Books on the Installment Plan

Books published by installment are not new. Charles Dickens is generally credited with beginning, or at least popularizing the practice. Genre novels appeared in serial form in magazines such as Colliersand in science fiction and mystery magazines regularly in the 1940s, sometimes in abridged form, sometimes completely.  More recently, THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES by Tom Wolfe was published in twenty-odd installments — in Rolling Stone, of all places — before it appeared in book form. Michael Connelly and Colin Harrison,  among others, have published short novels in Sunday newspaper magazines. The attraction for the reader is easy to see: be the first on your block to read the forthcoming novel, by your favorite author, before it’s actually published in book form, even if it is in installments.
So it was that a couple of mornings ago I flicked on my Kindle and learned from My Precious that Amazon has revived the serial novel for the electronic age. We are now in the era of serial e-books. Make a selection from list of e-books published under one of Amazon’s imprints, lay down (or should that be transmit?) a couple of bucks and you immediately receive the first installment which consists of about forty pages. That price also includes the rest of the book, released in six monthly installments. Late to the party? Not to worry. Plunk down your two dollars at any point along the way and you get all of the installments published to date and the future ones as they are released.
I tried to talk myself out of it. I failed. First argument:  Why bother? I would forget what happened from month to month.  I quit reading comic books twelve years ago, after a half-century of four-color fandom, because I could no longer remember from month to month what had happened in the previous month’s issue.  X-Men, to name but one example, had with all of its alternative time-lines and such had become incomprehensible. Rebuttal: that isn’t a problem with the Amazon serials. The next installment will be solidly fused with the presently published ones on Your Precious and if I can’t remember who did what to who, as the limerick goes, I can just do a search on the character’s name and bring my poor addled memory right up to snuff. Second argument:  I already have a couple of hundred books on my Kindle that I will probably never read. Why throw another one (or two. Or three.) on there?  Rebuttal: righto. But, I told myself, I can read forty pages or so while in the drive-through line at Sonic. I might be intimated from starting a six-hundred page book, but forty pages? No problem. Third argument…well, I didn’t have a third argument. I saw that Andrew Peterson, an extremely talented author, all-around good guy, and member of the F.O.S.J. (Friends of Sweet Joseph) has a novel titled OPTION TO KILL among the serial e-books. I bought that one. There is also a brand-new traditional western,  THE CIRCUIT RIDER, by Dani Amore, which looked so good that I could not resist.  Actually each and all of the books which comprise this inaugural launch seem to have something to recommend them. And, of course, Amazon’s sample feature is in place, in case you’re unfamiliar with the author or otherwise on the fence about purchasing a particular book.

Is this a gimmick that is going to fail? Or does it have a place in the market? I feel that anything different — if not necessarily new — which gets people buying and reading books, and gets money in the author’s pocket, is worth a shot.  How do you readers think about it? And while we’re on the topic, think about this: what if Amazon opened this up to other publishers and offered an either/or deal for the reader? Let’s say that one of your favorite authors has a novel dropping next Tuesday. Suppose you had the choice between buying and receiving the entire e-book at its full price, or paying a fraction of that full price (fifty percent or less) and receiving the book on the installment plan, at several dozen pages a month over the course of six months? Would you go for it, delaying gratification to save a few bucks? And authors…what do you have to say about any of this? DO you have a problem with your novel being divided up? Or does it sound good to you as well, as a way of drumming up interest? 
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A New Slippery Slope

Advertising in e- books. Are you ready for it? Do you want it? Granted, advertising in a book is not a new idea. There are paperback imprints that in the front or back of one book will place ads for other books which they publish which may be of similar interest to the reader. There was a somewhat short-lived experiment in the early 1970s to place four-color ads for cigarettes in the middle of paperbacks as well. But…advertising in an e-book?

