Monday, July 9, 2012

Observations — E-Books, Self Publishing And A Semi-Blatant Self Promotion

It’s been a few months since I advertently plugged my own books.   I intend to do so, but I will be subtle about it — partially burying my shamelessness through the clever mention of other authors.

I am often inspired by the posts on the lively and informative blog Murderati.  Some of the more recent posts center on e-books — the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of their increasing dominance.  An article in the most recent Mystery Scene Magazine by writer/blogger Kevin Burton Smith (also master of The Thrilling Detective web site and blog) talks about living writers whose early works are being reissued in electronic formats. I would add that in some cases even new books are being released only in digital formats — increasingly so by traditional publishers as well.

Life Death & Fog Books
It makes sense in both cases.  Why would a business create an expensive product, one that requires considerable upfront expense and then, if it works, redo it in a format that demands much, much less expense?  A traditional publisher might do it that way if they have a brand name author with predictable sales.  But, for the most part, it seems backward.  It is much smarter when the book is a bit risky, it seems to me, to see if the story works before buying the paper, turning on expensive presses, setting  the distribution channels in motion and preparing for significant returns of unsold copies. If the e-book soars, the publisher can always release it as a trade paperback.  And from my conversations with book store owners, new and used, it’s the hardback that is dying.

This, I believe, is also the attraction of e-books when reissuing the works of popular authors, but whose work has, one never appeared in electronic format, and two, though vetted and extremely worthwhile, might not find room on store bookshelves reserved for the branded best sellers.  The new technology provides at least three electronic approaches for the author:  One is do it yourself.  This is what I did. I set up Life Death and Fog Books and released the early Shanahans (1990-1995) and one never-before-published novella.  And this is what others have done.  Two, do some of publishing work yourself and work with a group of award-winning writers who share your interests and vision to promote each other’s books.  Top Suspense Group is a fine example of a band of talented writers getting together to offer mutual support for the reissue of previous books and, in some cases, to promote new ones.  The third way is to connect with an innovative traditional publisher who is willing to bring these writers into the stable and make these ebooks available in the ebook format.  Mysterious Press, with Open Road Integrated Media, has pioneered this method and is reissuing the work of some highly praised mystery writers never before available for Nook or Kindle readers.
Top Suspense Group

As readers, we have always had access to the legends.  Hammett, Chandler, Stout, Christie, MacDonald and many of the others, are always in print or, at worst, they are periodically reissued in new covers.  It hasn’t always been possible to get the not-quite-yet legendary writers that way.  Some of our best, and still-living crime fiction authors — Gar Anthony Haywood, Janet Dawson, Ed Gorman, Jeremiah Healy to name a very few — provide great reads.  Fortunately, ebooks can make their early novels available again and damn near forever.

The advantage for readers in this process is that it affords us a way to combat the unrelenting onslaught of self-published dreck, which in no way suggests that all self-published books are in that category.  And there is some adventure in the random sampling of books by unknown authors.  There are, no doubt, some diamonds among the glass. I expect they will rise in their own way.  But, for all those who might berate traditional publishers, they do some things most readers appreciate. First, they filter out work that has always given “vanity” press a bad name.  Second, and most important, they EDIT.  If novel passes through the hands and eyes of professionals, it’s not as likely to be a sloppy book.  The books listed by the Top Suspense Group and Mysterious Press are not just two avenues for writers, they help narrow the field to a more manageable size from which the reader can select.

I strongly suspect that the smart, new writers, including those who wish to self-publish in some fashion, will approach the e-book market this way as well.  In addition to their likely comfort with the “new media” in terms of marketing, they will find ways to make sure there are not only means by which their work can be discovered, but also processes that will insure the product is a good one, at least qualitatively.
From Mysterious Press

Meanwhile, I don’t believe there is a single, right approach to meet the changing marketplace and the demands of a wide variety of readers.  Just as innovative publishers will find a way to deal with technology, so too will innovative libraries and bookstores.

On the other hand, as writers, there is a craving for more freedom, some of us anyway.  We can now write longer or shorter works instead of being coerced into writing books based on publisher-imposed guidelines.  And in fact, the idea of varying lengths of fiction and the application of appropriate, variable pricing can make this approach more appealing to the readers.  If I want a book to get me from O’Hare to LaGuardia, I might want a novella, not a short story and not a 500-page blockbuster that I would consider for Maui beach reading.  On the other hand, if I’m commuting from San Francisco to Palo Alto on the train, a short story is just fine for 99 cents.

Personally, I want to be on the bookshelves of libraries and bookstores and on the e-book bestseller list.  I also want to work with publishers who know the process and the marketplace to extend my reach.  AND I want to be able to strike out on my own to take the book from the first sentence to something I can hold in my hand.  This can be good news for the reader as well as publishers, bookstores and libraries who adjust to the changing times.  We all have more options.


1 comment:

Teri-on-the-sandbar said...

You'll always be at the very top of my best-seller list.