51WNKSQG0BL._SL500_AA300_.jpgCory 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.


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.


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?


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!


  1. Thanks for the heads-up about Patricia Ryan! I’m always interested in historical romance authors who use time periods other than Regency. I went to Amazon and bought a few of her ebooks. I’m also glad that on the Amazon book listings she noted that there is another Patricia Ryan writing romances to distinguish herself.

    I’m glad you also listed Alexis Harrington’s backlist and her reasonably priced ebooks. She also uses unusual time periods for her historical romances; the one I read was set during the Yukon Gold Rush.

  2. Great post. This is definitely the future, and we hope to see more traditionally-published authors taking control of their back-listed work and bringing it back to life.

    It seems appropriate in this era that the author controls the publishing and writing aspect, and it is the consumer who determines who will be successful and who will not. We don’t see that there needs to be a middleman publisher deciding what readers will read as if we are all 8-year-olds.

    Association of Independent Authors (AiA)

  3. One of the reasons I find this trend encouraging, Mel, is that in the past when I have written to authors over issues such as a book I wanted to buy being geo-restricted or unavailable, most of them said little more but ‘yeah, that’s not really up to us.’ I feel that these self-publishing writers are more responsive to what readers want because they DO control the process and they do want to see these books reach new readers. And as a reader, I have seen so much self-published dreck out there that it is nice to have books to choose from that we KNOW have been through some kind of editorial process! I am 100% in favour of authors going this route and will definitely buy this type of book in the future if the genre and sample interest me.

  4. Argh, I just wrote a long comment and hit Subscribe instead of Submit Comment, and now it’s lost in the blogosphere. Let’s see… I started off by thanking Joanna for the article and the author of the first comment for buying my books. I love it when people buy them in bunches! You mentioned my ubiquitous notices–I’m putting them everywhere–about the other Patricia Ryan (if that really is her–or his–name) who started publishing romance ebooks in November for Extasy Books. This person is writing in my genre, using my real, legal name, under which I’ve been publishing romance since 1995. When I search for “Patricia Ryan” on Amazon or B&N and see her books come up along with mine, I get literally sick to my stomach. I mean, literally.

    Absolutely, Melanie–digital publication of backlist by the authors is the wave of the future. Although I support indie publishing (obviously) and I buy ebook originals, I do still feel there’s a place for professional editors–but the publishing business model must, and will, change. Check out this article, Part 1 of 2, by Richard Curtis, which was posted on ereads.com yesterday (which you’ve probably already seen, because it was first published in the Spring): http://ereads.com/

    Joanna, your comment about readers complaining to authors about not being able to find their books really struck a nerve with me. After Berkley started letting books in their mystery series go out of print (do not get me started), I was inundated–for years–with emails from readers who’d discovered the Nell Sweeney series mid-stream and wanted to get their hands on the earlier books. (More than anything, they wanted to see Will as he was when Nell first met him, battered and reeling from opium withdrawal in that holding cell.) I really felt for them, but all I could do was advise them to try to find the books used. Even I had only a few copies of each title. I was so glad to be able to tell them about the publication of the ebooks.

    Thanks again, Joanna, for crafting such a great article out of those posts! I’m looking forward to the interview…


  5. Patricia, it has been an absolute pleasure and I look forward to further discussions. It reminds me of my early days with he exercise video community. I remember the first time I wrote to an exercise video instructor, and they wrote me back and I was absolutely floored!

    I really do think that, for some authors anyway, the ebook revolution has the potential to be a huge, huge thing. The big publishers are totally missing the boat. The Sony store, for example, has become an utter wasteland for anybody who is not American. Personally, I don’t think Patricia really cares where I live 🙂 And I think she is more than happy to take my perfectly good money for the books—and happier still to hear comments from me afterward if I like them.

    I know authors and publishers worry (needlessly, imho) about piracy, but if you look at what the customers worry about, it’s mostly accessibility. They are willing to pay a reasonable price. They justw ant to be able to read the book on whatever devices they have, in whatever country they happen to live in, and without restrictions which limit their ability to do so. An author who has even a modicum of business sense can totally work with a crowd like this!

  6. Joanna, as a publisher I can tell you that I have no interest in contracting rights per country. In my experience, the obstacle is almost always an agency insisting the author allow them to negotiate rights on a country-by-country basis. This “might” be valid in a world of high postal costs; IMO it is totally invalid for digital. I refuse to play that game and I wish the big 6 publishers would do the same.

    As a passionate reader, I get really annoyed when an ebook I want to read isn’t available in my geographic location. These are the kind of stupid obstacles which can only encourage piracy.

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