That is the idea currently being floated by Harper UK. As it is currently conceived, such commercial interruptions would be limited to works of non-fiction (apparently because we readers of fiction have such easily derailed attention spans). The example which was presented was that an e-book concerning bird-watching could contain an advertisement for binoculars. You can see where this could go. Imagine the irregularly scheduled commercial in the e-book version of a sex manual. Or an ad for ginsu knives in a true crime book. Given the ever-growing popularity of the iPad (not to mention the Kindle Fire) such a commercial or advertisement could manifest itself in multiple media forms. Would it be a page that you could skip by, or perhaps one of those annoying popups for a movie or commercial product? And make no mistake: such a plan may be limited to non-fiction books at the moment, but if the trial with non-fiction e-books is at all successful, works of fiction will be next.

With that in mind, here is a bit of free advice: if you are fortunate enough to have a major entity, be it a publisher or Amazon or whoever, interested in publishing your work, make it your business to determine how and if your agreement addresses this issue. The argument from the other side may be that such an addition to your work in e-form is part of the content, or form, or your work, and thus falls under the purview and authority of the publisher. If you are in a position to negotiate this point (in other words, you haven’t signed anything yet) there are a number of points to consider. Two of the bigger ones would substance and form. You might object to ads for certain products (alcohol, condoms, and firearms, to name but three examples) or products manufactured or sold by a certain companies (The GAP, Wal-Mart, Progressive Insurance, and McDonalds, to name but a few). You might also have some concerns with regard to how the commercial is presented, or the product portrayed, in Your Book. An even bigger issue, however, concerns who will get the cheddar from the sale of such ad placement. When an ad is placed in your e-book, will your cash register go Ka-ching? Or will the proceeds of such go into the publisher’s coffers to offset the costs of publishing your e-book?
Is this an issue yet? No; but I believe it will be soon. Authors, published and prospective: what do you think about advertising in an e-book? Do you like the idea, or not? Why? And readers. Would you mind an occasional advertisement? Or are you happy to have a place to go that is ad-free?

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The Great MMPB Vanishing Act

By Joe Moore

In a recent article in The New York Times, it was revealed that according to a survey last month from the Association of American Publishers, mass-market paperback sales have decreased by 14% since 2008. According to the article, there are a couple of factors responsible. Heavily discounted hardcover pricing from the chain stores and online sellers have contributed. Second, the increase in the trade paperback format as an alternative. Although a soft cover book, the trade paperback is larger, can command a higher price than the MMPB, and is usually a better quality product from a production standpoint. A third factor is the rapid rise of the e-book’s popularity, which is priced at or below MM prices and aimed directly at the MMPB reader as an attractive alternative.

The mass-market paperback was developed in the late 1930s to create an efficient, affordable, and highly portable form of printing books for the masses. One of the first to succeed in the venture was Simon & Schuster which created the Pocket Books imprint. It was so successful that the term “pocket book” became synonymous with paperback. Two of the most notable books published in pocket editions were James Hilton’s Lost Horizon and Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. Both appeared in paperback in 1939. A number of companies followed after Pocket Book’s concept including Ace, Dell, Bantam and Avon.

Today, according to the NYT’s article, many big box stores and national chains are gradually shrinking their shelf space for MMPBs and using the space for more hardcovers and trade paperbacks. These include Hudson, Barnes & Noble, and Wal-Mart.

The slow vanishing act of the MMPB is another sign of a changing marketplace for the publishing industry. Once a devoted reading fan purchases a device on which to read electronic publications, the advantages of e-books over MMPBs are compelling. These include similar pricing, portability, convenience, and the immediate availability of the book as opposed to waiting a year for the paperback version of a hardcover.

Next time you walk into your favorite drugstore, airport, mall store, or newsstand, check for yourself. It doesn’t take long to realize that the MMPBs are disappearing right before your eyes.

If you’re an author and are being published as original mass market, what is your agent or editor telling you about the future? Are you going to be converted over to trade format or e-book only? And for readers, are you still buying mass market paperbacks? New? Used? Or have you made the transition to some other format?

