“We Needed Them”

If you read books, write books, or collect books, or like, love, or hate books, if there is one (long) blog post about the Book Business you need to read, this is it. It’s a conversation between writers Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath at Konrath’s blog A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.

Here’s an excerpt,

Joe: You and I and our peers are essential. We’re the writers. We provide the content that is printed and distributed.

For hundreds of years, writers couldn’t reach readers without publishers. We needed them.

Now, suddenly, we don’t. But publishers don’t seem to be taking this Very Important Fact into account.

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?

and another,

Currently, my novel The List is the #15 bestseller on all of Amazon. I wrote that book 12 years ago, and it was rejected by every major NY publisher. I self-published it on Amazon two years ago, and it has sold over 35,000 copies.

Barry: That is insane. Aside from some major external event–a big movie release, something like that–it’s almost unheard of for a backlist paper book to suddenly become a bestseller. Yet that’s exactly what just happened to The List.

Joe: Because I dropped the price.

Barry: Well shit, legacy publishers use dynamic pricing to move books all the time.

Joe: Sorry, I just spewed beer all over my monitor.

Barry: I apologize.

Joe: No problem. But right, with digital you have the option to put an ebook on sale. I originally self-published The List in April of 2009. It went on to sell 25,000 ebooks at $2.99. Now, two years later, I lowered the price, and it’s selling 1500 copies a day. Things like that don’t happen in paper. But in self-publishing, I’m seeing more and more books take their sweet time finding an audience, then take off.

and another,

Joe: But even if we set aside the money, the Times has ample motive for not putting indie authors on their bestseller list. Newspapers, like Big 6 publishers, are remnants of the analog age. Printing and shipping paper is an antiquated form of distributing media. These companies are trying to stay relevant in a digital future, and aren’t doing so well at it. Certainly the fact that I can sell more books than most bestselling Big 6 authors shows how ineffective the Big 6 are. So publishers, both newspaper and book, have an aligned interest in keeping digital at bay. Keeping it out of the public eye is one way to forestall things.

Barry: Right. Look, if the Times bestseller list were really just about sales–you know, if it were really just about the books that were “selling” the “best”–than you and a lot of other indie authors would be on it, because your numbers inarguably put you there. But the Times won’t allow it. What we can infer from the Times’ behavior, therefore, is that what they call a “bestseller” list is in fact a “those bestselling books we believe have been properly vetted and blessed by trusted establishment players with whom we see our interests as aligned” list.

I could keep excerpting, but just go and take the time and read the whole thing. It’s an insightful look at the current state of publishing involving one indie writer (Konrath) and one (Eisler) who just turned down a six-figure deal from a publishing house. As I contemplate yet another rejection letter from an agency, going indie sounds far more appealing.

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UTF = Unable to Finish

It’s rare that I do not finish a book I have started to read. In my twenties I started Infinite Jest and Song of Solomon and could not finish either. I have since picked up Song of Solomon, read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I still plan to take up Infinite Jest sometime this year.

For me, when it comes to not finishing a book the case has often been that I was not ready for a particular book. Too young, too impatient, etc. Then there are the books that I was once enamored with, and now can’t bear to re-read. Anything by Isaac Asimov comes to mind. I have forced myself to complete books that I did not like or felt tepid about (Boring boring boring… by Zach Plague or Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, repsectively).

I bring this up because my quest this year to read a number of books to fill in the gaps of my literary education has hit a few bumps. Two bumps, to be exact. They are Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy, and I declare them to be UTF.

I read the first half of Don Quixote and then started on part two only to see that the joke was going to be the same. There are parts that are very humorous (attacking the windmill and wearing the brass pot as a helmet) and dull (the story about Cardenio). It is what it is advertised to be: the first baggy example of a novel. It’s a novel about what happens when a person is influenced by bad novels, and the novel eventually references itself. In this it anticipates much of what has subsequently happened in the development of the novel. There is no overstating its importance to the development of the novel.

I found Quixote to be more funny than Shandy, mostly because there is more physical and situational humor. Ont he other hand, Shandy is written in the coded indirect style of the 18th century; nothing can be said plainly. Add to the fact that the whole point is never to say anything plainly or to get to the point (a great joke but one that can’t sustain my interest for over 400 pages), and my patience is quickly exhausted.

With my time as a stay-at-home-dad being devoted mostly to cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and caring for a kindergartner and a toddler, my time is too precious to be wasted on narratives that don’t interest me, even ones that are considered classics. With Quixote and Shandy I feel, too, as if I get the jokes and the importance of the novels to literature without having to finish them.

As much as I hate not finishing a book I start, I have come to conclude at the age of 40 that some books are simply not worth my time to finish once I’ve decided that I’ve gotten all I need from them. As such, this rule seems a sound one.

One of her online friends reminded her there’s even an abandonment rule: The “Deduct Your Age From 100 and Read That Many Pages Before Giving Up on a Book” rule. The older you get, the less inclined you are to waste your time on something that doesn’t grab you.

Indeed.

P.S. If you’re going to read Tristram Shandy, be sure to read Don Quixote first. There are many references to Cervantes’ work throughout Sterne’s work and even some parallels (Uncle Toby and his assistant planning to build fortifications is a clear echo of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza planning their adventures).

P.P.S. If you’re reading the Edith Grossman translation of Don Quixote, skip the intro by Harold Bloom. In keeping with his Patented Theory that Everything In the Universe Is Really About Shakespeare, he blabbers on about Hamlet as much as he writes about Don Quixote to no clear end.

The Rise of the Indie-Writer

This short article in Business Insider has been referenced many times during the past few days, and rightfully so for what it has to say.

Welcome to disruption. 26-year old Amanda Hocking is the best-selling “indie” writer on the Kindle store, meaning she doesn’t have a publishing deal, Novelr says.

-snip-

Previously one of the best selling Kindle writers was J.A. Konrath, but it was assumed he was popular because he previously had a publishing deal and so already had notoriety. That’s not the case with Hocking, who published stories on her blog before turning to Kindle. In fact, out of the top 25 best-selling indie Kindle writers, only 6 were previously affiliated with a publishing house.

E-books (and to a certain extent Print-On-Demand technology) are making this possible. For three dollars wouldn’t you be willing to take a chance on a book by a writer you haven’t read before? I would…if I owned a Kindle or Sony Reader or Nook. (Personally, as a stay-at-home dad, I’m in greater need of time to read more than a device to facilitate reading.)

Amanda also corrects some of the misinformation that is making its way around the internet regarding her and her writing career. Here, in her own words, are a few facts,

  • I’ve written 19 books.
  • All of my published full-length novels are available in both ebook and paperback.
  • Three of my full length novels are priced at $.99 in ebook, and my novella is priced at $.99. The other five books are priced at $2.99. All my paperbacks are priced at $8.99 and $9.99.
  • I was never traditionally published. I still have not been traditionally published. I first published two books in April 15, 2010. Since then, I’ve sold over 900,000 copies of over nine different books.
  • I have been on the USA Today Bestseller list but not the NY Times List. (I suspect the Times hates me).

As the wise poet said, “The times they are a changin’.” Writers are less in need of a traditional publisher than ever before. More writers can and will go the indie route.