A “New” Writer Reflects

June 24th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

As I write this, SUPREME JUSTICE has hit 548 reviews and maintains a four-star average. This is a testament to Amazon’s marketing ability, and has taught this old dog some new things, if not tricks.

I continue to be surprised by the confidence of readers who are quite sure that I’m imitating writers who I’ve never read. Any number have scolded me for trying to do Jack Reacher, and are particularly annoyed that my character Reeder’s name is so similar.

Those of you who have followed these updates for a while know that I am notoriously unfamiliar with the work of other suspense/mystery writers of my time. I am strictly a Hammett/Chandler/Cain/Spillane guy. The last hardcover mystery I bought and read was the final 87th Precinct novel. My idea of a new mystery writer is Donald E. Westlake.

I did the original synopsis of SUPREME JUSTICE – and this pre-dates Matt Clemens’ involvement – seven years ago. I’d never heard of Jack Reacher, and frankly my first familiarity with the character was the Tom Cruise movie – I obviously go to a lot of those. Reeder’s name had nothing to do with Reacher. I’ve never read Tom Clancy either, though I’ve seen most of the Jack Ryan movies.

But Amazon reviewers are confident in this case, and many others, that I’m doing Lee Child or Clancy or Grisham or Sandford or any number of writers I’ve never read. By the way, I mean no insult to them or any writer. I have stated here numerous times that (a) my reading time is largely taken up by research, and (b) I am a natural mimic and avoid reading other suspense fiction for that reason.

There’s another reason, and it goes something like this…other people’s mystery novels fall into one of three categories: worse than me, about the same as me, better than me. Why would I want to read something worse than my stuff? Why should I bother reading something that I could write myself just as well? As for those better than me, well, screw them!

Yes, I’m kidding, sort of, and I do occasionally read contemporary crime fiction, as when I’m on an Edgar or Shamus committee, or when one of my writer friends has something out. Thankfully my writer friends are very good – people like Ed Gorman, Steve Mertz, Bob Goldsborough, Bill Crider, Bob Randisi, John Lutz, and half a dozen more.

And I know that a lot of writers continue to read voraciously in their own fields, so this is probably a weakness on my part. But I mention this chiefly to make the point that if I’m setting out to work in another writer’s wheelhouse, it’s more likely to be Mickey Spillane or Rex Stout than John Grisham or Lee Child.

But there’s something else odd – and frankly disturbing, and certainly humbling – that turns up in a good number of these Amazon reader reviews. A lot of these readers think I’m a “new” writer; a fair amount of ‘em go out of their way to say they’ve never heard of me.

I realize I’m not John Grisham or Lee Child, but while I have not read either of those very popular writers, I am aware of their existence. As someone who spends plenty of time wandering in bookstores, and studying the section where my work is shelved, I have a strong awareness (without reading them) of scores of writers in my genre. I read Mystery Scene, Crimespree, The Strand, Deadly Pleasures, always read the review column in EQMM, and attend Bouchercons frequently. So I know who my contemporaries are.

Yet these mystery fans, writing Amazon reviews…some of them, anyway…haven’t noticed I’m alive during this forty-year career of mine. Haven’t noticed my byline on ROAD TO PERDITION or CSI or the Spillane collaborations or…anything. It’s as if they know only the authors whose names they’ve encountered in airport gift shops.

So when I see SUPREME JUSTICE with 500-plus Amazon reviews, and, for example, KING OF THE WEEDS sitting at 21 reviews, I am as disappointed about the latter as I am thrilled about the former.

And sadly convinced that marketing is king.

Here I thought it was writing. What a schmuck!

* * *

Speaking of EQMM, reviewer Steve Steinbock has nice things to say this month about THE WRONG QUARRY and ANTIQUES CON, and other projects of mine. Here’s where you can see it on line; the reviews in question are toward the end.

A very cool new Facebook page dedicated to Mike Hammer and Stacy Keach is here.

The SUPREME JUSTICE reviews on the Net are starting to hit, like this one from Crimespree’s site.

Here’s another…

and another[Note from Nate: This one’s got a drawing for a free copy too!]

and another.

ROAD TO PERDITION continues to make best comics-to-movies lists.

Finally, here’s a very nice KING OF THE WEEDS review from Nerdspan.


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7 Responses to “A “New” Writer Reflects”

  1. Joe Menta says:

    Clearly “Supreme Justice” has benefitted from the Amazon Prime program letting Kindle owners get a free advance look at it. Anything you can do behind the scenes to try to get a future Hammer or Heller title included in the program? It would indeed be great to see those works get the 300-review treatment.