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Another Coup for Self-Publishing

Dovetailing on Joe Moore’s great post yesterday on “Show Me the Money,” I saw an article in Publishers Weekly and wanted to share this very interesting deal.
John Locke is my hero.
No, not THAT John Locke! This guy…
Publishers Weekly reported on Aug 22nd that John Locke, the self-pubbed Kindle bestseller phenom, closed a distribution deal with Simon & Schuster. The deal, negotiated by his agent, is an exclusive arrangement where S&S will handle Locke’s eight Donovan Creed novels and get them into retail markets for print books. These novels are expected to start releasing in Feb 2012 with more titles to follow.
This seems like a really different idea, but a rep at S&S said this concept mimics the type of arrangements made between distributors and small publishers. Whether you consider this unorthodox or not, this is news, people. Locke still distributes his e-books and retains his rights as publisher on all digital fronts. S&S is only getting the right to sell print books to retail markets. S&S sees value in print and paid accordingly for that privilege, but Locke didn’t have to give up his lucrative digital rights.
If Locke hadn’t self-published, he never would have known his true value in the marketplace.
I see this as very encouraging for aspiring authors. The digital marketplace has become the new resume, a proving ground. It requires work to market your own books, but traditional publishers expect authors to do this anyway. Quality and author craft is still important to this process, but I believe if an aspiring author has talent and a marketing platform to get the word out, this new digital world can be the best way to showcase work.
Published authors benefit from this development too. Striking a similar deal, they would get to focus on their writing, get their books into the public faster without all the approval and production schedule delays, and push the genres they write without NYC filtering the content for placement on shelves in retail stores. Established authors already spend time on promotion. Nothing new there, but there would be no more waiting to see if the publisher will spend money on promo or coop dollars for often limited time on the shelves. And the author retains control of cover art, book jacket summary, copy editing, and formatting, if they want it.
Even though S&S has limited access to Locke’s work, it can be looked upon as a WIN-WIN, in my opinion. S&S gets access to books that have a proven readership. They don’t have to “guess” whether a series will gain traction or not. They get exclusive print distribution rights for a known commodity. Not a bad thing to try in a changing world.
The author gets to take the risk of whether his or her book will find success, so they can push the genre or create a new trend—AND keep the rights that are most lucrative these days. The author would also free up time to write more, rather than spend time with the print side of the business—and gain access to retail markets he/she would not have reached on their own. PLUS a proven winner like Locke would also have the attention of NYC with his next project, opening more doors. Definitely a WIN-WIN!
I see this as a very positive arrangement—a healthy one for the industry. Both sides benefit from something they would not have tried otherwise. If a traditional bundled publishing deal can be broken apart for perceived value, how do you think this might change how deals can be negotiated in the future? Can digital rights be retained by the author for the right project? How would an agent’s role change? Would an author have to be a proven bestseller to have enough clout to negotiate a similar deal or does a deal like Locke’s foreshadow things to come for all authors?
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The dark side of digital

After reading Clare’s post yesterday about e-publishing’s Radiohead moment, I read an LA times article that noted a disturbing new trend in the world of Kindle books: spam.

It seems that everyone and his brother is now uploading e-books to Amazon. Many of those books are e-wrapped versions of books that are no longer under copyright–others are pirated versions of original works, with new covers.  The article cited one author who discovered that one of her books had been copied and sold on Kindle

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the spammers who flood our email in-boxes with Viagra ads and solicitations to collect inheritances in Nigeria would figure out a way to inundate the Kindle world with literary dreck. Amazon will have to find a way to filter out the spammers. There are a number of ways to do it: They could create a “verified publisher or author” seal, a la Twitter. They could develop better filters. They might have to–gasp!–act like a publisher and wade through the e-slush pile before unleashing it on the world. Any way you look at it, Amazon will have to spend some time and money figuring it out–which will probably raise the price of Kindle books fdown the line. (I hear the dead-tree book contingent laughing in triumph).

As a reader, so far I haven’t yet encountered much spam on Kindle, probably because I use filters when I browse. The only time I’ve been had was when I thought I was downloading a novel, only to discover that my “book” was only a few chapters, which had been bundled and sold as a bait.

Have you encountered spam on Amazon?  Have you ever paid for a Kindle book and then discovered that it wasn’t what you thought it was?

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E-Pub versus Indie Pub

My last topic here was on The Self-Pub Adventure. Here are my conclusions so far.

