to them I would have earned back their advance this past three months alone. Now I've been paid twice for the same books and couldn't be happier. Jimmy et. al. almost put me out of business forever...
Good stuff Les...
Vin

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks, Vince. And, you can ALMOST drink as much as me... Well, maybe more at times...

What seems as if it happened yesterday, was the time at Charlie O's when we came out of the closet. For those who haven't been to Montpelier, VT, Charlie O's is kind of a biker bar.

One night, Vince and I were there and I got up on a chair and announced that Vinny and I were "coming out of the closet." Not the smartest thing to say in such as bar. (Actually, the best way I can describe Charlie's is that nothing in the place has its original equipment. Most of the patrons are missing an eye or a hand or whatever... and none of the furniture has all of their legs, etc.) Back to the story.

Just when we were getting "those" looks from our fellow patrons, I explained. "Yeah," I said. "We're 'fessing up that we're coming out of the closet. We're lesbians." I paused. "We just researched what lesbians like and it turns out we like exactly the same things. Therefore, we must be lesbians."

Apologies to my lesbian friends, but most of them know this story and grin at it the same as the straights...

Chris said...

Gents, I'm glad I haven't had these experiences in publishing (I had them elsewhere). You guys that have gone before and blazed the trail have my utmost respect. I'd love to sit down over whisky and cigars and listen to the stories. Anyway, I'm very much looking forward to reading The Perfect Crime, and soon. Thanks for the post, Les.

Vincent Zandri said...

Oh fuck Les, I remember that night like it was ten minutes ago...Actually I think you and I were wearing cut off T shirts so no one was that close to pummeling us, and plus we had our Main Logger/Firejumper/General 6'6" poet gentle giant with is, Chris Barter, and bearded attempted homicide Poet Roger Walls with us (God rest his soul)...man, what a crew!!!!

Glynis said...

Les, what a terrible time for you. For someone to shatter your dream like that - or life in your case - is dreadful.

I am pleased the book is going to be published after all the hassle. No wonder you enjoy a drink! ;0

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks, Chris. And, you just named my favorite avocation--sitting around, drinking brews and telling stories. I'm up for it, any time!

Those were great times, weren't they Vince. Remember our first semester when they sent info sheets on our to-be roomies and I sent Gary a long letter, warning him of my intense flatulence? And, met you and told you what I was up to, but that first night I couldn't get the Whoopee Cushion to work. Turned out after drinking a bunch of beers I didn't need it and way it worked out I hadn't lied in my letter...

Thanks, Glynis. But I've learned that's what dreams are meant for... to be shattered. That's kind of a good thing for a writer--gives us great material...

Sally Clements said...

I'm sold. I want it. When's it out? (final sentence said in needy whine!)