Monday, October 10, 2011

Opinion — E-Book Publishing, Small is Beautifull

There always seems to be a dark side to technical advances. Nuclear fission, pretty fantastic. Atom bomb, not so good. With the skyrocketing success of e-books we’re witnessing the downfall of big brick and mortar bookstores. Initially the technology also appears to be a threat to smaller independent and specialized bookshops and is causing a confused scrambling among those throughout the publishing business. Traditional publishing is still trying to find a little topsy in the midst of tumultuous turvy.

The absolute truth is that none of us really knows exactly how all of this will turn out and what it will mean to any of us — writers, readers, distributors or publishers. But many of us are encouraged in one area — ebooks not only allow writers to publish their own out-print books, but package their work in different ways and, in fact, manifest work that quite likely wouldn’t be welcomed by publishers forced to tailor products for mainstream markets. Bookstores too. It’s difficult to imagine any bookstore owner looking forward to selling short stories, one at a time— except maybe City Lights in San Francisco.

Recently, I published a novella-length prequel to my San Francisco series, Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin. This is a book most publishers would not even consider because of its length. The agent I had at the time I submitted the manuscript simply responded: “What am I supposed to do with this?” He had already found it worthwhile in screenplay form. But as a book? It was clear that 40,000 words fell short of the bar and therefore it wouldn’t make the rounds of Manhattan’s coterie of acquisition editors. However, because ebook technology exists and is (relatively*) easily accessible, writers are able to publish their writing in the manner and form they prefer. Short-story writers can publish their work, one story at a time, if they want. And they do. And novella writers can gamble that the public might find this length appealing, especially if it is priced accordingly. Putting it out in paper might be cost prohibitive for the writer as well. But ebooks? We’re seeing a bunch of 99-cent “books,” these days.

In August Michael Z. Lewin wrote a small piece for this blog’s Old Gold section about how he planned to use the new medium “I intend,” he said, “to put more than just the Samsons out there electronically. Other older books too, but also new work. The book I’m working on now will go straight to electronic formats without even being offered to conventional publishers.”

The “Samsons” referred to Lewin’s private detective series featuring Albert Samson. One book in the series, Eye Opener, set in Indianapolis, has been made available electronically and he has now made good on his promise to release a new book on his own, directly and electronically. Family Trio is a small book, three stories really, about the Lunghi family, who operate a private detective agency in Bath, England. And, as a side note, just as Lewin was a pioneer in the creation of regional American private detectives, he might be able to claim another first. Carol Harper, of Deadly Pleasures, said of the Lunghi stories, “I can think of no other series, anywhere, which features a family which owns and works from a private detection firm…. Highly recommended”

The beauty of Family Trio for this posting, though, is that Lewin uses the ebook format as a chance to offer readers a collection of short stories not just as part of his highly regarded series, but also as standalone tales. These are complete reads, just the right length when you’re not in the mood to commit to a 500-page blockbuster, perfect for a short flight, an afternoon at the beach or at bedtime when you don’t want to stay up all night to get closure. The fact that this brevity can be and often is proportionally priced as well — a mere $1.25 in this case — is another benefit that ebooks can offer the reader.

It’s important to note that many of us who are expanding our offerings in various ways aren’t abandoning conventional publishing. Family Way, Lewin’s third Lunghi novel in a series Booklist called “…mordantly funny, beguiling in the extreme” will be published by Five Star and released in December. It’s good to know that there will be more than one way to read a Lunghi mystery. Of course, there are many readers waiting for the next Albert Samson novel as well.

There are several other writers doing this, offering great writing in various lengths and various formats. If nothing else, the ebook revolution has been a boon to the reader and writer, both of whom want choices.

For other ebook choices, you might want to visit Top Suspense Group, a collective of 12 highly respected crime writers offering dozens of e-book titles.

*The word “relatively” is important. Ebook publishing is not as simple as some have suggested.

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