For three backlist titles in my futuristic romance Light-Years Trilogy (Circle of Light, Moonlight Rhapsody, Starlight Child), I went with Belgrave House to convert my books into digital formats. For no costs up front on my side, I had them scan the printed book, send me the file for proofreading, got a decent but simple cover, digital conversions, and all the titles uploaded to numerous e-book sites. My titles are priced at $5.00 each and I split the profits 50% with the e-publisher. They only accept works by previously published authors who have reversion of rights.

For my last remaining backlist title, I’d decided to try the indie route. One look at the Smashwords Style Guide, however, and I changed my mind. I would probably screw up my Word program forever if I followed their directions. Better I should hire someone to do the conversions than spend hours figuring this out. But once the file is ready, I’ll still have to upload it, as well as do all the marketing. 

With a cover and a conversion, this is likely to cost me up to $300…unless I stick to paying for the cover alone and uploading my doc file just to Kindle. I’ve hired a cover artist and for $125, she’ll make me a custom cover. I wanted one that’s competitive with the paperbacks out there. 

Let’s say I pay for conversions as well as a cover. If my indie published backlist book does well and I make this money back, it would be worth going the indie route again for original works. But if not, I would rather submit to a legit e-book publisher than go it alone. I’d have to give up a certain percentage of my royalties, but I need the services they’d provide. Indie authors make everything sound easy and profitable. But for how many, or how few, is that true? 

The Wild Rose Press gave me a beautiful cover for Silver Serenade, editorial assistance, digital conversions, and publicity opportunities. I get a 35% royalty for books bought at their site, where my title costs $7.00. On my own, I could be making double that amount on Amazon and control my own sale price. Yet their price point is somewhat understandable considering they have to pay cover artists, editorial, etc. as part of their publishing costs. But they also have no overhead in terms of office space, warehousing, etc. And readers want to pay $5.00 or less for an e-book.

It’s a very tough choice to make, whether to step off the gangplank on our own or swim the calm waters of having a publisher do all the work for us. You have to know what you’re taking on. But my adventure isn’t over yet. Once I get my new cover, I’ll see how it goes with uploading the file for this backlist title myself.

Here’s a great discussion on some of these topics: http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/pod/

And if you’re in Florida—or not—you may want to attend this important publishing industry event: http://www.ninc.com/conferences/2011/panels.asp               
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What Will Book Publishing Look Like in 6 Months?


There’s an old joke about a guy who goes to see his surgeon. The surgeon has bad news: they’re going to have to operate. The guy says he can’t afford the operation. So the surgeon says, “No problem. For a hundred bucks I’ll touch up the x-rays.”
Right now a lot of people think touching up the x-rays is the way to save traditional publishing. They know that major surgery is required but have no idea where to cut, what to look for, or how to make it better.
It’s really no one’s fault. Stuff happens. In this case, the stuff is e-publishing/reading, and it has exploded faster than most thought possible. And big industry is not built to change on a dime. It’s not even built to change on an open road, especially when there are all sorts of trails and byways it has never explored, or even been equipped to explore.
Meanwhile, a bad business spiral only increases in speed.
Bookstores are closing. Revenues for print books are way down. That means fewer books published on paper. Even those that are P-published have fewer places to go. They sure ain’t going to Borders.
The trend line for print is not good. According to the American Association of Publishers, in January of this year hardcover sales were down 11.3% and mass market paperbacks down 30.9%.
Further, the old way people used to find books –- browsing and being hand-sold by trusted folks in physical bookstores — is over. Gone. Finito.
Forever.
The big publishers didn’t want that to happen. 
But it has.
And we have to acknowledge the reality and not get out the Sharpies to cover spots on the x-ray film. (see also, “Sand, Ostrich Head In”)
The ever insightful Mike Shatzkin sums it up:
I take no pleasure in the big publishers’ pain. It is a matter of professional pride to me to not allow my preferences to color my predictions. I love bookstores and libraries and consider the top management of the big trade houses to be intelligent, ethical, and creative people. I consider many of them friends. The fact that the transition from reading and distributing print to largely reading on screens and distributing print online makes much of their skill sets and business models obsolete is not their fault. Nor is the fact that preserving their old business, and the cash flow it still yields, sometimes interferes with inventing the new one.
The next 4 – 6 months are critical for the survival of traditional publishing in some form. It will not look like it does now. And it will never again be “the only game in town.”
Meanwhile, writers write. We know there is money to be made in self-publishing e-books. I’m experiencing that now with WATCH YOUR BACK.    
This pleases me, because it is the most elemental of transactions, just like when Og the caveman got a year’s worth of fox furs from the tribal chieftain for telling stories about heroic fights with the killer mastodons. We can go directly to readers, who can download us directly to their devices. 
There are many, many things traditional publishers do well, and have for a long time. But that is a bit beside the point. Typewriters did many things well, too.
Here’s the $64 billion question: Which traditional publishers will turn out to be like Apple and which like Underwood? What will the new industry standard look like? 
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The Eisler Sanction

