August 25, 2011

Viva La Revolution! More Established Authors are Self-Publishing eBooks

Today, we feature a guest blog from BlueInk Review critic Paul Goat Allen. Allen talks to author Adam Pepper about why Pepper has chosen to self-publish his new novel. In the interchange that follows, Pepper is candid about the good, bad and ugly of the traditional publishing world .

By Paul Goat Allen

Bob Dylan said it best: “the times they are a-changin’.” Publishing is in the midst of a revolutionary paradigm shift. According to a recent article in Publishers Weekly, e-book sales increased 159.8% in the first quarter of 2011, selling $233.1 million worth of product. Even just a few years ago, if I were to speculate that digital books would be outselling print books in 2011, most people in the business would have called me crazy. Heck, I would have called me crazy!

But that’s just the tip of this iceberg – more and more established authors are self-publishing their own work digitally. In a recent – and by now famous – interview, thriller novelist Barry Eisler (The Lost Coast, Inside Out) revealed that he turned down a $500,000, two-book deal from St. Martin’s imprint of Minotaur to self-publish e-books. Here’s an excerpt of the interview:

“There’s a saying about the railroads: they thought they were in the railroad business, when in fact they were in the transportation business. So when the interstate highway system was built and trucking became an alternative, they were hit hard.

“Likewise, publishers have naturally conflated the specifics of their business model with the generalities of the industry they’re in. As you say, they’re not in the business of delivering books by paper – they’re in the business of delivering books. And if someone can do the latter faster and cheaper than they can, they’re in trouble.”

An article posted on the Washington Post website a few months ago tracked the earnings of prolific horror and thriller author Joe Konrath, who began self-publishing his books online in 2009. “That April [of 2009], he made $700. In April 2010, he made about $4,000. A screen shot of his Kindle account for a period ending in late April of this year showed him netting $78,231.16 in six weeks.”

Another author to test the digital self-publishing waters is Adam Pepper, a small press novelist who has, in the past, audaciously explored hot-button topics many writers would tiptoe around. His debut novel Memoria (2003) revolves around a demented genius that is obsessed with unlocking the secrets of the soul. Super Fetus (2009) is a powerful social commentary veiled as a novella about a sentient fetus trying to escape a morally bankrupt mother bent on killing him.

The news that Pepper was digitally self-publishing a paranormal fantasy novel entitled Symphony of Blood intrigued me for two reasons – first, I was curious as to why a seemingly successful small press novelist with a cult following would self-publish, and secondly, I was even more curious why a writer renowned for his insanely original storylines would write a “mainstream” paranormal fantasy.

I spoke with Adam about his newest novel, a seamless blend of hard-boiled mystery and dark fantasy that features 42-year old Hank Mondale, a down-and-out private investigator who happens to also an be alcoholic with a gambling problem. A real estate mogul hires him for a seemingly insane job: to track down and destroy a monster that is trying to kill his spoiled 19-year old daughter Mackenzie. Mondale accepts the job immediately but soon realizes that this alleged monster is linked to a series of brutal murders that his police friend Victor Ortega is investigating – murders where the corpses have been hollowed out: “like someone ate them from the inside out.”

Pepper has penned a fluid and highly entertaining paranormal fantasy that mainstream readers should devour, especially those fans who enjoy their paranormal fantasy with a generous helping of gritty mystery.

I had many questions. I contacted Adam…

Adam, you’re an established author who has been involved in this publishing game for a long time. What led you to self-publish an ebook?

“It’s hard for me to tell my story without sounding bitter. But the truth is, I’m cynical and disenchanted, which is not the same thing. I’ve spent over a decade circling the periphery of the publishing business. I’ve written five novels, had two agents and racked up hundreds of rejections, but came up short in trying to land a mass market deal. I did have some success in the small press, as you so graciously mentioned, but I have loftier aspirations, and working in the small press will always be a glorified hobby. I’ve watched many friends and colleagues land deals with big publishing houses, and I’ve always been happy for their successes, but I won’t concede they were “better” than me. Their work simply resonated with one person in a position of power. Bottom line, publishing is a crapshoot and until recently without a deal, authors could do nothing but wait in line and hope for a break. But the landscape is quickly changing. Digital technology and the internet are the great equalizers. Authors no longer need a publisher, what they need is an audience. I see an opportunity to connect directly with readers and that’s why I’ve decided to go it alone.”

What are some other advantages (or disadvantages) for an author contemplating going this route? And do you think we’ll continue seeing more established authors like yourself traveling this route?

