Cory Doctorow and Joe Konrath are not the only e-pushing authors with already-planted stakes in the dead tree world! A growing cohort of Smashwords authors established writers who have regained rights to some or all of their backlist titles and have chosen to e-issue it themselves. A recent encounter I had with Patricia Ryan, who is one of them, first alerted me to this growing trend.
THE BEAUTY OF THE INTERNET, PART 1: AS A MATCHMAKER
Ryan found her way to me through a recommendation a Mobile Read user made to me when I was looking for some new titles. I had some Paypal balance to burn and did not want to incur transfer fees, so I wanted some Smashwords recommendations. I was especially interested in books that were either part of a series (so that I could have more than one to read if I liked it) or were non-fiction or historical-based so that I might get immersed in a world and maybe learn something. Patricia Ryan’s mystery novels, set in the 19th century, fit the bill perfectly.
THE BEAUTY OF THE INTERNET, PART 2: AS A PR TOOL
Now, here is where the true beauty of the internet kicks in: Ryan had apparently set up a Google Alert on herself, and when her name came up at Mobile Read, she found out we were talking about her and came on over. She personally thanked each person who mentioned buying one of her books, addressed some concerns about formatting and sought feedback on what readers wanted to see next. Well-played, Patricia Ryan! This is the first time I have heard of someone using Google Alerts to run their own self-PR!
We had a fascinating exchange on ebook publishing, both from the reader and writer standpoints. Some highlights of our discussion (note: this is posted with her permission!) below:
MY OPENING SALVO: I really appreciate authors, especially established ones, who embrace the digital age and do not put up barriers to people getting the books. I had some issues recently…now I try to buy more often from places like Smashwords that treat paying customers like me more fairly.
PATRCIA, ON EMBRACING THE DIGITAL AGE: I, for one, have no problem embracing the digital age, which, in the two weeks since my books went up on Smashwords and Kindle, has been very, very good to me. I’m delighted to be able to offer these books at a price guaranteed to expand my readership. I’m pretty sure that when other authors realize how smart it is to self-publish their backlist for reasonable prices, there will be lots more great ebooks to choose from.
PATRICIA, ON WHY SHE CHOSE SELF-PUBLISHING: If it’s already been traditionally published, as my books have, other traditional publishers aren’t generally interested in bringing them out again. E-publishers are, but when I looked into how long they keep the rights, what they’re paying, etc. etc., I decided self-publishing was the way to go, and it would appear I made the right decision. Lots of sales and blog buzz, and I didn’t do anything but send out an e-newsletter to my mailing list. Really, this is the wave of the future. Within the next year, I’m sure lots of authors will be publishing their backlist this way–which is good news for all us readers who love great books at cheap prices!
ME, ON WHAT I WISH AUTHORS WOULD UNDERSTAND: I think for me—and this is the point I think it is vital for authors to understand, and most don’t yet—it is not about ‘cheap’ prices, so much as it is about fair prices, and fair treatment. For example, with my hard drive crash where I could not re-download the handful of books which had escaped backup. I had bought and paid for these. I am the good customer. I did not pirate them or whatever. But the store was very unsympathetic and just sent me a form email saying there was nothing they could do. Similarly, with backlist books. Some Stephen King books I was interested in were selling in ebook for a hardback price, and these were a decade and a half old! I am not out to deprive authors of a fair price for their work. I respect what they they do. But I am not stupid either…
ME, ON WHY I LIKE THIS NEW BACKLIST TREND: What I like about authors re-publishing their backlists is that I can go the ‘indie’ route as it were, but still get quality, proven books. Sometimes at Smashwords, it starts to feel like the world’s biggest slushpile. It’s nice to have more authors putting their stuff out in customer-friendly ways who ARE proven successes.
PATRICIA’S BUSINESS-SAVVY REPLY: Wow, that’s a really good post, and you articulate some great points. Book piracy is a big problem right now, so honest customers who are willing to pay a fair price are more valuable than ever to authors and publishers. Respect goes both ways. Everyone knows it costs less to digitally republish a previously published book than it does to publish one from scratch, either traditionally or electronically. There can be costs involved–scanning and converting older titles, cover art–but with a digital reprint, there’s no editing or marketing staff to pay, no manufacturing or physical distribution. I actually worked in the publishing industry when I lived in NYC years ago, and I can tell you the profit margin for traditional books is pretty freakin slim. So charging the same amount of money for a digital reprint as for a newly published book… how can that not feel like a rip-off? I’m not saying other authors republishing their backlist need to price their work at $2.99, like me. I’m trying to introduce my books to new readers and build my audience. But I do think we need to be realistic.
MY REPLY ON THE PIRACY ISSUE: What a great attitude, Patricia! Book piracy IS a problem in some circles (although my opinion is, it is less of a problem than people think, and there are other things which are greater problems) but to me, the greater mistake would be to sacrifice the real, true customers one already has in order to try and address a small population who was never going to buy it in the first place. I have proven myself as a book buyer. I probably spend at least $50 a month, between things like cookbooks which I still prefer to buy in paper, and fiction which I always buy in ebook. It continues to boggle my mind that publishers don’t want to make it as easy as possible to extract this money from me. When business is already tough, why make it harder than it has to be?
THE FIRST WAVE?
I think Patricia Ryan is on the tip of the first wave of a new genre of ebook here: the established author e-publishing their own former print books. Since my initial exchange with her, the following other authors have come out of the blog and message board woodwork with self-published ebooks of backlist titles originally published through mainstream publishers: William Meikle, Scott Nicholson, Kevin J. Anderson, Alexis Harrington, Mike Stackpole, Tim Myers, F. Paul Wilson, Patricia Rice, Mark T. Sullivan, Jon F. Merz, Jan Strnad, Barbara Hambly, Michael McCollum, Jeffrey A. Carver, Jane Fancher/C.J. Cherryh/Lynne Abbey at Closed Circle and over 30 authors including Ursula K. LeGuin at Bookview Cafe.
This is, as far as I am concerned, a win-win situation. These authors can gain new fans (and a new revenue stream!) in a satisfying way that lets them interact with their fans and frees them from the restrictions of a publishing contract. And readers can purchase affordable but professional-calibre ebooks in a friendly format and with growing convenience, no DRM or geo-restrictions needed. If publishers continue to miss the boat, both on how they treat authors and how they treat customers, they stand to miss out on a potentially huge share of the e-pie!
Patricia Ryan has not only consented to my posting of her comments here, but also to doing an interview here at Teleread to answer any questions about her books, her self-publishing experience, or anything else want to ask her about. If you have a question you want to ask, leave it in the comments below!