Friday, November 26, 2010

First Friday Author Feature: Sheldon Siegel

Sheldon Siegel, a practicing attorney turned novelist who grew up in Chicago, was the keynote speaker at the Redwood Writers Conference luncheon in October. The last time he stood in the famous Flamingo Hotel was two decades before, dancing the Horah with 300 Jews at his wedding. 

“Do you know how hard it is to be married to a guy who sits in the upstairs room and talks to himself all day?” he asked the crowd of 100 or so writers laughing and nodding our heads in agreement.

With seven critically acclaimed legal thrillers, the author’s topic was “Finding an Audience in a Challenging World.” Siegel acknowledged what a challenging time it is to be a writer—whether writing books or for magazines and newspapers. “My publisher asked if I’d change my title to A Lawyer With a Dragon Tattoo,” he joked, referring to his protagonist Mike Daley, an ex-priest turned criminal defense lawyer.

In the years since he published Special Circumstances in 2000, which became a national bestseller, the traditional route of agent-publisher-big distribution has become even more difficult. “Editors, overworked and underpaid, are leaving or refusing to adapt,” Siegel said. “Big publishers are running the business like it was the 1930s. It’s the last business where all merchandise is sold on consignment,” with all unsold books returned to the publisher.

Despite this, Siegel is convinced that “we’ll always have books. We’ll just adapt to new markets" like e-books.

Last year, according to Siegel, 864,000 books were self-published for sale on, which now sells more Kindle books than hardcover. There are 8 million owners of I-pads, which have become the primary device for reading, he said. For just $50, anyone can get an ISBN number. Add that to your Word document with an artistic cover, and you get to keep 77% of the profits (as opposed to $1 per book in traditional publishing).

Siegel’s advice? Start with what you can control. First, “write your best work—a clear, letter-perfect book.” Then, “take a business-like approach to publication and promotion,” whether conventional or self-published, “with about six weeks to hammer out the marketing once the book is out.”

With his books translated into eight languages, Sheldon Siegel has become a brand name in the publishing industry: “They talk about me like I’m a Snickers bar,” he jokes. But the best part of being published is the fan mail he receives. He cited one Navy flyer who read his book from Guantanamo Bay and helped get Siegel’s books distributed to the library there.

“Write what excites you,” he encouraged us. “All I ever set out to do [in the beginning] was finish a novel. No one can take that away from you.”

1 comment:

lakeviewer said...

It rings absolutely true!

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