Lee Goldberg has written everything from pulp thriller novels to feature film scripts to television shows — even the tie-in novels related to those television shows.

He’s a living counterpoint to those who contend that writers should focus exclusively on one kind of project, and to give you an idea of the range of his career, he’s even recently become an advocate for self-publishing ebooks (though he admits it’s not for everyone).

Lee Goldberg

Lee Goldberg, Mr. Versatility

He clearly possesses a lively entrepreneurial mind, and serves as a good example of the writer as marketer; he just launched a multi-author series of pulp/horror/mystery books aimed at the ebook market.

He’s also written scripts for the much-missed Spenser: For Hire TV series, wrote and produced the Diagnosis Murder TV series (for which he also wrote the tie-in novels), other TV shows, a feature film and several short films (you can read his own bio page here.)

His blog is active and informative, and he refuses to answer questions about his whereabouts during the Roswell Incident, which we frankly find suspicious.

Now to the interview…

Your Career

Q: You just launched a new multi-author pulp/horror/mystery book series titled The Dead Man. In terms of workflow, it appears to be an interesting mix of individual novels and TV-style group writing; how are you organizing multiple writers around one central character–and keeping everyone on track?

We have a private google group that we use to keep writers up-to-date on what everyone else is doing, stories in development, creative issues writers are having with their DEAD MAN tales, etc.

Q: Are you using any special tools to accomplish this? Version control, cloud, etc?

Only Google Groups and Dropbox.

Q: How many writers will you ultimately involve in the series? Are you acting as an editor?

We have a dozen now, My guess is that we might add three or four others, but I think the core group is likely to do more than one book each.

Q: Four Dead Man books are out (with a fifth on the way). Assuming this series was aimed primarily at the ebook market, can you tell us about the percentage of print vs digital sales of the series?

Right now, the majority of sales are in the ebook format… easily 95% or more.

Q: You’ve written tie-in novels for several series (Diagnosis Murder, Monk, etc); how hard is it to write a character who is seen every week on TV — one who is loved and studied by most of your readers?

I am used to it. Remember, I come from the world of episodic television, where I have written and produced thousands of hours. This is basically what I have been doing for the last twenty-plus years. I find it very easy and comfortable for me. I’ve also been careful to only write tie-in novels based on series I was involved with on television. I was the executive producer/principle writer of Diagnosis Murder for many years and was a freelancer on Monk.

Q: Do you expect to write more tie-in novels? Produce more TV series? Are you attempting to break into features?

I don’t expect to do any more tie-in novels outside of MONK… but I certainly hope to write & produce more TV series. I’ve written many feature scripts over the years, only one of which has been made so far (FAST TRACK: NO LIMITS). But another one is in the works, based on Victor Gischler’s novel GUN MONKEYS, with a major star attached.

Q: You have mentioned that your age — and even your experience — tend to work against you in Hollywood. Can you elaborate?

It’s nothing new. Ageism has always run rampant in Hollywood. Now, 40 is the new 70. Networks and studios always favor fresh, hot, young voices… unless you’ve already made them a billion dollars at the box office or created/produced a hit series.

Q: You recently blogged about participating in a script punch-up meeting; are you looking for a new/changed career?

Nope. I am a working writer. I go where the jobs are… or where they are willing to hire me.

The Working Writer

Q: You came to writing early; you wrote and sold your first novel while still in college. How many novels have you written over the course of your career?

Eight Diagnosis Murder novels, 13 Monk novels, four Jury novels, My Gun Has Bullets, Dead Space, Watch Me Die, and The Walk.

Q: In an era where a lot of “experts” suggest you have to specialize to succeed, you write in several different formats (novels, online, TV, etc); how has that versatility paid off during your career?

It’s kept me alive. I have never put all of my eggs in one basket. So when TV lets me down, the books pick up the slack, and vice-versa. I also work as a TV consultant to studios and networks around the world.

Q: How do you approach new projects when you have little or no experience with that kind of writing (e.g. — your first script, your first novel, first tie-in novel, etc)?

With terror… and excitement. I like challenging myself. I keeps me sharp. I usually begin by researching the subject and talking to experts in it… before tackling it myself.

Q: As a writer, do you find it difficult to switch between novels, scriptwriting, etc?

Nope.

Q: Some writers are very touchy about their work process; are you tied to any specific editor or word processor?

I write my novels in Microsoft Word…and by hand. I write scripts in Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter (I prefer MMS over FD).

Q: Any quirky writing habits that would immediately endear you to my readers?

I write in the nude while listening to TV themes. I’m joking, of course. I at least wear underwear.

Q: You’ve got a pretty active online presence; how much time are you investing in your blog, interviews, social media, etc?

Way too much. In fact, I shouldn’t even be answering these questions.

Q: Writing professionally means dealing with tight deadlines, yet “writer’s block” is still a hot topic among writers. How do you make yourself “creative” on a deadline?

It’s the deadline that makes me creative. I do much better when I have a drop-dead date. I have never missed a deadline, even when I had an accident and broke both of my arms.

Q: Any advice for novice writers, or observations about the mistakes they make over and over and over and over…?

Avoid clichés.

Goldberg on Ebooks

Q: You’ve been remarkably candid about your success selling ebooks — even down to revealing actual revenues (which writers rarely disclose publicly). Do you think you’ll be taking any more “standard” book contracts, or are you solidly on the self-publishing track?

I never say never…but at this point, it seems likely I will stick with self-publishing. Or at least demand the same level of royalties in any print contract.

Q: Any advice for writers contemplating self-publishing via POD and ebooks?

Lots. Check out my blog. The big one: just because you can self-publish with a click doesn’t mean you should. There’s an awful lot of people uploading unreadable, unpublishable, often illiterate swill on Kindle, Smashwords, etc. these days.

Q: Writers are often poor marketers, yet marketing ability is fast becoming de riguer for writers maturing in the digital age. Any hints for writers trying to puzzle it out?

Marketing has always been part of the job. It’s nothing new. Neither is the fact that most writers suck at it. But if you want to succeed, it’s a necessary to promote your work any way you can.

“If You Were A Tree” Questions

Q: You’ve got a long list of TV credits, and like me, you pretty clearly grew up on the TV shows of the 70s (suggesting brain rot), which leads us to perhaps the most critical questions of the interview:

  • Best TV theme song of all time? Hawaii Five-O
  • Maryanne or Ginger? Mary Ann
  • Interested in co-writing a script that will bring the unappreciated, near-certain Oscar winner “Run Joe Run” to the big screen? No, I am busy working on Manimal.

6/29/2011 UPDATE

Lee Goldberg just posted this update on his blog about his TV career, which was not all that much in evidence recently while he pursued the ebook stuff. It’s an interesting glimpse into Hollywood, with what appears to an abundance of disappointment wrapped in a lot of hustling, work — and the occasional sizable payout. Not my cup of tea, but perhaps yours…

Useful links to Lee Goldberg’s Online Universe:

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