  2. I’m not sure how the program works, but it would appear Amazon saves one slot for themselves — and that’s the slot I got, because it’s a Thomas & Mercer (i.e., Amazon) book. They would be much more likely to push books of mine they’re publishing than not. On the other hand, they might consider the next Heller because that would boost the backlist.

  3. Ben Parris says:

    Max, although I am a less accomplished and rightfully more neglected writer than you, I am still subjected to remarks that I am clearly imitating authors that I have never read. I believe that impression comes from having the same root influences as those I am likened to. It must be the same thing in your case. We humans suffer from hyperactive pattern recognition.

  4. Thanks for your gracious comment, Ben. Insightful, too. I think with SUPREME JUSTICE I’m tapping into a more mainstream audience that doesn’t have a real sense of the depth and breadth of the mystery/crime/suspense field.

  5. Edmond D. Smith says:

    As to being unknown to a large number of readers I think you have to realize that the majority of people read very few books. Many others, and these are probably the folks who might write the occasional Amazon review, are sort of reading dilettantes, who read in a very shallow way, finding one or two writers they like in a given genre and nothing else. The folks like you, me and most of the people who visit this site, who read widely and are interested in authors, the art of writing etc are a very small minority. It’s kind I’d sad but it is what it is. No reflection on you, just on human nature.

  6. Mike Doran says:

    Often I’ve read or heard of some personage being referred to as a “comedian’s comedian” or “singer’s singer” or some such.
    This usually refers to someone who is held in high esteem by peers and contemporaries, while somehow never having had The Big Hit.
    As time moves on, I’m sensing that you fall into this category.
    Whenever your books come out, the reviews are mostly fave-to-rave, the blurbs are a who’s-who of top people, and those of us who’ve been MACphiles going back to the ’80s/90s are always at the ready to sing your praises.
    And yet … for some reason you don’t seem to get the glory level that certain manufacturers of bestsellers receive automatically.
    ROAD TO PERDITION should have made you a Household Name/Face; for a while it looked like the big brass ring was in your grasp.
    It surprised me to read your later accounts of Hollywood bureaucrats trying to ignore your role in your creation (i.e., actually creating it); it would have seemed to me that all media would have been knocking themselves out to promote RTP’s creator (and by extension all your other works) – and in an earlier era that might have been the case.
    I can imagine you perhaps turning up as a contestant on WHAT’S MY LINE? when you were just starting out, maybe fooling the panel with your boyish good looks, in contrast to your usual subject matter (I do recall your TO TELL THE TRUTH appearance in connection with DICK TRACY; I wish I had a recording of that show).
    (And I think I still have that THIRD DEGREE that you and Barb did years later on a stray VHS somewhere.)
    Still, I wonder how – and why – you (and Barb) never got tapped to go on the big talk shows, back when they still booked writers.
    And now those days are all but gone.
    (Prolonged and profound SIGH.)

    The bookstore comment:
    I’ve been spending a lot of my now-unlimited spare time going to whatever bookstores remain in operation in 2014.
    “The section where my work is shelved …”
    Surely you’ve noticed how much smaller that section is these days, as opposed to as little as five years ago.
    I go back to the days when Kroch & Brentano had almost as many stores in Chicago as Walgreen had drugstores.
    And there were other, smaller chains, and independents, and you could still buy books in department stores …
    … and books stayed in print a lot longer, and writers could command whole shelves of their earlier works, and there was no such thing as “demographics” …


    I’ve written all this before (whether I’ve gotten any better at it I’ll leave for you to decide).
    It was my good fortune to enter this wonderland as a teenager in the Sixties.
    Now, as a sixty-ager in the Teens, it all seems to be vanishing …
    Nertz Again.

    I guess the best that you and I can hope for is that the newbies develop sufficient curiosity to go looking for the earlier stuff.
    Maybe at long last someone outside the usual loop can start a groundswell for Max Allan Collins.
    Talk shows, magazine features, maybe a TV series for Brandy Borne (wouldn’t that make a great Cinemax running mate: “From the Creator of QUARRY! … honest.”)

    Hoping to see you soon at C&S.
    I promise to not be as depressing as this comment.
    (Who knows – I might even bring a CD!)

  7. More gracious comments. Thanks.

    Mike, you and everyone knew to know that I am grateful to people like you, and just grateful period, for the career I’ve been blessed to have. Things may yet come together in a bigger way, but as long as I can write books and get paid for it and read by an intelligent if limited audience, I am a happy chappyl