The Liternet was abuzz this week with the news that a New York Times bestselling author, Barry Eisler, turned down half a million bones from a traditional publisher to go E.
Some are calling this a “key benchmark.” Others, a “tipping point.” Whatever you call it, it’s a pretty big deal. Eisler giving self-pub his sanction will increase the number of name authors making the same move. It’s happening even as we read.
Meanwhile, self-publishing millionaire Amanda Hocking has just signed a traditional deal for more than $2 million. Ms. Hocking, 26, explains her decision here. She’s not giving up self-publishing, which is itself news—she has given herself the clout to get a traditional publisher to go along with a tandem track. What’s funny is that she is the one who calls having her books traditionally published a risk—for her.
Interesting times, eh? It used to be publishers were the ones who talked about risk. Where is Lewis Carroll when you need him?
Both Alice and the Mad Hatter would agree, I think, that it’s a good times for writers. As I have put a toe in the water myself,  a few thoughts are in order over several current “debates.”
The Rapid Rise v. The Tailing Off Debate
Digital publishing is moving faster than most expected a year ago, and that makes this a good  move for Eisler. He can have more books come out at a faster clip. He’s in a position to rake in the kind of dough Joe Konrath is (reportedly that same half a mil per year).
Can this growth be sustained? I think so. It will reach such a scale that any “tailing off” will be insignificant.
The Publishing Establishment v. Rogue Authors Debate
In a looong dialogue with Konrath, Eisler says this:
As a news junkie, it’s been fascinating for me to watch the way the publishing establishment has tried to marginalize you. First by ignoring you, and then, when ignoring you become impossible, by trying to position you as some sort of shrill, bitter, fringe player with nothing more than an axe to grind. The way legacy publishing has tried to de-position you is perfectly analogous to what The New York Times and other establishment media players have tried to do with Wikileaks.
I’m not sure one can generalize about the entire “publishing establishment”  being intentional about marginalizing Joe Konrath (Eisler, of course, is ex-CIA, so he may have some intel we don’t know about).
Anyway, this is less about “who’s right” than it is about objective facts and business models. The traditional model is reeling right now. They’re like Jake LaMotta in his sixth bout with Sugar Ray Robinson. And it’s not because “they” are mean and nasty. They simply are not an exception to the inexorable laws of innovation and economics. They have to adjust, but it is extremely difficult for major industries to change course, and especially to do it quickly in response to the sudden reshaping of market forces.
I love traditional publishing. Publishers have been, and are, very good to me and I have many friends in the industry. I’ve also seen friends lose their jobs. I hate that, but I also understand the business angle. Businesses have to do what they must to do to survive. So do authors.
Which is why I see no reason an author might not self-publish and work with a traditional publisher in some form or fashion (this will require two oft ignored business principles, creativity and flexibility).
My novella and short story collection, Watch Your Back, probably would not have seen publication in print. So it went live as an e-book in February, and sold well enough to show me it was worth it.  
But for this month to date, March, sales are ten times what they were in February.
To which I say, WHAT?
I’m not sure how this happened. It could be the result of a well placed blog interview, or some cumulative effect of Amazon’s recommend-algorithm (you know, “If you liked this, you may like this”). Or it could be some alchemy no one can reconstruct or replicate. The one thing it does prove is the tremendous potential of E.
And here’s another thing: I am making new readers daily. Isn’t that what publishers and agents are pushing authors to do? Build a platform? This is nothing but positive for an author and a traditional publisher, should they team up down the line. Which brings us to:
The Platform v. Random Acts of Discovery Argument
Konrath has made a good case, backed up by examples, of those who did not have a platform or readership before self-publishing. There are some who have blasted off, others who are doing quite well. (The majority do very little, but this has always been true).
An established base certainly doesn’t hurt, but zero name recognition can be overcome with quality writing, consistent output and marketing energy. Which leads to:
The Quality vs. Persistence Argument
Is it possible for someone to just keep pumping out dreck and make some good coin? Depends on your definition of “good.” A hundred bucks a year may be okay for someone. But if you want to make substantial lettuce, I say you have to produce really good books. So it’s better to wait than to rush in with a lot of bad stuff. That will only hurt your long term results.
The Extinction of Traditional Publishing v. A New Model Argument
Is traditional publishing dead and just doesn’t know it (as some writers, with a bit too much glee, assert)? Or will it find its way to some new equilibrium? Even the ever prescient Mike Shatzkin isn’t sure:
If the legacy publishing establishment can develop tools to deliver marketing at scale, adjust its contracts to pay higher digital royalties, and, perhaps, offer a “fee for service” model alongside its “advance against royalty” model, it might, like Major League Baseball did, weaken the infrastructure that is developing that will increasingly tempt authors (and readers) to abandon it. But it also could be that U was right four years ago when I said that the general trade publishing house was a dinosaur in the emerging world of 21st century publishing. Wasn’t it a natural disaster that was the catalyst for killing the original dinosaurs as well?
Whatever the future brings, it’s still going to be all about the writing. The one thing publishing can’t do without is writers. The one thing readers can’t do without is writers. I’ve worked hard at this craft for over 20 years. I love it. It’s what I do. And I believe any way to make a fair exchange with readers is worthy. E-pubbing provides another way to make that exchange.
So does the Eisler Sanction feel like a “tipping point”? What do you think it means industry wide?  What does it mean to you?
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Quirky Ramblings on E-Books, Self-Publishing and the Consumer

