I posted some earlier comments from Patricia Ryan (pictured at the left), who is part of a wave of emerging self-publishers who are releasing not new books, but rather, their own print backlists. Patricia was kind enough to answer some further questions on how she went from published category romance author to self-publishing indie e-author. Enjoy!
THE EXPERIENCE OF PRINT PUBLISHING
Patricia began writing category romances in the early 90’s. As she explains: “I had read a bunch of category romances that didn’t do much for me, a few that were really pretty good, and one–The Black Sheep, a Silhouette Desire by Laura Leone (Laura Resnick)–that was terrific–witty, sophisticated, character-driven, well-crafted. It made me realize that some really excellent writers were working in that sub-genre, inspired me to write at the top of my game, and gave me a sincere appreciation for that kind of book”
The one frustration she has involved the series books. Many publishers would declare a book out of print as soon as sales slowed, which meant that readers who discovered a series with a later book could often not find the earlier ones in print so they could go back and read the whole thing. One of her primary motivations for getting back control of the backlist was to satisfy these readers and make sure that someone who wanted to real the whole series from the beginning could do so.
MAKING THE EBOOK CHOICE
Patricia says she has always ‘been a big fan of ebooks’ (she has a Sony 505 and reads on the Kindle for PC app as well) so she says there was ‘no question’ as to what form the books would take. But researching the options involved a few decisions. As she explains: ‘For a few months, I researched the market and my various options, which boiled down to a) signing with an e-publisher, or b) publishing them myself through Amazon’s Kindle Store and Smashwords. I investigated the reputable e-publishers and weighed the pros and cons of going that route. On the plus side, they would handle all the formatting, create the covers, secure the ISBNs, and promote and distribute the books through their already-established channels. But they would also hold onto the electronic publishing rights for any number of years and pay me a royalty rate that amounted to roughly half of what I would make through self-publishing.’
Ultimately, Patricia concluded that she had nothing to lose since she could always just ‘un-publish’ them and submit them elsewhere if need be. She has an art background (a BFA in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute) and enjoyed the process of designing the covers and getting the books ready for submission The oldest books existed only in print form and had to be scanned and converted, which was the part int he process that took the longest and was most tedious.
RECEPTION OF THE BOOKS
Patricia says she has been ‘happy with my sales so far, and really gratified to be able to email my mystery readers and let them know they can finally get the first few books in the series.’ But she says too that she was ‘blissfully unaware’ of the extent of the on-line reading community and did not discover Teleread, Mobile Read and the Kindle boards until after the fact. As she explains:
‘I get Google alerts when certain phrases show up online–my name, the titles of my books, etc. The morning after I published the first batch of backlist ebooks, my inbox was filled with Google alerts! I was stunned. People were talking about me and the books in blogs and forums all over the ‘Net. All that instantaneous buzz, and I hadn’t done a single thing at that point except to upload the books to Kindle and Smashwords. That told me there’s a real hunger out there for reasonably priced ebooks of proven quality.’
Patricia has also been working with other authors on creating a sort of clearinghouse where readers can find, on one page, a ‘central list of authors with out-of-print books being republished as ebooks.’ To that end, she has set up a page to collect this information.
ADVICE FOR OTHER AUTHORS IN HER SHOES
Obviously, Patricia is passionate about getting other authors—the established, the new as yet undiscovered—into the ebook game like her. To that end, she has some advice for the aspiring digital author:
‘The best advice I can give to other authors with out-of-print books they would like to reissue digitally is to study the Smashwords Style Guide backward and forward, and use it as your bible. Take your time formatting your books; make sure they’re just right. When writing the description that’s going to appear on your book’s sales page, mention that it was originally published in print form, eg. “Originally published by NAL.” Readers appreciate knowing that a book has been professionally vetted and edited. It’s a selling point. And find a way to come up with professional-quality covers. There are graphic artists doing this now for a reasonable price. Ask around.’
Patricia also spoke about writing as a profession. She says she does earn an income—a modest one—from her work, and knows other novelists who do as well. I earn an income, such as it is, solely from writing, and I know quite a few other novelists who do, as well. With ‘the right combination of good planning and luck’ it can be possible to quit your day job. As she explains:
‘It helps if the kind of fiction you most love to read and write happens to belong to a popular commercial genre. And it’s critically important to aim for writing great fiction that you yourself would want to read, as opposed to pandering to trends. It doesn’t hurt to do what I did, and write two different kinds of books–maybe even under two different names–for two different publishers. And if you want a long career as a working writer, you can’t be afraid to evolve artistically.’
ON HOW SHE SEES THE INDUSTRY EVOLVING
Patricia is confident in the ability of publishing as an industry to survive. Thus far, her ebooks have been reprints of books which got their start in print. She still writes for traditional print publishers, although she has not ruled out a digital orginial. As far as the industry as a whole is concerned, Patricia says ‘one thing about capitalism… profit always finds a way. If one channel of revenue seems to be drying up, others will get carved out of the marketplace.’
As far as evolution for the customer, she does see an end to DRM, geographical restrictions and other customer-repelling practices. As she explains:
‘Restrictions that make it difficult for paying customers to buy and enjoy your product are never good for any industry, and are often a challenge to enforce, as people find ways around them.’
On an emotional level as an author, she decries the ‘wild west mentality’ of the internet and feels ‘feel victimized, on a very real and visceral level, when I find one of my books being offered for illegal free downloading.’ But on a practical level, she admits that most people ‘are not naturally larcenous’ and are perfectly willing to pay for content that is quick and easy to purchase. Speaking from personal experience, I can attest that this is true!
I am grateful to Patricia for her time and patience in answering my questions. She was a pleasure to speak with and I can personally recommend her books on Smashwords. Thanks again, Patricia!