Friday, April 8, 2011

Writing (& Publishing) 101: A Conversation Between J.A. Konrath & Barry Eisler

March was a busy month for writing and publishing links and resources, which is why I split up my March Links & Things blog post (April 5), devoting one post on April 4 to "Writing 101: Don't Respond to Negative Reviews" and this post to a second set of links.

In my March Links & Things, I noted that best-selling author Barry Eisler had turned down a two-book, one-half-million-dollar deal with St. Martin's Press in order to self-publish his future books himself. And I linked to an interview in The Daily Beast in which Jason Pinter (@jasonpinter) asks Barry Eisler (@barryeisler) why he decided to self-publish.

But there is more to this Eisler/self-publishing, a lot more....

Barry Eisler is not your typical author: He graduated from Cornell Law School, joined the CIA in a covert operations position, and then left the CIA after a few years to work as a technology lawyer and startup executive in Silicon Valley and Japan. He began writing full-time in 2002, and is the author of two best-selling series, both thrillers: one features anti-hero John Rain, a half-Japanese, half-American former soldier turned freelance assassin, and the second features black ops soldier Ben Treven.

I checked out Barry Eisler's website and I was totally knocked out. Obviously, I expected the website to be in English; what I didn't expect was to find his website available in 8 other languages. Now that is impressive! And an incredible means to reach a global audience.

But I can't talk about Eisler's move to self-publishing without mentioning his friend and fellow author, J. A. Konrath (@jakonrath). After nearly 500 rejections and 9 unpublished novels, Joe Konrath finally scored with his tenth novel, Whiskey Sour, the first in his continuing series featuring Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels of the Chicago Police Department. Joe has stated that he discovered the Amazon Kindle in 2009, and since has self-published his novels in eBook format. And, in fact, on December 20, 2010, he published a blog post entitled "A Newbie's Guide to Publishing" in which he begins his post with "You Should Self-Publish." In this post, Joe Konrath tells why he felt, for many years, that traditional publishing was the only way to go. But once he discovered the Kindle, and is now selling 1,000 eBooks a day, he is reversing this one long-held belief about writing and publishing.

Anyhow, my purpose with this blog post is to bring to your attention a recent conversation between Konrath and Eisler on the subject of eBooks and self-publishing. The conversation itself was originally done as a live Google Docs discussion, and then later was edited and posted on Barry Eisler's blog. What's even more significant is that the authors made the conversation available in downloadable, mobile platforms: "doc, pdf, epub, and mobi formats, so it can be uploaded to Kindles, Nooks, Sony Readers, Kobos, and pretty much any other device." In the third paragraph of the conversation you'll find a link to a zip file that contains all of these formats. Be aware that this is not a light conversation, nor a short one either; it clocks in at about 13,000 words and is 35 pages on my Sony eReader.

But if you are an author and/or publisher, if you are considering eBooks and self-publishing, then you need to read this conversation, which "examines the history and mechanics of the publishing industry as it exists today, analyzes the way the digital revolution reflects recent events in Egypt and the Maghreb," and more.

Here's some samples from just the first few pages of the conversation:

Barry: ...my general point was that digital was going to become more and more attractive relative to paper. First, because the price of digital readers would continue to drop while the functionality would continue to increase; second, because more and more titles would become available for digital download at the same time more brick and mortar stores were closing. In other words, everything about paper represented a static defense, while everything about digital represented a dynamic offense. Not hard to predict how a battle like that is going to end....

Barry: ...Lots of people, and I'm one of them, love the way a book feels. I used to like the way books smelled, too, before publishers started using cheap paper. And you can see books on your shelf, etc... those are real advantages, but they're only niche advantages. Think candles vs electric lights. There are still people making a living today selling candles, and that's because there's nothing like candlelight -- but what matters is that the advent of the electric light changed the candle business into a niche. Originally, candlemakers were in the lighting business; today, they're in the candlelight business. The latter is tiny by comparison to the former....

Joe: I also love print books. I have 5000 of them. But print is just a delivery system. It gets a story from the writer to the reader. For centuries, publishers controlled this system, because they did the printing, and they were plugged into distribution. But with retailers like Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, the story can get to the reader in a faster, cheaper way. And publishers aren't needed. Do you think publishers are aware of that?

Barry: I think they're extremely aware of it, but they don't understand what it really means.

Joe: I believe they've gotten their business model mixed-up. They should be connecting readers with the written word. Instead, they're insisting on selling paper.

Joe: ...The agency model is an attempt to slow the transition from paper to digital. Windowing titles is another one. So are insanely high ebook prices....

Barry: Well, again, I think they're taking it into account, but they're drawing the wrong conclusions. The wrong conclusion is: I'm in the paper business, paper keeps me essential, therefore I must do all I can to retard the transition from paper to digital. The right conclusion would be: digital offers huge cost, time-to-market, and other advantages over paper. How can I leverage those advantages to make my business even stronger?

Joe: We figured out that the 25% royalty on ebooks they offer is actually 14.9% to the writer after everyone gets their cut. 14.9% on a price the publisher sets.

Barry: Gracious of you to say "we." You're the first one to point out that a 25% royalty on the net revenue produced by an ebook equals 17.5% of the retail price after Amazon takes its 30% cut, and 14.9% after the agent takes 15% of the 17.5%.

Like I said, you really need to read this conversation. And there's no excuse, because you can download it in a variety of formats, for print, mobile devices, or even read it online.

Addendum: I neglected to mention that at the end of the conversation, there are more than 425 comments, so you've definitely got your reading cut out for you. Note, though, that the comments are only available on the blog post; they are not included in the downloadable files.

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