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Movies and the big time

I remember when my first book was published, I spent the next year going to all the mystery conferences because it was up for a couple of awards. (Which it didn’t get, but I did sit next to some winners and got to hear the sound they make when they win – it’s kind of a surprised squeal.)

Anyway, the buzz was all about Harlen Coben. At that point, he had written a series of well-liked paperback-only mysteries about a sportswriter that were known informally as the “blood balls” series because each cover featured a bloody ball for a particular sport. But then everything changed, and I heard it was because of a movie deal. Even before Tell No One was published, it was sold for a rumored cool million to Columbia Pictures. News of that movie deal seemed to shimmer about Harlen at Bouchercon. It was like the magic touch. Everything he wrote after that seemed to show up on the bestseller list.

Then the movie deal fell apart, I guess. Read more here about what happened.

But surprise, surprise! It went on to be made into a movie in France that is getting rave reviews in America. And now there’s talk of remaking it in English, and of making more movies of Harlen’s books.

One thing I find kind of eye-popping: he says one book sold 1 million copies IN FRANCE.

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I met Harlan Coben back when he was the author of a bunch of paperback mysteries about a sportswriter. They were well liked, but not that well known, funny and hardboiled. Readers in the know knew that they were jokingly called “the bloody balls” books because each cover pictured one.

Then Harlan wrote his break-out book, Tell No One, which had a great hook and not a lot of joking, and suddenly he was in hardcover and there was a lot of gossip about million dollar deals and movie rights. (The hook was that a man’s wife has been murdered by a serial killer, yet a mysterious e-mail arrives on the anniversary of their first kiss, which leads him to wonder whether she might still be alive. The one problem I had with the book is that the author withholds some major, major information, but it was still a fun read, with a few characters named after folks everyone knows in the mystery community.) (Full disclosure: I wonder if the reviewer at PW is now eating his words in his review for that book: “The publisher will pitch this as a summer beach read, and it's not a bad one. In fact, it may outsell Coben's mysteries, despite its flaws.” Uh, yeah, in spades!)

So I guess when you get really famous, first they re-issue all your old paperback originals in new packages. And then they try to wring some more money from the market and issue them all in hardcover. As a reviewer, I just got one, Drop Shot, which was only the second in the paperback series. So they’ve got five more books to pimp out to readers who might think they are getting a new thriller, when actually they are getting his old sportswriter series books.

I just hope the rights had reverted back to him by the time that happened.

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