“There is no doubt we’ll see more authors self-publishing. As I’m sure you know, the bookstores are under tremendous pressure and that means a huge revenue stream for publishers is in danger. The advantage of self-publishing for the author is total control of each and every step of the process – and of course, money. I keep approximately 65-70% of each sale of a self-published book whereas traditional publishers are offering 25%. Authors accept that because they want to get in the bookstores and the big publishers have held a stranglehold on distribution. But as popularity of digital books continues to rise, why will authors continue to give away such a huge piece of their revenue? Cookbooks and textbooks may be here to stay but popular fiction has always been dominated by cheap paperbacks. Those are quickly being replaced by ebooks and little guys like me have access to the same distribution channels as the biggest publishing houses.”

Do you think this indie movement is the future of publishing?

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but things are changing rapidly. Publishing is in flux. Business models will have to evolve or face going under. New players will continue to pop up. Amazon has started its own publishing arm. Perhaps BN will follow suit. J.K. Rowling has announced a self-publishing venture, and I’m sure more big names will explore it too. For those aspiring to get in the game, self-publishing gives a writer a shot to get noticed. Readers are clamoring for inexpensive options. Ultimately, it’s going to be the consumer who determines the future of publishing.”

Okay, let’s talk about your book. Not only does Symphony of Blood mark a new direction for you publishing-wise, the novel itself is a dramatic departure for you. I’ve enjoyed your writing over the years because I never know what I’m going to get. Symphony of Blood is essentially mainstream paranormal fantasy  very much comparable to Green’s Nightside, Richardson’s Greywalker saga, Butcher’s Dresden Files, etc. Did the commercial success of the aforementioned authors, as well as the phenomenal popularity of HBO’s True Blood, CW’s The Vampire Diaries, etc., inspire you to try your hand in this rapidly evolving genre?

I wrote Symphony of Blood in 2008 with the hopes of publishing it traditionally. I had written two novels that were too far out there to land a deal and I wanted to write something a little more commercial. I had an agent but it didn’t work out. There’s no question I was gunning for Butcher and Simon Green’s audiences. In fact, those were the two names I compared the book to in my pitch letters to agents and editors.

The deeply flawed hero of Symphony of Blood reminded me of you in some ways – his tenacity, in particular. How much of Hank is you?

“Hank is a loveable loser…so, hopefully not too much!… But all fiction captures a small piece of the author in it.”

How did the experience of writing Symphony differ from that of your more unconventional works?

“I had a blast writing it. There is a fine line. You want to be unique but work within the conventions readers expect. I’ve always enjoyed work that meshes different elements so combining fantasy, horror and hard boiled mystery came very naturally. I do plan to continue in this genre, but not exclusively. One great thing about self-publishing is the freedom to write whatever I want.”

Symphony of Blood is the first in a series featuring Hank Mondale. What are your long-term plans for Hank and company?

“I am working on a sequel. It’s darker than the first. Hank’s life continues to spiral out of control. And those who love him, his mother, Sandy, his secretary and best buddy, Victor, can only watch helplessly. I won’t spoil any plotlines, but I will say some eggs hatch. Up next for me though is a brutal crime novel with a traditional love story, think Reservoir Dogs meets Romeo and Juliet. It’s already done so I just have to polish it, format it, and get cover art. I expect to have it out within a few months.”

Okay, we’ve talked about the advantages of authors self-publishing digitally – what are the advantages (or disadvantages) for the reader?

“The most obvious advantage for the reader at this point is price. I don’t have the tremendous overhead the NY publishers have. So I can charge far less. You compared my latest novel to Jim Butcher. My book is $2.99, his new ebook release is $14.99. Is his book five times better than mine? Would a reader prefer to buy one Jim Butcher book, or books by me and four other authors? I can’t answer that question, but the consumers will. The disadvantages, some would argue, is in the product itself. But I would dispute that. My book stacks up with any major release, from artwork to content and everything in between.”

You talked about how traveling this route can give authors essentially unlimited narrative freedom and financial autonomy as well. It almost sounds like you’re talking about a revolution…

“Sharpen the guillotines! Seriously, I don’t want to be accused of hyperbole and melodrama, but there are seismic shifts happening in the industry. What we are seeing is a redistribution of power. For a long time, a very small group of people have controlled what the masses have access to reading. Things are quickly become more democratized. Some people fear this change. They claim without corporate filtering, readers will get lost in the “tsunami of crap.” But readers deserve more credit. Consumers are very proficient at finding what they want through search engines and social networks. Corporations are built to cater to the masses. Indie authors can cater to individuals and small groups that will reward them with fierce loyalty. If it truly is a revolution, Viva la revolution!”

Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades. He has written thousands of reviews for companies like The Chicago Tribune, BarnesandNoble.com and Publishers Weekly, in addition to BlueInk Review. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.


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