USA TODAY had an interesting article on authors who have struck it big with their self-published e-books. The article featured 26-yr old Amanda Hocking of Minnesota who got tired of being rejected by traditional publishers and self-published last year. In 2010, she sold 164,000 books, with most priced between $0.99 and $2.99 per digital download. And in January, 2011 (after many readers got e-readers for Christmas), she sold 450,000 copies of her 9 paranormal titles, with three of her titles making their debut on the USA TODAY’s Bestseller list.

Her percentage of that sales price range comes in at 30-70%, respectively, but she’s making money at it. And she promotes on Facebook, Twitter, and word of mouth—and credits the popularity of the paranormal genre for much of her success.

And another paranormal e-novelist, who sold 70,000 copies since July 2010, got noticed by Random House and just signed a three-book deal.

I bring this up because of a talk I had with a neighbor this week. She got me thinking about digital download books. My neighbor had received a Nook for Christmas and was downloading books online. She was feeling pretty tech savvy, for sure. And she wanted a trip down memory lane when she used to read simple sweet romance novels, easy reads that made her happy.

Instead, she bought erotica by mistake. Now her online booksellers are sending her recommendations for the same steamy stuff she just purchased. (I’m chuckling as I write this. If you knew my neighbor, you would too.) She actually had to call the online bookstore to see if they could stop sending those recommendations to her Nook, but since it was such a new product, they couldn’t help her. But she was willing to download a book that she knew nothing about other than it was a romance and she had virtually no knowledge of the plot. She only knew it was a bargain. And she’s not alone. I’ve heard on blog posts and other places that many readers are willing to try a new author for $0.99-$2.99/book.

Now I’ve resisted buying an e-reader so far. I’m not sure the technology is there yet and I like the feel of a book in my hands. Plus I spend way too much time in front of a computer writing that I think reading off a display might make my quirky eyesight worse. But I can see why a reader might like the option of downloading a book quickly, read it immediately without paying shipping, and maybe get it for a bargain. And I also have a couple of manuscripts “under my bed” that are only playthings for my cats. Maybe it’s time to do something with them and test the new marketplace of e-books.

