Thursday, July 9, 2009

Evolution of an E-book Author to Publisher by Rob Walker

Sure every author wishes to be discovered by Random House or another of the biggies of NYC but since my first publication in 1979 the pinnacle of publication has gotten thinner, higher, spikier, snarkier, and harder and harder to manage. In fact, since the early eighties, getting a novel published has only become more difficult to the point of its being like making the NBA or NASA or winning an Oscar or the Lottery. It has gotten further and further out of reach and every author is nowadays faced with brick walls, even a well published author—and often he or she is finding it harder than the new kid on the block.

As a result, over the past several years, I – like so many others who must write – have turned to smaller press venues. First with Echelon Press with PSI Blue a number of years ago. More recently, I have signed with Five Star for DEAD ON coming out this month. Between these two publications, I published three books with HarperCollins, my Inspector Alastair Ransom series. So I have a unique view on what it is like to be publishing with large and small presses. Recently, too, I have submitted a book, Cuba Blue, to yet another small press. I don’t have to enumerate the advantages and disadvantages of going large or going small, but I do feel a lot more Zen with the smaller presses; with them it is far more about the work and far less about the sales figures, although everyone wants to see good, healthy sales. I have published titles with Dorchester, Zebra, St. Martins, Pinnacle, Berkley, and a few imprints no longer in business along with my early YA publisher Oak Tree Publications, as well as HarperCollins, and family, friends, fans who read me can simply not fathom why I am not far, far more successful in this business, and why my work has not landed on the major bestseller lists.

Aggravation fills my days and nights if I give it much thought and that negative energy can swamp you, so I try to remain positive and have damned the torpedoes and have always written the book that I wanted to write, the one I was most passionate about, and I have never written a book with the direct intent of becoming rich and filthily wealthy but I have hoped to have an income, to have some return on the huge effort or time and energy one puts in but it has not always worked out so. I do know that I have had the worst representation in the business, and that due to the bottom-line mentality that ties the hands of editors at major houses, editors who love to work with me but can’t, that I am in a sense black-balled. Not overtly so but one look at my last sales numbers and that is all it takes to have an agent or editor run screaming from me. And as this is how the business truly operates, I have turned to other means of getting the work in print, so I thank God for small presses and publishers that have come into being since the early eighties.

Then comes a pale rider called the eBook. I was fascinated with the idea way back when Stephen King experimented with it and found it rather a failure so far as he was concerned, but I kept the faith and have always kept my eye on the evolution of eBooks and the hardware from the hefty Palm Pilot of the early days to the slim, light, lovely state of the art Kindle now set at $299. Keeping close tabs on the Kindle, reading about it in every article I could find, I kept close watch for its success and I predicted it would go large—which it has! I put up free pdf files on my website and I offered free chapters and whole books on my site, and on chat groups I offered simply to send downloads. I got my toes wet doing this sort of thing. Information kept coming in that the big publishers were experimenting now as well and sure enough HarperCollins asked for an addendum to my contract to place the Ransom Series on Kindle and that was a major spark. After seeing these on kindle at the Kindle Store, I was hooked, and about then Joe Konrath informed me that he had placed a number of books up for Kindle readers and that he was controlling it all from his computer—and making money! A rare thing for most writers! I mean we are expected to give back an honorarium to anyone who allows us to speak about our writing right? We’re expected to give it away, right?
So then I took the plunge and opened up the url for putting my work up on Kindle and in effect going into a partnership as a small publisher myself with Amazon. That is at In a three-step process and with my genius son’s help and Konrath’s encouragement I became my own publisher overnight. I put up a book of short stories with commentary called Thrice-Told Tales, a book on How To Write entitled Dead On Writing, and an original novel, Cuba Blue, followed by Deja Blue – two suspense books, followed by a set pair of horror novels, The Serpent Fire and Snake Flesh Wars, and most recently Children of Salem. Finally, another suspense novel went up.

The beauty of creating these E-books is that I control the art work/cover, the editorial content, the length and breadth of the work, the date of publication, and primary suggestion for pricing which may or may not remain as I suggest. The three Harper titles have been priced way too high by Harper and they are likely not selling well, but I have no way of knowing because as with everything you do with a major publisher, you, the author, are the last to know. But I have educated myself to this market and kindle readers do not want to pay the same price for the ebook that the mass market was priced at—which is the case here! In fact, Kindlekorner and other kindle reader chat groups make it clear that if they can’t get the book for free, the highest they are willing to go is around two and three bucks. But they are LEGION –those who have purchased the Kindle reader so two bucks a book you work on volume.

The ZEN of being one’s own boss, one’s own publisher…well that’s been a lifelong dream and Children of Salem has been a work that has had a curse on it forever, racking up more rejections than any ten other authors in their lifetimes have racked up, but I believe in this book with every instinct and bone in my body. Yet it sits on an editor’s desk and languishes for another year…and on an agent’s desk and languishes for another year. So I said to hell with it and took the bull by the horn and pressed the button that read “publish” today and now it is up and out in the world! Published! The publisher of the work, Robert W. Walker, yowZA!!

Thanks for reading –
Rob Walker


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Considering the spread of your author career, you probably have one of the best views on the industry!
And good for you for not 'selling out' just to make a buck. I know salacious YA sells - but I refuse to write it.

L. Diane Wolfe

Terry Odell said...

Thanks for this post. And it does look like you've seen it all.

I have a non-Kindle e-book reader, and the 'bookstores' where I shop offer e-books for prices normally below mass market paperbacks.

Many of the books are the same ones I could buy at a brick and mortar store, but instead, I have them all contained in a single device.

Deb Larson said...

Have you been peeking into my window?
I'm right there with the frustration - mostly the TIME slipping by while I wait and wait some more for someone to contact me.
I had an ebook publishing place that said they were "angst" about saying no, and would I consider rewriting the book for them? I'm sure the next step would be to pay their editing department ... another had to have it professionally critiqued, which it had already been, but I paid my $89 to see what would happen and now they love my book, but feel it should be edited! It's been edited twice already. The book was published 2 years ago. So I'm really in a quandry - and feeling everyone gains on my work but me!

Right now 5 Star is looking at one of my manuscripts - do you like working with them? I'm hoping I don't grow any older waiting for them to decide if they want it. :)
Great blog!!
DL Larson

Anonymous said...

Great blog, Rob. I'm recommending it to a couple of listservs I'm on.

Pat Browning

Anonymous said...

My gosh but today went by fast and furiously as I spent most of it working on an editing job on a nonfiction work that wishes to shed light on the fact that racism is bullswallop and unscientific reasoning...heady stuff. Thanks all yous guys for dropping by and glad you like the honesty of my blog this week. It's just the way I see it and the way it is and my shrink who keeps telling me that I crave instant gratification? I say why the hell not get SOME of that?


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I've been an e-book flag waver for years now--have most of my books on Kindle and I've got a couple of yours on mine.

You make a lot of sense and echo some of my own history, though I was only published once my a major publisher.

Also had good agents who did nothing for me.

I am with Mundania now who just purchased Hard Shell Word Factory and I have books there too. I have one book with Oaktree who is doing amazing things these days.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith