Today, I’m interviewing James Scott Bell on why (and how) he decided to self-publish his latest book as an e-book. This interview ran in my e-zine earlier this week, so if you’ve already read it, there’s nothing new here. But not everybody reads my e-zine right away.
The e-book revolution is roaring in even faster than predicted by e-enthusiasts. A few facts will make clear what I mean:
A-list novelist David Morrell recently self-published his novel THE NAKED EDGE on Amazon, in Kindle and audio formats only.
A-list marketing guru Seth Godin is due today, March 1, 2011, to self-publish his next book, POKE THE BOX, simultaneously in hardcover and e-format.
In January of this year, self-published e-novelist Amanda Hocking sold a reputed 450,000 copies of her books on Amazon. She is 26 years old. Less than a year ago, she posted her first novel on Amazon. Now, she’s a superstar.
In view of these, I wasn’t surprised when one of my writing buddies, Jim Bell, recently self-published a new e-book, COVER YOUR BACK. The book contains a novella and three short stories. If the words “film noir” and “femme fatale” ring your bells, then COVER YOUR BACK might well be a book you’d enjoy.
Jim has not abandoned the world of traditional publishing. His venture into e-books simply allows him to do things that he couldn’t have done with a paper-and-ink publisher that thinks a year is a short period of time.
I asked Jim to tell me about his venture in an interview for this e-zine. Here’s a blurb about him and his writing:
JAMES SCOTT BELL is a bestselling thriller author and served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine. He has written three popular craft books for Writers Digest Books: Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing and The Art of War for Writers. Jim has taught writing at Pepperdine University and numerous writers conferences. On June 4th and 5th he is teaching a seminar in Los Angeles for novelists and screenwriters. Information can be found at www.jamesscottbell.com
On to the interview. Let’s see what motivated Jim to take the e-plunge.
Randy: You recently self-published your first e-book, after more than a decade of publishing paper books with a number of traditional royalty-paying publishers. What prompted you to take the plunge into the e-book market?
Jim: Because there is absolutely no downside to it, and plenty of upside. The e-market is exploding and I had several stories and a novella that didn’t have a home. E-book publishing allows me to bring new material to my readers, and introduce me to others. I’ve always admired the old pulp writers of the mid 20th century, who had to write a lot for a penny a word, but created some of the best suspense ever. That’s what I always wanted to be able to do, and now can via e-publishing.
The nice thing is that the royalty for these works is great and I get paid every month.
Randy: Let’s talk a bit about the process. You decided to write a novella and three short stories. You wrote them in Microsoft Word just as you normally do. Then what happened? How did you take the book from a Word document to its final published form on Amazon and the other online retailers?
Jim: I hired a person to do the conversion for me. There are many people out there who will do this, and the cost is relatively low. You should be able to find someone for between $50 – $100. It may be a bit more if the document needs more work. I toyed with the idea of doing it myself, but was advised by others to let a professional handle it. So I provided the Word document and the person I hired converted into a format for Kindle, for Nook, and for Smashwords, should I expand to that.
Randy: Many fiction contracts have “non-compete” clauses in them. Tell us about those and what they mean for the already-published author who wants to venture into the electronic self-publishing world but doesn’t want to alienate his publisher.
Jim: Well, publishers are investing money in writers and trying to build them. So a standard publishing contract has a clause that says the writer cannot sell a book that might compete with the one they’re publishing. Usually there’s language about potential “harm” to the sales of the contracted book. That could mean that a self-published e-book, at a low price point, could be viewed as competition with the published e-book, which might have a higher price point.
On the other hand, a low priced, self-published e-book can be seen as a marketing tool for the other books. This should all be discussed with the publisher, and a written understanding hammered out.
Randy: Any predictions on the near-term future of publishing? As we speak, Borders is circling the drain and Barnes & Noble is battling to reinvent itself, while dozens of previously unknown writers are earning thousands of dollars per month. Where do you see the world of publishing going in 2011? What are your plans to deal with the massive change?
Jim: I do think the traditional publishing model is undergoing great stress now. There are fewer distributions points, less revenue coming in as consumers turn to lower priced e-books. The old guard will have to be experimenting with new ways of doing things, but that’s hard for a big, established business to do.
Meantime, there will be a veritable tsunami of original material self-published. Most of it will be bad. A writer still needs to sweat and strain and get better. The old model provided a filtering system. But for those who learn to write well, the self-publishing avenue has great potential.
I don’t think anyone can predict what the landscape will look like in five years. I have been surprised at the rapid rise in e-readers (as was predicted by one Randall Ingermanson). As a writer I’m taking advantage of the opportunity. Others will do the same. And word of mouth will continue to help the best works get the attention they deserve.
Randy: You probably couldn’t have traditionally published your novella WATCH YOUR BACK and you almost certainly couldn’t have published your short stories in paper format. Tell us a bit about those stories and why you wrote them. Isn’t it enough to be a successful novelist?
Jim: I love the short story and novella form. It used to be we had a thriving short story market in this country, lots of pulp and slick magazines. But that all dried up except for a couple of little magazines, through which it is impossible to make a living. And yes, short story collections are rarely published in print form.
So, here is a way for me to write short form suspense fiction and publish it. As I said, there’s just no downside to that. I can provide entertainment for readers at a low cost, and everyone’s happy.
Randy: I bought COVER YOUR BACK last week and read through it in a day. Great read! Lots of fun for those who like darkish fiction. What advice do you have for someone contemplating writing exclusively for the self-publishing market?
Jim: First, always be about getting better as a writer. That should never stop. I started in this business 20 years ago and have kept on studying the craft all that time.
Second, be sure to have your story vetted by several “beta” readers, and even consider paying a freelance editor to go over the manuscript. Readers do notice if the text is sloppy.
Third, hire a good cover designer. You have to make a good first impression with your book cover.
Finally, make some long term plans. What kind of writing will be your specialty, your “brand”? As you build readers, they are going to expect some continuity in your work. That’s not to say you can’t be flexible and try new things, but an audience is grown largely by coming to rely on the type of story you produce. Think of Stephen King and John Grisham. Even they did not deviate from their genres until they were well established in them.
Randy: Great advice, as always. Thanks for telling us about your adventures on Planet E, Jim!
If you’re interested in checking out what devilish games Jim plays on his lead characters, have a look at the Amazon page for WATCH YOUR BACK. Priced at $2.99, it’s a darned good deal.
(Standard full disclosure: The above link contains my Amazon affiliate code.)
Patrick Thunstrom says
These last two interviews have been spectacular. In regards to the independent publishing that’s going on, I did a large amount of research on the topic for a research paper last semester, and am being amused at the amount of my analysis being accurate.
Thanks for good information, Randy, I hope the affiliate sale helps!
Janet Sketchley says
Thanks for the insights. One plea I’d like to make is for authors to include the epub (or other nonexclusive) format with their Kindle and Nook offerings. I specifically chose an ereader that wouldn’t force me into using only one file format. I can’t be the only rebel out here…
Bob Kaku says
Fantastic! I’m sure this question is on the mind of every author, agent, and publisher. Every new book I’ve purchased in the last four months has been a Kindle eBook.
Martha Ramirez says
Excellent interview! I was curious as to why he chose to epub. Glad you posted this. Thank you Jim and Randy.
Donald James Parker says
Good for Jim!!
I hope that he sells 400,000 copies a month!
If you haven’t read any of his output, I strongly recommend you to give him a try – especially at 2.99.
Gene Lempp says
Another great interview Randy, you are on a roll! I just purchased Plot & Structure and after reading the Larry Brooks interview went straight out and bought Story Engineering as well. Reading through them now and both are excellent resources.
James Thayer says
I teach novel writing at the University of Washington extension school. In class I quote James Scott Bell frequently. His writing on writing is among the absolute best available.
Katie Ganshert says
I am so intrigued by all the e-pubbing. I definitely think it’s a brilliant thing to do if you already have a readership and you can write faster than your publisher can publish you.
Jessica Thomas says
I’ve been thinking about self-publishing lately and this interview is very inspiring.
Just this morning I was thinking…if I got picked up by a traditional publisher, the print run would be limited. I would want to make sure the contract protected my rights to publish my “backlist” electronically, so that when my work did go out of print, I could make it available again. Which made me think…why don’t I just skip the middle man and self-publish, since that’s my long term goal/plan anyway. The problem then, is being found, but as a new author I’m going to have that problem anyway…
Dianne G. Sagan says
Great interview, Randy. This was great information and helps me decide on whether or not I should do a combination of self-publishing ebooks as well as staying with the royalty publishing companies that I already publish with. Buoy Up Press has put my books on Kindle and Nook in addition to the print copies already. I’m still working on building my reputation and readers so this is another way for me to get known.
Lynette Sowell says
This was a great interview and it confirms something I’ve been thinking about. Through circumstances beyond my control, it’s been almost 3 years between book 2 and book 3 of my mystery series. Book 3 will be releasing in December. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a novella to “bridge” the two books–give my current readers (hanging on for book 3) something to enjoy before book 3 releases, as well as give new readers a taste of what’s to come. At least that’s the idea… Thanks!
Jan Hooper says
Would love recommendations as to who is a good ‘cover’ artist, where is the best place to start up a website, and is a facebook needed, twitter, etc., all for a new author. Thanks!