I’d like to hear from anyone who has an e-reader. How do you like reading off it? Has owning one changed your book buying habits? Do you still buy print books? And is there a price point that might tempt you to try a new author?

And if you’re an author who has sold your e-books online through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble’s Pubit, Lulu, Smashwords, and other locations—how has that worked for you?

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The Before That Led to “In the After”

by John Gilstrap
http://www.johngilstrap.com/

When I was a kid—actually all the way through high school—I churned out short stories by the dozens, sometimes on command to meet the requirements of English class, but mostly because I loved writing. For me, a short story assignment was as close to a guaranteed A as one could reasonably hope for. I read voraciously in those years, and thanks in large measure to The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and their ilk, I grew up steeped in short-form fiction.

I used to read Writers Market in the 1970s and mentally catalog all of the outlets for my stories, preparing myself for the day when I felt that my writing would evolve past high-school good and become professional-writer good. If I recall properly, Playboy was paying $1500 for short stories back then. Who knew that Playboy even had words? All of the big-format magazines carried short stories, too. I was in training to leave my mark on the world.

Unfortunately, when I got to college, my story production sagged precipitously, thanks to my libido and my love of a good party. My attentions were wildly diffused in directions that had nothing to do with academics, and when my grades started to nose dive, something had to go. After careful deliberation, I decided to stay with the dating and the academics and the booze (not necessarily in that order), and stopped my recreational writing.

Meanwhile, the market for short stories evaporated. That was just as well, because by the time I started writing again, my interests had shifted exclusively to long-form fiction. I never looked back—not until my editor at Kensington suggested that I write a short story for my website that would help promote my book, No Mercy, and its main character, Jonathan Grave. That story became “Discipline” and it introduces readers to Jonathan’s bizarre childhood. That was the first short story I’d written in something like thirty years, and I loved the experience.

Just a couple of months after I posted that story to my website, my blog mates came up with the idea of the anthology that became Fresh Kills: Tales from the Killzone (actually, I think it was James Scott Bell’s suggestion, but I can’t swear to it). My initial reaction was twofold: On one hand, I thought it was a great idea, but on the other, I confess that I bristled at the notion of joining the world of “self-published” authors. I worried that it would be read by some as a form of desperation. Let’s face it: self-publishing is not exactly held in the highest regard among my fellow authors, and the last thing I needed was for a good idea to inadvertently harm my career. Call me shallow, but the publishing business is scary these days.

I consulted with both my agent and my editor, and, to my relief, they were both very supportive of the idea. I think it was the uniqueness of the concept as much as anything else. I’m not aware of a similar project out there that combines the talents of established authors in a self-published book, and I think I can speak for the other Killzoners that we won’t complain if we get some positive buzz about this. So, with their approval in my pocket, I signed on.

And what a hoot it turned out to be! Initially, I thought I would do another story of Jonathan Grave in his youth, but that struck me as a conflict of interest—especially since “Discipline” is offered on my website free of charge–a pattern I want to continue. I went mining for ideas, tried a couple of them out, but remained largely uninspired. With our deadline approaching, I found myself with bupkis.

Finally, the muse found me where she often does: in the shower, when my mind was in neutral. I thought it would be really cool to do a story of delayed revenge, a high-tension thriller presented on a tiny canvas. The “feel” of the story hit me before the plot points did. I wanted the reader to feel frightened, and claustrophobic as the victim learns his fate. I wanted the victim in this case to be the protagonist, and I wanted his sense of loss to be enormous.

And because it’s a short story, I wanted it to have a huge twist in the end.

I was on travel on the occasion of this particular inspiration, and because I didn’t know exactly where I wanted it to go, I resorted to pen and paper—ever the best way for me to work through plot points. Twenty-odd handwritten pages later, the story was done. I call it “In The After” because, well . . . Actually, I can’t tell you without giving too much away.

I can tell you this, though: I’m already looking forward to Volume Two.

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